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

Kim Holburn kim.holburn at gmail.com
Thu Jul 3 09:38:52 GMT 2008

On 2008/Jul/03, at 10:16 AM, Daniel Rose wrote:
> 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.

AV for linux: $0

> 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.

Would you trust your security to Microsoft?

> 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.

It depends on your license scheme and Microsoft has a few.

> 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.

I guess you've never had to deal with Matlab, lucky you.  You get a  
few apps with weird licensing restrictions like Matlab and you need a  
full-time licensing compliance officer.

> 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?

All the talk about how difficult and costly it is to change holds just  
as well for Vista as it does for FLOSS.

> 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.

Same point.

> 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?

Not to mention accuracy of calculations.  Do you go with the  
spreadsheet that is accurate or the one that gives you the same  
results as Excel?  In the US this is a SOX conundrum.

> 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.

Like I said, lock in.

> Nor can I buy Outlook without buying Office.

License compliance, cost.

> 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.

This year.

> 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.

See I don't really agree with that for a start.

>>> 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?

Ummm, I'll bite, yes, that's a definite point of view.  You would  
certainly have to justify not doing that and the justification would  
usually be based on cost, one way or another.

> How far do you think you might have to shrink a department's budget  
> before it will drop windows?

Department's budgets don't work like that.  The more money they spend  
the more they get.  Cutting a department's budget after a certain  
point just means they can't do their job.

> 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.)

Hobson's choice?

> 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?

I forgot about archiving.  Government departments are supposed to  
guarantee that all their business is conducted in a way that can be  
archived for x years and still be viewed.  I don't believe it's really  
been seriously addressed or that Microsoft Office comes close to  
addressing it.  The change to paperless transactions has sort of crept  
up on us all, but it has already passed and much business is paperless.

Of course "the paperless office" doesn't mean what we thought it would  
mean back in the day.

>>> 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.

Only in one of Microsoft's license schemes.

>>> 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.

Or they'll all be owned by China.

>>> 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.....

etax?  and I'm sure there are many other examples.

>> The 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 didn't talk about the way, so I didn't insinuate anything.  You gave  
a good example though.  The latest version of exchange somehow blocks  
FLOSS clients, fancy that.

> I don't us MS at work or home and I interact perfectly well by web  
> and email with everything I've come across.

Until your work puts in a sharepoint server?

> 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?

I don't believe GIF is patented any more.

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

Sad, but still not adopted yet.

> 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.

You can mandate lots of things.  You have been talking about how  
Microsoft software is essentially mandated in much of the government  
and business.  How come it's OK to mandate Microsoft but not FLOSS?

> 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.

I hate it when people use "patents" and "innovation" together.  Show  
me how patents have contributed anything to innovation?  Read about  
the Henry Ford vs. Selden case and explain to me how patents do  
anything except stifle innovation.

Almost all of our scientific and mathematical progress has come  
because science and maths use a collaborative model, essentially the  
same as a FLOSS model.

> The CSIRO own patent 5,487,069, for 10GHz WiFi.

They own one of the essential patents on 802.11 too, for all the good  
it's done them.

10GHz?  It's really a kind of long range, high bandwidth bluetooth as  
I understand it.  So your neighbours will be able to see what you're  
watching on your TV.  A solution looking for a problem.

>>> 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.

And v.v. and it all changes if you change the number of years in the  

>>> 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.

Why is it a big change?  It's just software.  The big change is that  
most parts of FLOSS interoperate with other parts.  You aren't limited  
to one vendor for everything.  Other than that it's just software.

> 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.

You going to get complete refits every now and then whatever.

> 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.

Ahh sharepoint.  How's it doing so far?  It's been around for a while.

With FLOSS you can put bits in here and bits in there and they  
interoperate.  With Microsoft it all becomes suddenly "risky" to  
change anything away from Microsoft because it's all locked in, with  
as much work to force that lock-in as to make it work.  Each upgrade  
somehow disables all the competitive products from interoperating with  
it.  Risk?

Kim Holburn
IT Network & Security Consultant
Ph: +39 06 855 4294  M: +39 3494957443
mailto:kim at holburn.net  aim://kimholburn
skype://kholburn - PGP Public Key on request

Democracy imposed from without is the severest form of tyranny.
                           -- Lloyd Biggle, Jr. Analog, Apr 1961

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