[clug] Any Public Service organisations using Linix desktop and Open Office?

Daniel Rose drose at nla.gov.au
Thu Jul 3 08:16:42 GMT 2008

Kim Holburn wrote:
> On 2008/Jul/03, at 5:41 AM, Daniel Rose wrote:
>> Note that I have never been in a management or purchasing role, but
>> this is my understanding:
>> If you have a stable, installed base of windows computers, and the
>> per-seat licencing is very cheap, then you need a very convincing
>> business case to change, and pricing won't cut it.
> I don't see how you can say that.  It's not only not cheap, when you
> add all the crap like AV, anti-malware, decent software firewall and
> applications in, it's not cheap, it's not simple.  It's not simple to
> install, it's not even simple to manage the licenses.

AV: cheap in bulk, lots of competition.
Anti-Malware: Optional, come on!
Software Firewall: Windows includes one.  It drops packets.  Define "decent" in this context; desktops don't need fancy mangling rules.

Applications: MS Office comes in academic, OEM and Govt pricing models.  Cheap as a relative cost.

My argument was about the cost of the commercial software as a percentage of the total workstation/desk/salary costs of a person at a desk.

It may well be I can save $80,000 per year by switching to FOSS, but if I can save twice that by not filling a position then it's clear which saving carries less short and long term risk.

OS Installation is simple with the right Domain management stuff in place.

Turn computer on, press F12, user/password, wait 15 minutes, reboot, wait forever, reboot, done.

Exactly how do windows licences need to be managed? They don't change over time.  If each PC came with a licence, then each PC has one.

Other third party applications like photoshop don't fit that standard, true, but again, we package and deploy applications centrally so it's easy to automate a count of what software has been installed where.

If you don't have centralised management then this all becomes harder, and with FOSS there is less incentive/need to have it, but at some point there's a ROI for centralised management where it's useful from a general IT perspective, not just for tracking copyright infringements.

>> While it's easy to put together a case for a cheaper FOSS
>> environment, it's harder to make it cheap enough to justify the risk
>> involved.
>> All change carries risk.  In the short term there are big costs
>> involved in the change, such as the IT staff turnover, and the time
>> required to make the changes.  The "missing" or "broken" features of
>> the new environment will be noticed by staff right away, whereas the
>> features and other benefits that FOSS might have will take longer to
>> be discovered by each staff member without expensive training.
> It's been a good MS line but they have shot themselves in the foot
> with it over vista.

How? Can you elaborate? Besides, MS will patch XP for us until 2014, as far as I understand it so Vista is a non issue until 2012 when we need to start looking around.

We can see how Fedora or Ubuntu are looking then if Vista is a problem.

Considering MS Office vs Open Office, because the new MS Office is more radically different from previous versions than ooo is, you'd expect that it'd be less trouble to move to ooo than to MS Office 2007.

However, it turns out that ooo is visually similar, but different in subtle ways, such as calc using ; and excel using , in formulae.  Or is it the other way around?

Many places have existing in-house VB macros across a huge swathe of documents, some of which cost a lot to get external consultants to do, which is all completely unusable in ooo.

Exchange server is very widely used which, as it turns out, FOSS software can only talk IMAP to.  It is no mistake, IMHO, that the latest version of exchange will not allow access to public folders via IMAP.

Nor can I buy Outlook without buying Office.

You cannot go to the point man (or woman) responsible for all this and propose to change the whole lot, top to bottom, just to save on the software costs.  The installation and training and lost productivity costs will cost more than you will save.

The only way this makes sense, to me, is if the department sees less risk, for example if 42% of the staff have used Ubuntu at home or in school then perceptions would change, or, more easily, if you can show real productivity gains, so we can drop 2 staff positions and save $300,000 per year.  As I said elsewhere though, the productivity gains available take a while to emerge and will depend significantly on the enthusiasm and initiative of the staff.  Who are public servants! ;)

>> In general, one could argue that in business you need to take risks
>> to make money.  It's not just that the Government executives are
>> risk-averse for selfish career reasons, it's more that they are not
>> running for-profit entities.  In general this is a good thing,
>> Government departments should not use public money in risky
>> endeavours.
> Are you saying that Government departments should waste the public's
> money?  Not to mention force the public to use proprietary systems to
> communicate with them?

I said the opposite, that they should not risk the money.  If I were to play your game, do you think that all departments should just buy whatever's always cheapest?

How far do you think you might have to shrink a department's budget before it will drop windows? Also, as I understand it, If a govt dept announces a $saving in a year, the govt typically says "Great!" and cuts next year's budget.  There's not a great deal of incentive for a Dept to do that.  The choice is succeed and have a budget cut, or fail and be hauled before senate estimates to explain why you thought it was necessary to change the OS in order to build better roads (or whatever.)

The question we as FLOSSers ask is "How can we get more FLOSS installations?" but the Departments are, I hope, focused only within the remit of the service(s) they are supposed to deliver.  There was an essay I read not long ago in which it was alleged that a state Library moved to a new building that was lovely and groovy and had an awesome coffee bar but the floor loading couldn't take the books, so they were stored somewhere else.

We should not expect Government departments to make major changes to their IT systems without good reason.  We are usually the first people to point and laugh when big IT projects fail (well I know I do) and  I'm not keen on the Government making law and policy based primarily on ideology, so the idea that individual departments should is a concern.  These decisions should be made in a rational manner with  the department's service delivery, purpose and business needs in mind first, above ideology.

I'm going to assume that the proprietary communications comment refers to the MS-Word file format.  I think that an individual officer who refuses to accept an RTF document should be reprimanded, and an apology issued to the sender of the document.  Other than that, were you referring to a different format or system?

>> Now the cost per seat from MS for OEM/Select/academic/Govt pricing
>> is so low as a fraction of the desk/phone/PC/wages cost that there's
>> a fairly small percentage savings to be made financially.
> When you add up all things like: OS, Applications, protection,
> licensing negotiation and compliance.  I don't believe it's low at all.

Well it is.  I can't put it much plainer than that! MS know the pricing pretty well.  It adds up to a lot of money if you count everything, but as a % of the annual operations budget of a dept I think you'll find it's pretty small. 

With OEM software one might even find that the cost is part of the asset, and is depreciated accordingly.  I'm not sure on the subtleties here, but remember that the non-OEM licences last essentially forever once paid for.

>> In any case, if the business unit uses the must spend budgeting
>> system (or whatever the proper name is!) then they will only need to
>> find something else to buy instead so as not to have a smaller
>> budget next year.
>> I can see a few ways widespread adoption of a FOSS OS in a govt dept
>> might come about:
>> 1) Evangelical drive from the boss/CIO, which is not the 'right' way
>> to do things.
> but it's OK if it's for windows?

Nope.  It's not the right way to do things.  Someone else commented that it works well to get FLOSS installed and I don't doubt this, which is why it's #1, but I still don't think head honchos should force any system through in any context just because they like it.

>> 2) A niche product that's really the absolutely best tool for the
>> specific work being done that's Linux only
>> 3) A long run of job applicants who consistently refuse to work in a
>> Windows environment
> What and don't get the work?

Yup.  I have this dream, see, that all the kids who are 10 now will be 25 later and they will all love Linux and there will be a skills crisis.  All the places that stay with windows will end up with the chaff.  This can be a strong driver; I'm told that some Govt Depts are so desperate for business analysts that they are paying 100% of daily commuting costs from Melbourne.  In that kind of environment it can make more sense.

It won't happen though, according to today's "some random guy on slashdot reckons" report, we'll be all out of the metals needed for high tech electronics then anyway.

>> 4) Government regulation (again, not the right way things should work)
> Why not?  Regulating say that document standards must be open in the
> sense that there must be at least 2 completely different office suites
> that can read and edit the same documents, a second source in other
> words.

The government shouldn't be regulating that "There must be two office suites", IMHO.  Besides, ooo fits this description already.

  Or they could regulate that the public must be able to
> interact with a department without using Microsoft products. 

They already can; phone, fax, HTTP, email, in person.....

> regulation simply needs to stop MS forcing its monopoly, not only on
> the department but on everyone who has to deal with it.

It's not as simple as you state here.  The monopoly isn't forced on anyone in the way you insinuate.

I don't us MS at work or home and I interact perfectly well by web and email with everything I've come across.  Disability access standards probably already impose mechanisms for the access you are talking about.

> You could also say that the Australian government should be using
> local developers at least as part of the software they use rather than
> outsourcing the whole thing to a single US company.  Regulation
> doesn't have to be anti-Microsoft, it just has to mandate real open
> and interoperable standards.

Do you mean open as non-patented, EG OGG vs MP3, PNG vs GIF?

Our ISO group voted for the new MS "standard" to be adopted as official didn't they? Or did I get that wrong?

Anyway, since much of the Govt uses software from places like Tower or Blue Duck and other local software houses then we already do that.  Lots of software is written here.  We don't "outsource" Windows production to the USA, we just buy what they were making anyway.

You can't really mandate the existence of a standard, and you can't mandate its use unless it exists.  If you mandate a specific standard in each area, you remove the freedom of choice from sysadmins and developers.  Is PNG always best, for example?  And if the patented standard is free of charge to use and technically superior, must we use an inferior protocol because of ideology?

Where would this leave Aussie Innovators? Patent and you're frozen out of .gov.au, don't patent and your ideas get "stolen"(!) by other institutions.  The CSIRO own patent 5,487,069, for 10GHz WiFi.

>> 5) A doubling or more of the price of Windows+Office relative to the
>> overall workstation costs
> Actually I think the TCO for using MS products is already pretty
> high.  If the cost of change is so high then it's important to look at
> cost of change and TCO and cost of being locked in to MS for the
> foreseeable future.
IOW, you're saying that if the maths doesn't suit your argument, extend the cost with numbers from an unpredictable future.

Don't forget that a lot of the TCO is in common.  The arguments that are 100% in a home or small business or not-for-profit jut don't scale to 1,000 (or 100,000) Dells on a three to five year refresh cycle.

>> 6) A whole new approach from vendors.  Tentatively.... I can imagine
>> a single FOSS vendor with FOSS-savvy staff who can sell, supply and
>> manage the lot under an outsourced model, with generous contracts
>> and maybe even money in escrow.  This would not necessarily be very
>> profitable for the vendor, but if you have a big backer (Canonical
>> haven't made profit yet, as I understand it) then a department might
>> agree.  This means hardware, OS, software, helpdesk, firewalls,
>> VOIP, network monitoring and reporting, email, the entire IT setup
>> as a commodity.  I think if you can do this, and deliver on promises
>> to add or fix things the department thinks are missing or broken,
>> then they might say yes.  The idea is to extract the residual value
>> between the high risk that CIOs might think FOSS has, and the low
>> risk that FOSS experts are confident that it doesn't have.  However,
>> I'm not sure that you can make much money though, especially if the
>> FOSS experts want salaries comparable with tho
>> se offered by the private sector to do more interesting work!
>> </ramble>
> I don't see why it needs to be a big change in the way they work just
> for a change in OS.

Because the OS being proposed is a big change.  If it was Windows <-> Mac it wouldn't be such a big deal, Mac has Office and Entourage.

With Ubuntu the OS means a cascading set of changes through the whole system.

Even the xen virtual server management tool only comes as a windows version!

This is a bit what Novell are trying to do, hold the hand, be reassuring, take on all the risk.
They fail to do it well though, because they come across as too much the same, and they aren't cheaper enough, and because they have proprietry (closed even IIRC)  extensions for the AD/Exchange integration they get it all wrong.

Overall I'll assert that there's not a Government department in the country that hasn't got linux in it somewhere, as long as I can count Zauruses and routers and servers and so on, but Linux on the desktop is probably limited to technical staff, and at the moment there are good reasons for that, IMHO.

I don't like MS and I don't like Windows, and it's not that there's no collaboration or email or whatever software for Linux, it's more that if you want Linux on the desktop at the department of Grommits, then it needs to be a success, and I don't think it will be without gutting the place and going 100%, I have strong doubts about the viability of a hybrid model for general staff.  And a complete refit is risky and expensive, and there's no clear benefit to the management of Grommits, which is what the department's really for.

And having said all that, if you think MS has a monopoly lock-in now, wait and see what it's like when Sharepoint really takes off.

Daniel Rose
National Library of Australia

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