[clug] Your Best arguments please

Darren Freeman daz111 at rsphysse.anu.edu.au
Fri Aug 8 10:45:59 EST 2003

My arguments, not really formatted in the usual literary style, but feel
free to paraphrase any and all. By the way, your computer's date is way
off - August 21 is way into the future. Maybe you're an android sent
back from the future, to prevent the battle of Microgeddon from
beginning? Just kidding of course ;)

The article in question isn't exactly a credible source of information.
"Bringing theological reflection to bear upon current issues" doesn't
exactly sound unbiased to me. I read the article as basically saying
"die hippie commie bastards, die!". But I'll be more specific below ;)

Firstly, the article makes no distinction between free software (FS) and
open source software (OSS), so I'll have to make assumptions for each
argument one way or the other.

Linux is not an open source vesion of the Unix operating system, it is a
free replacement. It is strictly *not* a derivative work.

Then the article confuses proprietary with commercial, again very
misleading. Proprietary means *secret*, whereas commercial means
*for-profit*. As the article mentions later, there are plenty of
commercial enterprises making money from free software. The
"intellectual property concerns" are just that they want to keep
everything a secret, they want their competitors to have to re-invent
the wheel and guess as to how the software works. That's fair enough for
them, they can choose any licensing model they wish. But it's
inappropriate for a government to have no idea how its software works,
as then it is totally reliant upon the creator to look after them and be
trustworthy. Something that is very much doubted in the IT community
when it comes to the #1 used proprietary software vendor.

The word "cautious" is rather unfair in describing the acceptance of
free software by Oracle, IBM and Apple. I would describe it as
"enthusiastically embraced". Hey, Apple just got its Apple Public
License 2.0 certified by the Free Software Foundation as a free software
license. They don't just give away their source code, they want to prove
to the world that there's *no* strings attached. If they were being
cautious, it doesn't show!

A religious passion, eh? Well yes, I guess it is. Coming from a
religious website, I suppose that's a compliment. It's a shame the
article advocates the removal of governmental freedom while the word
"liberty" lives in the banner.

Yes some people are pushing for laws that force the government to favour
"platofrm neutrality". That part sounds good, doesn't it? Then wait -
out of nowhere - they imply that OSS technology is the only way of
achieving that. Well if it is then so be it, but there's nothing in the
proposed laws to prevent a company from stepping in and producing
software that fits the requirements too, if they want to get the
contract. They call it the free market, you advertise what you want and
people compete to deliver it. Might I add that adherence to some kind of
stadard is a good thing, ask any engineer. It reduce the chances of
everything falling in a heap.

“It is in the public interest to ensure interoperability of computer
systems through the use of software and products that promote open,
platform-neutral standards.” -- a very pertinent quote

“Open source software ensures interoperability through adherence to
open, platform-neutral standards.” -- yup, so true.

But there's no connection here that says OSS is the only solution. It
simply asserts that OSS is one solution, that you can fall back on when
the free market deserts you. It's nice to have a backup solution, and
free software tends to have many solutions.

70 active proposals in 24 countries - either there's a lot of suckers
out there or this kind of move makes sense to a lot of people.

The rest of the paragraph demonstrates that Microsoft is opposing OSS
because it wants the $22.5 billion market share. No surprises there. So
from now on, any argument put forward by Microsoft in the text is
clearly going to be biased. Whereas any counterargument favouring free
software, if put forward by someone not making money from its sale, can
be considered to be an honest opinion.

"Initiative for Software Choice" is one of the most ironic names since
"Ministry for Truth", "Ministry of Plenty", etc. in Nineteen
Eighty-Four. Microsoft is the largest contributor to the ISC, so it's
the Initiative for Chosing Microsoft. Their letter to Mike Rann
(available on their website) is full of inconsistencies and a lack of
understanding of the bill it is referring to. Anyone with the stamina to
read the bill and then that letter will see that it's missed the point.

I haven't seen too many open-source mandates being proposed. There's
quite a few mandates for open standards though. Neither kind of mandate
is going to destroy "intellectual property rights". If you don't want to
give away some trade secrets, don' do business with someone who wants to
know how the product works. If there is a net profit even though you've
*voluntarily* given up some secrets, then feel free to do business. Free
market. Destructive to innovation? How could it be favourable to
innovation if all the know-how is kept in one company, (a foreign one I
might add), who keeps everyone else dependent upon them?

Whoah then there's a whopper - "state intervention through
anti-proprietary open source preferences". Well again there's not too
many of them about, most are just advocating open standards, but here we
go again. "state intervention" makes it sound like a situation is so bad
that the government has to step in and fix it. Well perhaps that's true,
if the government chose to dump Microsoft overnight we'd be utterly
screwed. Normally when a market is that screwed up the ACCC steps in.
Anti-proprietary? Well that could be true also, it's anti-secrets and
proprietary is normally meant to mean trade secrets. Still people aren't
prevented from trading if they forgo a few secrets. Open source
preferences? That's another way of abolishing one kind of secret, the
source code. But nevertheless most legislation doesn't force that, it
only suggests it as one possible way to ensure openness.

Technological innovation may have been spurred on by for-profit
ventures, but there's no implication here that secrets are the only way
to go. The whole point of the patent system is to take a trade secret
and make it public knowledge, in exchange for a reward of some leverage
on the competitors. The reward in this case would be a government
contract, companies can take it or leave it. "Market-based feedback of
the pricing system" would be referring to the broken state of affairs in
which all new computers come with one product installed by default, with
few people knowing that they even have a choice. Sounds like the ACCC
should step in here too. Free software projects have even *more*
pressure of feedback than proprietary software. When the whole world can
inspect your source code, you have much more pressure to write it
properly. When you're being paid to do it by the government, you're
surely going to do it properly. Whereas keeping it a secret lets you cut
corners all over the place.

The next paragraph is basically just the opposite of what I've just
said, so maybe I'll leave it at that ;) Users have the ultimate choice
when it comes to free software - there can be no lower cost to switch
products than when they're all free. So the developers had better tow
the line or their software will be buried in history pretty damn
quickly. Since many free software users are also programmers who
actively contribute, you have a situation where the users can do more
than just pay for software they like - they can make it better. They can
put in the features they want, rather than sitting around and getting
ready to go to the competition if that feature doesn't get added. So
even if you're not a developer, the chances are the things you want to
see in your software will end up in there because someone like you
things the same way. "There is simply no substitute for market-based
proprietary software development to ensure general long-term success in
technological innovation". That's like saying we should stop publishing
scientific journals because we're all giving up our "intellectual
property". Now what would happen to innovation then?

Oooh oooh the quote from Thomas Aquinas! It says that people are greedy
and only look out for themselves. It seems to contradict the flood of
free software contributions to the community, including those by the
companies mentioned earlier. So it's not really applicable to software
development at all.

The bit about free of charge being more expensive, is just confusing the
issue further. Free software is about freedom, not free of charge. If I
want to sell you some free software, under the condition that I maintain
it and provide all sorts of value-added services, and you choose to buy
that service, then we're free to do so. Alternatively there's generally
no guarantee that purchasing a proprietary solution will get you any
help when you need it. As we have seen from certain corporations, it
often starts you on a treadmill of paying more and more for what you
thought you were getting to start with. Hidden costs are only hidden if
you don't have a clue how to run your IT infrastructure. If you want to
let cost be the deciding factor then surely you can work out how much it
costs to deploy free software and compare.

The second to last paragraph is pretty much another rehash so I'll leave
it alone. Surely in the case that proprietary software is the best
solution, and it adheres to the open standards required by law, then it
will be chosen. If not, then it doesn't deserve to be.

The last paragraph admits that there *are* cases where the free software
development model is more efficient. Now we're getting somewhere. It
pretty much invalidates all the sweeping statements to the contrary,
about free markets and blah blah blah. The simple fact is that free
software is beating proprietary software in the high-reliability servers
that keep the Internet running.

The remainder of the paragraph simply states the obvious, by ruling out
the class of legislation it introduced in the first paragraph. Once
again, this is an entirely separate class of legislation to that which
is being tried out in 24 countries around the world.


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