October 18, 2000

Gore, Bush and Open Source

Author: JT Smith

By Jack Bryar
NewsForge Columnist

Open Source business

Bush? Gore? Who can decide between them? Who wants
to? Like it or not, one of these guys is going to be president of the
United
States, and believe it or not, it may matter who wins. One group with a
big stake in the election is the Open Source community.I don't read Barron's very often, but every once
in a while there's an article in that tired old publication that really
catches my attention. One such article involved stock portfolios most
likely
to be affected by the election. Barrons asked some of the biggest
investment
pros in the country to put together winning portfolios most dependent on

who won the presidential election. A lot of the choices were
predictable.
One of the Gore portfolios included several tech firms, entertainment
firms
like Disney, and various environmental services contractors. The Bush
portfolio
was heavily weighted with drug stocks, defense contractors and cigarette

makers. However, one firm the analysts wanted to dump if George Bush got

elected was VA Linux [Disclosure: VA Linux owns NewsForge - ed]. Now that caught my eye. Is Bush and
are the Republicans that hostile to the Open Source community? And
between
Bush and Gore, who really supports Open Source?

Gore certainly talks technology. When he and Clinton
ran in '92 the two attracted the financial support of many disaffected
Republicans such as HP's John Young and Apple Computer's then-CEO John
Sculley. A large part of the attraction was the presence of Gore on
the ticket. Because of Gore, the campaign was able to to position itself

as a tech savvy alternative to a Republican ticket headed up by a guy
who
didn't know what a check-out scanner was.

The Clinton/Gore record has been a mixed bag. Critics
on the left
claim that Gore and Clinton abandoned open software
standards
in the first years of their administration, or at least did little to
change
a bias towards "freeing" The Internet and software development from
government-imposed open standards. Whether this charge is justified or not, in
recent
months Gore has tried to reach out to the Open Source community. Under
Gore's influence, a blue-ribbon panel called the President's Information

Technology Advisory Committee recently advocated government support of
Open Source software in its internal operations and called on the
government
to support the creation of Open Source software as a way to address a
shortfall
in high quality new applications software development, and to "bring
software
development into the Internet era."

On his own, Gore's attempts to reach out to the tech community in
general
and the Open Source Community in particular have been marred by the same

ham-handed style that has hamstrung the Gore campaign from the
beginning.
The most famous of these was a message hidden in the code of Gore's Web
site that declared Gore supported "open source." While the Web site's server
and O/S were Apache and Linux, wags noted that the pages were authored
using
Microsoft software. Gore hasn't been helped by the false but widely
circulated
story that he claimed to have "invented" the Internet, or his
mispronunciation
of technical terms at campaign stops. Attracted by Republican promises
to limit taxation and encourge the use of foreign guest workers, most IT

executives have opted to support the Bush campaign. Yet despite all of
his campaign's missteps, Gore still enjoys the support of people like
Steve Jobs and uber-VC John Doerr as well as many other independent
software
developers.

By comparison, the whole Open Source movement is looked on with
great suspicion among many conservatives in the Republican
party.
Last Spring I
mentioned
some of the articles circulated among Virginia Republicans

which warned the faithful that Open Source was "a radical concept that
[would] remove most software from the store shelves if the concept
succeeds."

Bush has said very little about Open Source, or for that matter many
other issues relative to the growth of IT. Part of this may be the
influence
of his advisors.

During much the last year, Bush's chief technology advisor has

been former congressman and current lobbyist Robert S. Walker. Walker
has
not been a big fan of government involvement in technology, one way or
the other.

In the mid-'90s, Walker came to prominence when he was picked by
Newt Gingrich to chair the House Science Committee during the height of
the Republican revolution. The prevailing view among congressional
Republicans
during that period was that the Federal government's investments in
technical
research (as opposed to pure science, which
he supports
) should be severely pared back in favor of the private
sector. Accordingly, Walker's committee recommended scaling back the
Federal
R&D budget by a third, with most of the cuts affecting renewable
energy
and non-Defense computer and communications technology. Among the
programs
killed in the process was the Congressional Office of Technology
Assessment,
the nation's only technology forecasting agency. COTA had been the one
agency in government capable of cutting through the blizzard of
disinformation
to provide policy makers with non-partisan analysis of such issues as intellectual
property
in the software industry, or Open Standards and the growth
of Internet
Commerce
.

Walker retired in 1997 and became the president of
the Wexler Group, a respected,

effective Washington lobbying firm. Remarkably enough for a science
chairman, Walker has almost no IT clients, the closest thing to a IT
client being Comcast.

Today the Bush campaign's tech policy reflects many
of Walker's views. The campaign stresses encouraging private, not public
R&D through continuation of current tax credits, and a bump in
military
R&D presumably geared largely toward Star Wars nuclear defense. The

Bush campaign's view is that the best thing that the federal government
can do for high tech is to get out of the way.

As for Open Source, the Bush advisor closest to
the Open Source community is probably Dell CEO Michael Dell. Dell has
put
together an Advisory Council to help "educate" Bush on IT issues. That
council is mostly composed of computer CEOs capable of writing large
campaign
contribution checks. They include James Barksdale, John Chambers of
Cisco
Systems; Richard Egan of EMC, Tom Engibous, the CEO of Texas
Instruments;
and most notably, Robert Herbold, executive vice president and COO
of
Microsoft.

So under those circumstances, do you think that the
Open Source community might have a tough time under a Bush
Administration?
What questions would you ask the campaigns? Slashdot's Robin Miller
will be sending the

"questions you most want asked" to the the major (and minor)
campaigns
to answer or ignore as they choose. If you're looking for quick
backgrounders
on the candidates, I modestly recommend an old
Andovernews article
from last November. The issues haven't changed,
and the links are all still good.

Happy voting....

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