[clug] Your Best arguments please

Alex Satrapa grail at goldweb.com.au
Tue Aug 12 23:25:31 EST 2003

On Friday, August 8, 2003, at 02:08 , Martin Pool wrote:

> No government web site should require IE to work properly.


Oh dear... that one brought tears to my eyes.  Does any version of IE 
actually work properly?

Not only does IE not conform to the standards that everyone else is 
trying to set up, it doesn't conform to its own standards consistently.  
Any time the market reaches a new peak (eg: shifting from IE4 to IE6 in 
majority), you have to go rewrite your IE4-only website all over again.  
In the meantime, the department that used open standards (such as, say, 
Velocity templating engine generating HTML 4.0 over HTTP 1.1 for their 
website) had that extra money to spend on attracting good managers and 
repainting/carpeting their offices...

In an environment where one Government department's website rewrite blew 
out from $600k to $4M, I'm wondering if there are enough brain cells 
around to actually understand any argument other than, "the guy in the 
blue suit made me do it!"

>  - A stronger negotiating position in the future because of lack of
>    vendor lock-in.

Though the vendor lock-in will exist with OSS too.  For example, suppose 
the Govt. department I mentioned had chosen to use something like Zope 
instead of Vignette.  If the department doesn't hire programmers itself, 
it's still locked in to using the services of one or two companies who 
specialise in Zope maintenance.  Yes, two companies to choose from is a 
world of difference to a monopoly, but the second company might not have 
the reputation or certification required to deal with Govt.

Of course, one big advantage of Free Software that is distributed for 
no/low cost is that anyone with the dedication can teach themselves how 
to write and maintain products using that software - and those are 
exactly the kind of people you want!  I know if it came to a selection 
between a self-taught C++ hacker or a cookie-cutter MCSE, I would most 
likely choose the C++ hacker.  Unless for some perverse reason I wanted 
a product written in Blaster.. I mean .Net.

>  - Better interchange between different systems.

The educators must reinforce that open standards and OSS are no magic 
bullet - a poorly designed interface between systems will still suck, 
regardless of whether it's written in CORBA, XML-RPC, SOAP or in MPL 
(magic proprietary language).

Govt. departments need the freedom to make the mistakes that will be 
required to learn the lessons that will ensure proper e-Government for 
the 21st century. To me, this freedom includes the freedom to choose the 
proprietary standard over the open standard, then have a failed vendor 
or product upgrade bite them in the arse three years down the track.

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

Though it can be argued that Linux, *BSD, Mac OS X and the ilk only have 
less trouble because there are fewer machines out there running those 
superior operating systems.

I suspect it's only a matter of time before someone sends out a trojan 
Debian package which installs a SMTP server and start grepping through 
your hard drive for email addresses, and mailing itself out to anyone 
who sent you email from an identifiably Debian system... "check it out - 
someone's packaged the SCO complaint for you to read easier..." (The 
software may be secure, but stupid admins are universal)

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

*strict compliance* to open standards promotes healthy competition.

Growing to rely on extensions to open standards is what results in 
terabytes of databases in the ABS (to pick a random sample) being locked 
in to Oracle, never will they be able to move to Syb^W MS SQL. I expect 
the same would apply had the ABS grown to rely on the extensions 
available in Postgresql.

> 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
> lame.

One specious argument could go as follows: In much the same way that 
taking my land from me means I have less production capacity, taking my 
ideas from me means I have less production capacity - I can't sell an 
idea that you've let loose into the world.

Every time I hear "intellectual property", I keep thinking of some clown 
trying to claim a patent on the method of adding 1 to 1 to get 2 (or 
using HTTP cookies to track a customer's sessions to allow purchases to 
be immediately deducted from their credit card in one click, rather than 
forcing them to type in the number every time. gee whodathoughtofthat 
not like that's what cookies WERE INVENTED FOR!).

I've begun to rant.  It must be time to finish.

I agree with others who have suggested that we should mandate that open 
standards should be the goal in any IT procurement. This will avoid 
vendor lock-in. However, the caveats that will be necessary to make that 
kind of mandate politically viable will result in the ABS continuing to 
use Oracle for the forseeable future (it's SQL93 compliant!), and for 
DOCITA to continue to chase dreams (the web's just a bunch of HTML 


Windows 98, n.: 32 bit extensions and graphical shell for a 16 bit hack 
on a 8 bit operating system originally written for a 4 bit 
microprocessor, by a 2 bit company that can't stand 1 bit of competition 
and has not a bit of respect for its customers.
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