[clug] Open Source Bill

John Griffiths johnboy at the-riotact.com
Fri Sep 19 09:11:42 EST 2003

Hash: SHA1

G'day all, thought you might like Greig's speech from yesterday in the
senate introducing his Open Source Bill

Never had much time for the man but I think it's pretty good.

speech is inline for those who don't like pdf but nicer to read in the



PRACTICES) AMENDMENT BILL 2003 First Reading Senator GREIG (Western
Australia) (9.42 a.m.) I move: That the following bill be introduced: A
Bill for an Act to amend the Financial Management and Accountability Act
1997 to encourage the procurement by public agencies of open source
computer software, and for related purposes Question agreed to. Senator
GREIG (Western Australia) (9.42 a.m.) I move: That the bill may proceed
without formalities and now be read a first time. Question agreed to.
Bill read a first time. Second Reading Senator GREIG (Western Australia)
(9.42 a.m.) I move: That this bill be now read a second time. I seek
leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard. Leave
granted The speech read as follows  Preference to Open Format Software
It is somewhat curious that in this modern world obsessed with
information, we are in danger of returning to the dark ages. An age
where nothing is recorded for our future and nothing is saved for future
generations. Well, this is not quite right. We are recording everything.
But will we be able to access it when we want to years down the track?
How many people forgot to transfer their data from five and half inch
floppy disks onto hard disks? Those who didn t change their data over
before they threw out their old floppy drive have probably lost it
forever. The data remains, but it is unreadable. This is a modern
problem. Books written in 1690 could be read just as easily in 1990, yet
data recorded on a five and half inch floppy disk in 1990 is no longer
readable on today s equipment. In a few years time when the last of the
five and a half inch drives is thrown out, access to that data will be
lost forever. The same fate awaits data stored on three and a half inch
floppy disks. Modern technology requires that when we store anything we
give consideration to recovery. This is a new consideration and unlike
anything we have faced before. Unfortunately, we can do little to ensure
that the data storage devices remain standard when constant
technological development prevents this. However, we can make the task
easier by ensuring that wherever the data is stored it is stored in an
Australian-friendly format. Approaching the problem with an old mindset
will not solve anything. We must establish the ways and means of
ensuring that we always have access to our national data and that we
always have the means to retain control over it. This is not just a
business decision but one that strikes at the very heart of our
independence as a sovereign country.
Control over Australian data should rest with Australia and not with the
shareholders of a company that is owned, operated and controlled
offshore. It is with this in mind that I commend this bill to the
Senate. It is not anti-business or anti any particular business, it is
unashamedly pro-Australia and pro-Australian control. This bill is not
only needed now but will become even more important with time. I propose
to talk briefly about the first part of the bill. This section says,
Wherever practicable an Agency is to use open source software in
preference to proprietary software.  The key words here, and the ones
that the bill s opponents seem to ignore, are the words  wherever
practicable . This is just common sense. Why pay more than necessary?
Why pay at all if it s not necessary? However, as the Institute for
Software Choice says, open source and open formats are two very
different subjects, and it is this difference I wish to address. The
forces of proprietary software and their supporters have tried to
portray this bill as being protectionist in nature, one that tries to
pick software favourites. It is in fact the complete opposite.
Currently, we have a system that is largely based on proprietary
formats, a system that does pick favourites. Removing this and opening
up the playing field to all, is the raison d etre for this bill.
Unfortunately, the closed shop that exists at the moment means that
those departments currently saving data in proprietary file formats,
such as Microsoft s Word software, are risking locking themselves into
using that software indefinitely. This closed shop protectionism can
only be to the detriment of competition in the marketplace. If any
company wants to work with the proprietary formats of another company it
will need a licence to do so. These can be very expensive and become
another cost which inevitably passed on to the customer. This also
advantages the owner of the proprietary format when bidding for any
contract. It also ensures that should they lose the contract, the
proprietary owner still has input to the contract and gains profit by
reason of this prior ownership. Sometimes departmental use of
proprietary formats passes a direct cost to the taxpayer. For example,
the Australian Tax Office s much vaunted  online lodgement system  for
example. This will not work with open formats or open source software.
In other words, to use the ATO lodgement site requires paying either
Microsoft or Apple. The West Australian Newspaper has estimated this
cost to be $600 for those without the latest software to support the
proprietary format. The ATO site is just one of many government and
private industry sites that mandate proprietary software. This contrasts
with the Information Technology Minister s position that the government
is not favouring any particular type of format. The reality is that not
only is the government mandating proprietary software, but it is also
forcing this decision on to others. Compounding the problem is that it
favours proprietary formats at the expense of true competition, and
worse, the Government is actually forcing people to use non-standards
compliant software. Thus, the Government is not only mandating which
software to use but also endorsing this private company s attack on
internationally agreed standards and protocols. A fact found in many
court cases in the United States and most recently by the European
Economic Community. Unfortunately, for the people of Australia, private
companies such as the Commonwealth Bank follow this lead by mandating
proprietary software, softening it on their website
website by providing a list of instructions that if followed,  may allow
you to access some if not all of the features available in NetBank.  In
other words,  unless you are using one specific company s proprietary
software then you probably can t use this service . Similarly, Telstra s
BigPond Cable site only provides official support for Windows or
Macintosh systems, although I suspect that this will change following
Telstra s recent adoption of more Open Source software within their
organisation. These large bodies enforce the use of proprietary systems
in order to do business with them. Yet, the response from the Minister
is,  Government departments do not need laws or guidelines for software
procurement as they are already obliged to consider all options and
select on merit.  Clearly this is not happening. Critics have attempted
to deny the need for this section of the bill. However, not those who
have attempted to fill out their online tax return using non-proprietary
software. Senator Alston has noted repeatedly that proprietary source
software can be just as operable as open source software. And indeed it
can be made so, however, it isn t and nor is it likely to become so.
Quite the reverse in fact. The software required to access many sites,
including that of the ATO, is Microsoft Explorer, which is currently a
free download from Microsoft. Netscape Navigator can still be used, but
development on this browser has been stopped following an agreement
between the owners, Sun Microsystems, and Microsoft. This means that
security issues will no longer be addressed. However, to avoid their
nonstop battles with the US government and various US states, Microsoft
is changing the status of Internet Explorer. Internet Explorer will only
be supplied as an integral part of the Office 2003 suite and therefore a
costly upgrade. As noted by  Internet.au  in its latest issue, this is
part of an ongoing attempt to:  & crush the opposition with free copies
of IE for all, then begin (in effect), to charge for upgrades leaving
users little choice but to jump on the Longhorn bandwagon.  Longhorn is
the development name for the next version of Office. Without MS support
for the Internet Explorer free edition it will quickly become such a
security hazard that it will die a natural death. It is in a proprietary
company s best interests to get a company, or government, to use their
proprietary formats. This is referred to as getting a company or
government  addicted  to the format. Once addicted, you can never come
off. The more addicted a company is to proprietary formats, the harder
it is to come off. The potential for this was most noticeable recently
in Microsoft s efforts to remove its opposition in Thailand. The Thai
Government, in a commendable effort to increase computer uptake, offered
a bare bones computer system complete with Open Source software for a
total cost that was less than the cost of just the software from
Microsoft. This use of open formats was clearly such a threat to the
proprietary formats  owners that they responded with a Windows-Office
bundle for just $36.00. This price was only available for those products
in the same government offer. It appears that any loss of income with
such dramatic price cuts can be made up again once the user is addicted
to the format and needs to upgrade. Then the real price will come into
play. The equivalent price in Australia is over $1,000 for a
Windows-Office bundle. This will be the upgrade price for the addicted.
Microsoft s actions echo the words of Henry Ford when he offered to give
away his cars provided he could keep the monopoly on spare parts. It is
this type of monopoly that the use of proprietary formats maintains.
This problem is exacerbated by the issue of interoperability, that is,
different programs coexisting and working on the same system. Normally
one company s proprietary products have a better interoperability with
other products from the same vendor. Buy one of their products and in an
attempt to lower costs by decreasing the potential for interoperability
problems and you will find your self locked into other products from the
same company. Again, forcing companies to compete on the same level
playing field by mandating the use of publicly documented formats
removes any non-competitive advantage that a particular company may
have. The problem is actually becoming worse with time and Government
inaction will not resolve it. It is time for the ostrich to take its
head out of the sand. As part of its  Digital Rights Management,
MicroSoft Office 2003 has features which allow the creator of a document
to specify who may copy, forward, read or print it. This may suit some
governments, it may even suit shady companies worried about
whistleblowers, but it troubles the Australian Democrats. Even more
troubling is the fact that a document created in Office 2003 using DRM
can be made unreadable by StarOffice or OpenOffice, or even by previous
versions of Office. Worse, Windows may decide that a word processor that
competes with Microsoft is untrustworthy and it will not therefore be
allowed to run under the Windows operating system. As the Australian
Unix Users Group, the peak open source and systems user group, has told
the joint parliamentary inquiry into the management and integrity of
electronic information:  Combined with Microsoft s market power and
proven anti-competitive behaviour, it is of real concern that trusted
computing platforms may be misused to reduce competition and innovation.
 If Sun or OpenOffice developers try to implement Microsoft s DRM, they
can be taken to court with violating the US Digital Millennium Copyright
Act. To ensure that companies get addicted to the new formula Microsoft
are actually removing interoperability. For example, the new messaging
system protocols are being designed to lock out anyone without a
licence. Third party messaging programs such as GAIM and Trillian will
be locked out. As far as cost is concerned, the new version of MS Office
will cost $699. This cost may be increased by the fact that Office 2003
will only work with the Widows 2000 and Windows XP operating systems,
which for many users will mean an operating system upgrade to get a
compatible version of Windows with a minimum cost for a home user of
$408.00. In the case of older computers many will be unable to handle
the increased system requirements of the new OS and many home users will
therefore need to upgrade their hardware as well. To ensure a safe
system using proprietary formats could mean an expenditure of over
$1,000 in product from a non Australian company just so the taxpayers of
Australia can pay their tax in the Government s preferred manner. It is
hard to believe that this government agency s insistence on consumers
using one company s brand of proprietary software is of great benefit to
the user. The taxpayer is forced to either use expensive self-funded
proprietary software or be denied access to a service that they
themselves pay for with their taxes. Clearly, this is discrimination.
As a comparison, if the ATO service was accessible to Open Source
software there would probably be no need for any home users to upgrade
their computer as Linux uses far fewer system resources. If any part of
the Operating System has a security hole, then this can be repaired for
free with no need to buy a new  supported  proprietary system or
expensive third party software. The Office program can be upgraded
independently of the OS, with no need to upgrade both, however, since
Open Office is the same price as the Operating System, free upgrading is
less of a problem. Another big plus with open source software is that it
is backwards compatible. The prices I have quoted are for the small
user. Obviously the government does not pay the same price. However, the
savings by Government of a few million dollars which will in turn force
an expense many times greater than that on the Australian people, is not
admirable government restraint. Business, both private and government,
is increasingly being shifted to the Internet. It is the role of
government to facilitate this and not use obfuscation to hide the
private takeover of what should be Australian control. There is a simple
answer to the question of why there is so much cost involved in
proprietary software-closed formats. If contracts were to specify that
all software must use openly documented formats and protocols there
would be no grounds for suggesting a preference to open source or
proprietary software. Currently, the specifications are such that all
contracts effectively call for Microsoft accessibility and that means MS
formats. This leads to concern. As Mr Mike Wendy, public relations and
policy counsel for CompTIA, the industry group representing many of the
major IT companies, has said:  When governments base their choice on a
preference that takes merit out of the situation, that s a concern to
us. More options are always better.  It should be noted that Mr Wendy
was attempting to support proprietary software. However, his words
should be heeded as they actually support the need for open formats. The
Initiative For Software Choice, itself heavily sponsored by the
proprietary software industry, has also reminded us that:  It is
important that government policy recognise that open standards which are
available to any software developers  are not synonymous with, and do
not require, open source software either for their adoption or utility.
 This brings us to the nub of this bill. We do not wish to specify
software. The government and its agencies already do that, and as we
have seen they do it to the detriment of the Australian people. Rather,
we wish to open out the software industry and make it so that all
companies and not just those with a MS developers  license can bid for
Australian Government software contracts. We do not wish to exclude
companies such as Microsoft. In fact we would urge them to compete under
the new open fairer system. Rather than endorse any one form of software
production this bill seeks the best for Australia. A free and
independent Australia. An Australia in charge of its own data, its own
history and its own future. Senator GREIG I seek leave to continue my
remarks later. Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Version: GnuPG v1.0.6 (GNU/Linux)
Comment: Using GnuPG with Mozilla - http://enigmail.mozdev.org


More information about the linux mailing list