A Tory strategy to make more use of open source software in the public sector is likely to tackle the culture of secrecy in government procurement, according to early details released to The Register. Planned for publication next month and stemming from shadow chancellor George Osborne's adoption of a West Coast attitude, the …
"The procurement culture was haunted by the idea of public budgets being frittered away on fly-by-night vapourware merchants with their heads in the clouds"
As opposed to *large, established* vapourware merchants with their heads in the clouds?
Maybe even MS will see the light
The question is not proprietary software versus open source, its really whether it makes sense to have access to source code to improve a software package.
Most users would prefer to have more input to the development process instead of being dictated to by the supplier.
IMHO, most successful software in the past was created by users who then turned around and sold it as a closed source application. With open source the sequence is similar but the process can be one of continuous improvement thereafter.
Open source should make sense to both Labour and Conservative styles of governement so lets just say they've come together on this one.
I'm not a conservative but .....
..... I think Microsoft would be worse than a Conservative government.
Widespread adoption of Open Source Software will put an end to IT projects haemorrhaging money to Microsoft, and instead create jobs in the UK. That isn't going to be nearly as expensive in the long term as it looks. Adapting Open Source Software to suit the UK public sector -- and dealing with the baggage left behind by years of using closed-source software with undocumented file formats -- may have a large initial cost, but we shouldn't forget that the work will be done by local programmers. Local people buy goods in local shops, pay local taxes, eat in local restaurants, donate to local good causes and take their families to visit local tourist attractions. In other words, the money that you pay them stays in the local economy. And the benefits of their improvements to existing Open Source Software will be available to everyone.
Contrast this with the quick-fix solution offered by Microsoft. You have to pay for every copy of client software. You have to pay more for server software depending how fast a machine it runs on and how many people are using it (creating the riduculous situation where a company can find it economically preferable to turn away business rather than take on additional staff, because taking on additional staff would mean having to upgrade their software and they can't afford to do that). And if the software disrupts your existing workflow, tuff titty! You can't adapt it to suit your needs, you just have to work the way the software expects. And a couple of years down the line, the software will invariably have to be upgraded to a new version -- which, of course, costs money. That money goes out of the local economy forever, and just makes multi-billionaires even richer.
By the way, if the Conservatives included in their manifesto a promise to make it illegal to conceal the Source Code of *any* program from its users, then I'd vote for them in a heartbeat.
There is no evidence that open source software is better or more secure than commercial software. There has also been a tendency for open source to be rather unoriginal, most major products are just reverse engineered versions of popular commercial products (e.g. Open Office, Gimp).
I'm surprised that conservatives would interfere in the free market by shutting out closed-source software and by embracing a collectivized approach to software development that greatly restricts the freedom and rights of programmers to control their own business plans and intellectual property.
The notion that there is any such thing as a "Free Market" when it comes to critical infrastucture software is ludicrous. Once all your business-critical data is in a form that can only be read by a proprietary product, your formerly friendly vendor can change the license terms, jack up the price, and essentially say "my way or the highway", while keeping the car-keys.
Most major open source products
.. are copies of commercial products?
Products like Apache, BIND, ssh, X, Inkscape, gcc, Firefox, Mailscanner, sendmail/exim/postfix, Cyrus, Dovecot, vi, emacs, Eclipse ... ?
I must have missed something.
Open Source <> local jobs
Surely a lot of the work created by adopting open source software in government projects would be outsourced to cheaper countries - no great increase in local jobs there I'd say.
Still, I'm all in favour of ditching proprietary software where practicable.
re: Economic conservatism
"There is no evidence that open source software is better or more secure than commercial software."
Oh yes there is. Masses of it. Open your eyes and look at the world.
Open Source Software also is inherently more secure by design than closed source software. For every bad guy looking at the Source Code trying to find potential security holes to exploit, there are several good guys looking at it trying to find problems to fix.
"There has also been a tendency for open source to be rather unoriginal, most major products are just reverse engineered versions of popular commercial products (e.g. Open Office, Gimp)."
It only looks that way, if you ignore all the good stuff that happened in the days before computers entered the mainstream; in fact, before there was even such a thing as Closed Source software. OpenOffice.org and The GIMP are high-profile examples of Open Source alternatives created as a response to popular closed source software. Before there was Word, we typed letters in vi and mail-merged, or corrected repeated spelling errors, using sed. Before there was Exchange and Outlook, we used sendmail and pine. But this, being a matter of history whose knowledge is not required in order merely to use a computer, is below many people's radar.
"I'm surprised that conservatives would interfere in the free market by shutting out closed-source software and by embracing a collectivized approach to software development that greatly restricts the freedom and rights of programmers to control their own business plans and intellectual property."
It is Closed Source software that interferes with the free market, by artificially restricting what users can do with their data -- and users' data may well have a higher Intrinsic Value than the software with which it was manipulated.
A spreadsheet created in Microsoft Excel, or a letter created in Microsoft Word, can *only* be properly read by those programs, since the save file formats are proprietary to Microsoft. This gives Microsoft a -de facto- monopoly in software capable of working with these files: if the user has no choice save to access such a file, then they have, to all intents and purposes, no choice save to use Microsoft software in order to do that. (This is the subject of much ongoing debate, as government departments around the world wake up to the possibility that Microsoft may be in a position effectively to hold their data to ransom.)
When one buys a car from Ford, one is free to fit any manufacturer's accessories and run it on any manufacturer's fuels. The law forbids Ford from preventing the use of third-party accessories, whilst demanding that vehicles used on the public roads meet certain standards with respect to safety and pollution levels; this ensures that a competitive market can exist, whilst protecting other road users. When one buys a gas boiler from Glow-worm, one is free to connect it to any manufacturer's radiators and hot-water heater. One is only bound to make sure that the installation conforms to building regulations, which again exist to ensure safety and fuel efficiency. (One might question the need for government to legislate fuel efficiency, since an efficient appliance ought to be obviously preferable in the long term to an inefficient one. However, if fuel efficiency comes with a higher initial purchase price -- as was indeed once the case; until the SEDBUK regulations, which effectively forbade permanent pilots, came into force, boilers with electronic ignition were sold at a higher price than boilers using a wasteful [48 hours' operation of pilot light without main burner firing once = enough gas to cook a roast dinner for four] permanent pilot light, despite actually being *cheaper* to manufacture -- then consumers, and the environment, suffer needlessly.)
Yet nobody except Microsoft can supply software which *perfectly* renders a Word document or Excel spreadsheet. (This is in fact the subject of an ongoing court case.) Also, nobody (except Microsoft, and they don't want to) can supply extensions to Word or Excel.
Furthermore, by altering the save file formats and discontinuing the sale of older versions of the software, Microsoft can force users to upgrade to newer versions of Word or Excel: newer versions can read older versions' save files correctly, but older versions cannot read files saved by newer versions of the same program. When a PC -- which, like any mechanical device, is subject to wear and tear -- is eventually replaced at the end of its useful life, the new one is invariably supplied with the latest version of all software (older versions are simply not available, even as an extra-cost option), thus forcing everyone who wants to load any files saved by the new PC to upgrade to the latest software. This is a blatantly anti-competitive practice which has no place in a Free Market.
(Save file formats of Open Source software sometimes change out of simple necessity; but it is easy for any competent programmer to develop bidirectional migration aids, since the Source Code of the actual portions of the program that perform the saving and loading operations is available.)
Your assertion that the Open Source model restricts the right of programmers to control their own business plans is risible. A business plan which is evidently unworkable -- such as charging hundreds of pounds for a piece of software which can be reproduced for pennies -- deserves not only to fail, but to fail publicly and spectacularly so as to dissuade others from making the same mistake.
Furthermore, there is NO SUCH THING as "intellectual property". It is an anachronistic legal fiction, created at a time when the prevailing conditions suited it. Today, the conditions that made it feasible to treat ideas as though they were real, perishable goods no longer apply. In case you have forgotten, copyright (which is a misnomer, as it is really a privilege) was introduced in order to encourage the sharing of ideas by granting a TEMPORARY monopoly (hence, my use of the word "perishable" above) to authors over their work in exchange for a promise ultimately to share that work freely with Society At Large. The present copyright term of life plus seventy years is riduculously long and serves to subvert the original intent: copyright has now become a vehicle for allowing authors to profit at the expense of Society At Large, and the promised sharing of ideas happens only by the explicit request of the author.
Users of software have certain basic rights. We have the right to ENJOY the use of software without interference from any other party. We have the right to STUDY the operation of software, even if for no better reason than morbid curiosity. (Access to the Source Code is highly desirable in the exercise of this right.) We have the right to SHARE software with our neighbour, and we have the right to ADAPT it to our needs. (Access to the Source Code is highly desirable in the exercise of this right.) These rights are inherent and arise directly from the existence of software. From these rights springs an additional right to delegate any of the preceding rights to a person of our choice and whom we trust; and in recognition that the exercise of these rights has Intrinsic Value, we have the right to offer assistance in the exercise of these rights in return for reward.
If you don't like the idea that others may share and adapt your software, then DON'T WRITE SOFTWARE. Nobody is holding a gun to your head and forcing you to do it, are they?
Open standards most important
Colin Hutcheson wrote:
"The question is not proprietary software versus open source, its really whether it makes sense to have access to source code to improve a software package."
I'd argue that more important than open source are open standards which allow communication between a variety of software packages from a variety of sources. Open standards promote a component-based approach too and component reuse. This then extends into the whole notion of interfaces between components, which can be negotiated, up into service orientation. The ability for services and components to interact, negotiate, and communicate will be key in the complex world of local and national government tools and communications. Wrappers can be placed around existing legacy systems providing communication facilities meaning that all manner of government services could be more automated and streamlined. At this point business process engineering comes into play.
It is certainly useful to have access to the source code for a package and it is theory possible to then extend it or maintain it after the original developers have moved on it is actually very difficult to do so in practice as most things are not sufficiently documented to allow anything more than relatively superficial changes for a reasonable cost:feature basis and sometimes starting from scratch can be more cost effective. Often you may be reliant on a particular tool being taken up by new developers that have a sufficient interest in discovering how the code works. (Of course loss of support is an issue with close source as well). If the tools and components are responsible for relatively small bits of functionality within an overall workflow implementing particular standard bits of communication then rewriting from scratch if required becomes a more tractable task.
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