[clug] Your Best arguments please

Martin Pool mbp at samba.org
Fri Aug 8 14:08:33 EST 2003

On 21 Aug 2003, Carl Jackson <carl at videohost.com.au> wrote:
> Hi All,
>     I'm currently corresponding with an ACT MLA about OSS legislation
> and the MLA has challenged me with the article at the link below .  I
> would appreciate the input of the list Brains Trust on the best
> counter-arguments.  Any and all opinions welcome.  Give it your best -
> there is a vote hanging in the balance here...

Much as I like open source software, I think is far more important
issue for governments is open standards.  It is more easy to
accomplish; it is something to which existing suppliers cannot
reasonably object; and it leaves the way open to adopting open source
in the future.

I would like to see some legislation that says that all data
interchange with governments, and eventually all stored data, should
be kept in a public and documented format.  It should be possible to
write open source software to read the format, even if no such
software exists at the moment.

As a specific example: no government web sites should contain .DOC
files.  Depending on the situation, HTML, text or PDF files can be
appropriate.  No government web site should require IE to work properly.

There are good reasons for any business to favour open standards:

 - A stronger negotiating position in the future because of lack of
   vendor lock-in.
 - Better interchange between different systems.

 - More freedom to add in independently developed software to address
   particular needs.

 - More security in the case of a supplier dropping the software or
   going out of business. 

 - Empirically, less trouble with viruses, worms, etc.

In addition for governments in particular there are imperatives for
using an open format:

 - Governments should not unnecessarily strengthen monopolies by
   e.g. requiring customers to purchase a particular product to 
   interact with their government.

 - Open standards promote healthy competition, which is good for both
   the economy and the purchaser.

 - Governments have a responsibility to hold public data in trust both
   now (e.g. FoI requests) and in the future (e.g. national
   archives).  Both responsibilities are foiled by proprietary data
   format -- for example, a Word document created only eight years ago
   is impossible to open with the current release.

In fact it seems like the legislation needs to address two issues:
when acquiring software, preference should be given (ceteris paribus)
to systems that store data in a non-proprietary format.  Secondly,
government bodies should actually use the open formats, particularly
when dealing with the public.

> > "<i>A Great Number of Servants</i>: The case against government software preferences"
> > http://www.acton.org/ppolicy/comment/article.php?id=150

The number of glaring logical loopholes and assumptions in this
document is perhaps what you would expect from somebody who quotes
Aquinas.  (Aquinas's falacies are a favourite punching-bag for logic
textbooks.)  To pick just one example:

   The benefits of dispersed property ownership, expressed well by
   Thomas Aquinas, is equally applicable to intellectual property:

The very term "intellectual property" presupposes the conclusion that
ideas are something that can and should be treated as property.  And
even assuming they are: in what way is it equally applicable?  Drawing
a false analogy, then arguing that it is 'equally applicable' is very

   However, preference laws that deliberately codify a
   one-size-fits-all solution for governmental software acquisition
   will ultimately undermine the health of the software market.

The author is obviously poorly informed.  There are already many
regulations on what software can be purchased by the government, and
for good reasons.  Some examples (which may or may not apply in the
ACT) are that software should have a particular security
certification; should come from vendors with a certain level of
financial stability; should be accessible to disabled persons; etc.

Other replies have disposed of the rest of his rubbish.

speaking for myself only

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