June 22, 2002

Open Letter regarding the state of Open Source Software

Anonymous Reader writes: "Open Letter regarding the state of Open Source Software (OSS) adoption by the New Zealand government. http://www.linuxmax.orcon.net.nz/OpenLetter.html
Thursday June 20, 2002. To all of the people in our government who have the privilege and the responsibility to run this great nation,
Freedom of the People, OSS vs. Proprietary Software, one Kiwi's thoughts...

Closed Source, Proprietary software is software whose programming code is a trade secret, which is known only to the person or company who created that software. As such, that company must be relied upon to make sure that code is stable, secure and is supported as long as there are users of that software. Microsoft produces this kind of software and jealously guards its source code via its stringent software licensing agreements. Open Source simply refers to the source code (programming code) being made available to the public as an obligation of the licence the software developer chose to licence their product under. There are many reasons why this is preferable to the consumer such as stability, security and providing for the continuation of software development even if the company/person developing that software dies or goes out of business. Essentially, it is like the bonnet of your car being able to be opened by you (or anyone else such as a mechanic) instead of just the company that built your car. More and more companies are releasing their software under Open Source licenses preferring to make money on migration, implementation, support and service of that software. As a result, the days of Proprietary software are numbered. Should New Zealand be left behind?

My name is Jason Greenwood. I am from the U.S.A., originally, but am now a proud New Zealand Citizen (been here for nearly 6 years now). I am writing to you today in the hope that what was once true in the U.S. is still true of New Zealand, namely that our government will actually listen to the concerns of its people. I read the articles linked below and was so disturbed by them, I felt compelled to write and express my concerns as a result. I am writing because I cannot, indeed will not, sit idly by and watch the government go down its chosen path without so much as at least speaking out. I am not a naïve person, I am quite aware that in all likelihood my concerns will go unread (except possibly by an assistant) and unheeded but I will have done my part at least, to contribute to the democratic process in the one way I know how.


Government departments representing more than 50,000 IT seats have
registered for renewed software negotiations with Microsoft. But government
negotiators want at least 80,000 seats to maximise the group's bargaining

Open source? Er, maybe ...
"It's an issue I don't think politicians need to hold a point of view on"

Why do these articles concern me?

They concern me because:

? The government is negotiating (cap in hand) with a proven, convicted, illegally monopolistic FOREIGN business...

? Our children via the schools are becoming Microsoft/Software/Application literate (and dependent) but computer illiterate...

? The citizens of New Zealand can be frozen out of access to government documents and materials at the whim of a private foreign business...

? Software development in New Zealand is being stifled because our government will not take a stand in firm favour of OSS...

? If the government does not get off of its Microsoft habit now, it will become increasingly harder to do so in the future...

? The financial cost to all of us for the use of Proprietary software in government and education is a travesty...

? It is clear that some people in our government with positions of decision making power are not fully informed about this issue to the extent necessary...

? OSS is being used as a bargaining chip instead of a solution...

I will not bore you with the usual rhetoric on this debate, since most of you simply want to go to work, be productive and go home. What computer platform (Operating System) you do that on most likely doesn't matter to you a whole lot, as it doesn't to most people. Most of you use Windows at home and at work so the continued use of this "standard" would seem a no-brainer. It used to be, since Microsoft was really the first company to bring a computer Operating System with any kind of easy graphical functionality to the home user. As such, they have achieved a complete and monopolistic market dominance of the Personal Computer market. Nowadays however there are many Open Source alternatives to Microsoft products.

I am not an eloquent man but I am a concerned one. Concerned men (and women) with morals and courage speak out, even when the issues are complex and the solution seems hopeless or difficult. When one does the math, 80,000 Microsoft licensing seats at the hoped for rate of $250 per seat per year is $20 million per year to Microsoft (a lot of money when one considers that the population of New Zealand is less than 4 million). What can we buy with $NZ 20 million in each and every year? A provincial hospital, a new school? In contrast does Microsoft add $NZ 20 million to our economy? This kind of money (even if it ends up being less than this because MS cuts NZ a better deal) going from our government into the hands of a foreign business should be avoided at all costs. I do not pretend that migration from Microsoft products to Open Source ones will be without problems or cost but this should not sway us from the right course of action by being placed in the "too hard" pile. Even if migration were to cost the same (which has been proven not to be the case) it would still be worth it as New Zealand businesses would benefit from the migration assistance and support contracts required for the shift. I am referring mainly to the desktop licenses required throughout most levels of our government as the government is already examining how servers might be moved to Linux or Open Source platforms already. The point is that in most cases there are Free and Open products that do essentially the same thing for no monetary cost except implementation costs, thus erasing the need to spend 20 million per year on a foreign, Proprietary product.

The financial or purchase/licensing price of Proprietary software is not my main concern however. Freedom is. Open Source is far freer (as in speech, since many Open Source products are sold at the retail level and do cost money) than proprietary as it establishes protocols and standards that all software can interact with (the Internet is based on Open Source protocols), then the playing field is leveled and software companies compete based on features, functionality, services and support instead of how secret their code can be made to be. This stops the "upgrade treadmill" to which Microsoft users, including the New Zealand government, have become accustomed.

Someone else has explained the necessity for freedom supporting governments to advocate and require the use of Open Source products whenever possible far better than I ever could. His name is Dr. Edgar David Villanueva Nuñez, a Congressman of the Republica of Perú. He helped to craft Bill Number 1609, Free Software in Public Administration which is currently under debate in Peru. I link you below to an impressively well thought out, researched and written letter he sent to Señor Juan Alberto González, General Manager of Microsoft Perú, in response to Microsoft's firm resistance to the bill.

Peruvian Congressman's Open Letter to Microsoft

Though long, I urge you to read this letter in full (as well as reader talkbacks at the bottom, click flat mode to see them all on the same page) as it succinctly explains in layman's terms the issues surrounding adoption of OSS at the government level. Remember, like you he is a politician, so is well acquainted with the needs and demands of government.

I thank you for taking the time to read my letter and my opinions, however, as you find out more I'm sure you will discover that I am not alone in my feelings and that a great many (and growing) number of Kiwis are becoming disenchanted with Proprietary software products and are making the move to Open Source alternatives. Isn't it time the government seriously considered doing the same and set the example for others instead? Instead of waiting to see what other governments do on this issue, shouldn't we be setting the trend? Far better to lead the followers than follow the leaders...

Kindest Regards,

Jason Greenwood

Email: jasongreenwood@hotpop.com

P.S. Linked below are other articles that may be of interest dealing with government adoption of OSS around the world:

From Peru, with love
http://www.infoworld.com/articles/op/xml/02/06/03/ 020603opsource.xml

Snapshots from the OS front
http://www.infoworld.com/articles/hn/xml/02/06/12/ 020612hnossnapshot.xml

UK govt seeks to embrace open source software

Open-source fans welcome French government move

Korea migrates 120K civil servants to Linux desktop

Red Flag Linux beats out Windows in Beijing

Tux Takes its Seat in Germany's Federal Parliament
http://www.heise.de/english/newsticker/data/anw-28 . 2.02-006/

Roundup: The world fights Microsoft with open source
http://www.infoworld.com/articles/hn/xml/02/06/12/ 020612hnmsroundup.xml

IBM signs Linux deal with Germany
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/business/newsid_2 023000/2023127.stm

City saves with Linux, thin clients
http://techupdate.zdnet.com/techupdate/stories/mai n/0,14179,2860180,00.html

Finland State administration considering switch from Windows to Linux

Linux Bill Introduced in Finland
http://linuxtoday.com/news_story.php3?ltsn=2002-06 -17-011-26-NW-DP-PB

Argentina Mulls Open-Source Move
http://wired.com/news/business/0,1367,43529,00.htm l

Linux to become official OS of choice in Norway?
http://linuxtoday.com/news_story.php3?ltsn=2001-03 -30-007-20-NW-DP"


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