3 April 2003 - It was an early morning, uneventful drive to the State Capitol building in Salem, Oregon. Upon arrival, I found the staff pleasant and efficient. All I had to say to the woman at the information desk was "Open Source." Her reply was swift and on target: "Down the hall, turn right, continue past the green carpet. It's on the left."
It was hard to miss the room; several small groups were gathered outside engaged in quiet discussion and planning. After signing in to potentially speak and submit written testimony, I took a moment to exchange greetings with Ken Barber, Lead author of HB 2892, Cooper Stevenson and Sally from bill sponsor Rep. Barnhart's office (D-Central Lane and Linn Counties), along with a few others. Everyone was excited to begin the proceedings.
I took a seat to the right of middle, a couple of rows behind Ken and the others. A member of the press was to my right. Others let me know he was with the Oregonian, but we did not have a chance to meet. Several Microsoft lobbyists were present, but remained silent and watchful in the back throughout the proceedings. This bill could have a dramatic impact on their future. There were many other private citizens there as well looking on with interest, hoping for their chance to speak. All in all, there were about 35-40 people in the room representing both sides.
Committee Chair Rep. Jerry Krummel (R-Wilsonville) began the proceedings with a quick outline of the rules of engagement for this particular session. Each side was to get 40 short minutes for combined spoken testimony. Those not allowed to speak were free to submit written testimony after the proceedings. Looking around the room, I realized that not everyone was going to get a chance to voice their views. I was glad I had spent the time to prepare written testimony.
The sponsors of the bill had their say first. Ken led the testimony with his background and motivation for the bill. He was followed by many others, including members of the LTSP project and representatives from small school districts who said they could not be doing the things they are without the savings Open Source software makes available to them. Others provided a range of thoughtful and well-presented views. Some highlights from their combined testimony were:
- Open Source costs less
- The State needs to encourage Open Standards to avoid Lock in.
- HB 2892 is not a discriminatory bill
- The current market is not a free one
- Open Source is more Secure
- Open Source is less susceptible to virus damage
- It is easy to use
- Why spend money on software the State can get for free?
- Open Source means Open Standards
- Open Source will save the State of Oregon a lot of money
The technical nature of the subject made things difficult at times. We clearly need to continue to work very hard on this as we move forward. All of the committee members appeared engaged and interested in the proceedings. Their questions were relevant, as were the answers. However, I am not sure the committee was able to receive all the answers they needed because of the technical issues.
Rep. John Mabrey (R-The Dalles) wanted to know what this Open Source was all about. He compared it to cereal -- a product that is purchased. Why make the State always consider one vendor over another as a matter of law? He also wanted to know why people would produce Open Source when it was to be given away. Where does the value come from?
Rep Avakian (D-Beaverton) asked about virus protection. How is it that Open Source software is less susceptible to virus damage compared to proprietary software?
Other questions posed by the committee were along similar lines.
The 40 minutes went by quickly. It was time to hear from the opposition.
Representatives from the Business Software Alliance (BSA), Computing Technology Industry Association and the American Electronics Association (AeA) provided the lion's share of the testimony. Their presentation was fast and well-prepared. They were followed by Deborah Bryant from the Oregon Department of Administrative Services (DAS) and a technology consultant. Some of the highlights from their combined testimony were:
- Support value for money proposition as long as it remains neutral ( no OSS)
- Mention of the Initiative for Software Choice
- Testimony related to number of member companies
- HB 2892 is a discriminatory bill toward Proprietary software
- Open Source does not mean Open Standards (They claimed there is
Open Source that does not make use of Open Standards)
- The State is free to purchase Open Source software now, why change?
- Open Source has heavy service and support costs that offset the low initial cost
- The current market is a free market, it should stay that way
- Cost justification will be too expensive to be practical
The committee did not ask many questions of the opposition. Rep. Kelly Wirth (D-Corvallis) asked the AeA about the nature of member support. She asked if they had conducted polls or if they could give an indication as to the degree of their member companies support. The AeA representative did not provide a definitive answer on either question.
As their time came to an end, it was clear that very little common ground existed in this first draft of HB 2892.
Committee Chair Krummel then called the proceedings to an end. He announced that a working group shall consist of Deborah Bryant, key Open Source proponents, and the trade group representatives. The group must meet and try to agree on amendments by 15, April 2003 before the bill can move forward. This is not a lot of time.
All in all, it was an interesting session. Both sides made strong showings. The committee clearly understood the level of interest in the bill and participated with interest while working hard to understand the technical issues involved.
Though I did not get a chance to speak during the proceedings, I learned a great deal and met with sincere people who are working hard to do what they believe will benefit the State of Oregon. Although I have been an Open Source advocate for a number of years, this was my first direct involvement with a project of this kind. Seeing the effort put forth by both sides in the proceedings has shown me that change takes work and dedication and some level of risk if it is going to happen.
This is an exciting time for Open Source in Oregon. I encourage you to take a moment this week to send a letter, e-mail, or place a phone call to your representative. Your views count more now than ever.
- Doug Dingus