Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

SF Gate on Open Source Government

timothy posted about 12 years ago | from the tear-down-this-proprietary-wall dept.

United States 134

Bruce Perens writes: "At the San Francisco Chronicle's SF Gate, Hal Plotkin points to Sincere Choice as the right compromise for an IT renaissance in Government including both Open Source and proprietary software. The article is extremely flattering to yours truly, but a good push in the right direction from a well-respected commentator."

cancel ×


Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Everyone is entitled to my opinion. (-1, Offtopic)

varak_mathews (592911) | about 12 years ago | (#4166081)

Everyone is entitled to my opinion. # Important Stuff: Please try to keep posts on topic. # Try to reply to other people comments instead of starting new threads. # Read other people's messages before posting your own to avoid simply duplicating what has already been said. # Use a clear subject that describes what your message is about. # Offtopic, Inflammatory, Inappropriate, Illegal, or Offensive comments might be moderated. (You can read everything, even moderated posts, by adjusting your threshold on the User Preferences Page)

Isn't this... (1)

ejdmoo (193585) | about 12 years ago | (#4166083)

the way you should buy everything? I don't buy cars based on what brand I like, or how their business practices are. I buy the best for the money.

Re:Isn't this... (2)

Yokaze (70883) | about 12 years ago | (#4166436)

>I don't buy cars based on what brand I like, or how their business practices are.

I doubt the first, and despise the second.

>I buy the best for the money.
The problem is, best is a very vague criterium and often includes preferences for a certain company, especially considering cars.

What car do you drive? A Kia? Toyota?

Concerning business practices:
What way do you have to influence companies business practices besides buying or not buying their products.
When speaking of buisness practices, you probably thought of MS and their behaviour towards other companies. Ignorance of their behaviour is not a reason of despise. But business practice may include support of suppressive goverments, enviromental issues. So, a general disregard of business practice in buying considerations is.

Shouldn't a government, which should represent the people in its most ideal form, consider the business practices as well?

Should a goverment buy from a convicted offender?

Well, I'm a bit more pragmatic than the above words make me look.
In case of MS I'd say... whatever.

Re:Isn't this... (1)

ckaminski (82854) | about 12 years ago | (#4166747)

>> Should a goverment buy from a convicted offender?

If he's paid his debt to society, why the hell not? If he's still on probation, well, maybe not... because he truly hasn't finished paying his debt...

The "Private Sector" analogy is bogus (1)

peacefinder (469349) | about 12 years ago | (#4167056)

I'm afraid I have to drift a little off topic here for a while. Bear with me for the big finish that ties it all together. :)

Your argument is right, and indeed doesn't go far enough. Government is not the same as the private sector, and analogies comparing the two are generally as dangerous as they are useful.

Government (theoretically) exists for the benefit of the governed. Its job is to serve the governed, who both pay for said services and give government its legitamacy. This (ideally) constrains the behavior of government.

Most corporations are chartered by the government to turn a profit by any legal means. They might choose to operate with an eye to the common good, or they might not. This gives a business a great deal of freedom to act that government does not, and SHOULD not, have.

To say that government should operate like the private sector is to invite the governmental version of a monopoly: the tyrrany. Once that takes hold, there's no SEC to break it up... the solution generally involves blood in the streets. I'll pass, thanks.

Once we dispense with the "government = private sector" fallacy, it's obvious that Mr. Perens has hit on an approach very near the ideal. Mandating open-source does indeed constitute an unwarranted attack on proprietary software, and allowing things to proceed as they are leads us to buy proprietary software to view public documents. Both of these extremes are bad for the people, and thus are bad choices for government.

Everyone who has tried to migrate data from a closed system can appreciate the merit of this proposal. (In fact, there's a lot to be said for adopting large parts of it to corporate use.) Good work, BP! I'll see if I can take this up with my reps in Oregon next session.

Very good idea! Thumbs up Bruce! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 12 years ago | (#4166536)

It is sad to see that basic consumer education is what our statesmen lack. Or basic morality that is. It took Perens to spell it out for them. Are they going to take ther fingers out of their ears? Of course I'm jocking! Ha ha, not in this lifetime!

Re:Isn't this... (1)

homer_ca (144738) | about 12 years ago | (#4166802)

Whether it's cars or software, lack of openness has its price. You can take your car to an independant mechanic or do maintenance and repairs yourself. Under the Magnusson Moss act, car manufacturers cannot void your warranty solely because you used aftermarket parts or did not get your car serviced at the dealer. With proprietary software, the vendor has a complete monopoly on maintenance and bugfixes.

Re:Isn't this... (3, Insightful)

Stephen Samuel (106962) | about 12 years ago | (#4166994)

I don't buy cars based on what brand I like, or how their business practices are.

  • Would you buy a car with the hood welded shut?
To follow on the oft-repeated analogy: would you buy a car with the hood welded shut and an EULA that required you to only have it serviced at the manufacturer's shop, threatened you with jail for fixing problems yourself, and comitted you to paying a premium if you replaced the car with a competetor's model?

  • Vehicles are, essentially open-source.
  • the hood's not welded shut
  • We can move from make to another at will.
  • We can change whatever parts of them we want -- or go to the manufacturer for 'proper' repairs.
  • If we can figure out how to put a GM engine into a Ford chassis, we won't have to worry about either company suing us.
  • we don't have to drive in different lanes depending on what model car we have
  • A city car won't maliciously 'seize up' if we take it 'off road' on a flat piece of desert.
We often quietly put up with these sorts of things from software vendors. They call it 'standard industry practice'. We (customers) are the ones who pay through the nose. If the automobile (or most other) industries did the same things, we'd have lynch mobs out.


Anonymous Coward | about 12 years ago | (#4166104)

Bruce... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 12 years ago | (#4166112)

Bruce, go fuck yourself; go back under whatever rock you came from.

When will /. push more interesting articles, these are boring, and I cannot stand BP, RMS or ESR and I get annoyed by hearing this shit over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

Re:Bruce... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 12 years ago | (#4166167)

I agree. This senselss crap flub is so fucking redundant, if anyone hwere needs a bitch slap its that puke fuck, Perens.

47:I always wanted to drive one of these... Lee Hong's Chink Henchman: Well, its not going to be this one, so PISS OFF!

It would suck (-1)

l33t j03 (222209) | about 12 years ago | (#4166122)

just like Open Source software. That summarizes the article.

Hal Plotkin is dumb (-1, Flamebait)

yomegaman (516565) | about 12 years ago | (#4166124)

Hal Plotkin is a pathetic simp who believes any sort of anti-establishment conspiracy theory someone tells him. Just flip through his past articles if you don't believe me. The guy knows absolutely nothing about anything.


Anonymous Coward | about 12 years ago | (#4166182)

so as I understand it... (3, Insightful)

banky (9941) | about 12 years ago | (#4166127)

The way this works is, you mandate formats, not applications.

So you say, "all forms must be in PDF, all email via normal RFC822 mail (MIME allowed), documents in some-or-other format".

Who decides just what constitutes the "openness" of a format?

It just sounds like the right feature list will "win", and you'll have to explain to the PHB (the gov't PHB, worst kind) that Microsoft's XML isn't open, and Exchange isn't the same as sendmail + Cyrus IMAPD.

Unless I'm reading it wrong.

Re:so as I understand it... (1)

JPriest (547211) | about 12 years ago | (#4166198)

I think it's stupid to mandate this at all. They should be able to use the best product/format whatever for the job.

Re:so as I understand it... (2)

ivan256 (17499) | about 12 years ago | (#4166305)

They should be able to use the best product/format whatever for the job.

If the task includes making data available to the public, you could argue that open standards are required for something to be considered the "best for the job." How is it doing it's job if 30% of your audience can't afford the software required to access the data?

Re:so as I understand it... (5, Insightful)

Bruce Perens (3872) | about 12 years ago | (#4166374)

Also, consider whether or not government should be locking the people who have to deal with government into a particular software product, and what unfair preference this gives to the vendor of that product. I submit that open standards are always best for the job because they avoid that unfair bias - anyone can interoperate, anyone can compete.


Re:so as I understand it... (1)

JPriest (547211) | about 12 years ago | (#4166680)

What if people can't afford the computers or operating systems to read this "standard"?

Re:so as I understand it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 12 years ago | (#4166759)

> What if people can't afford the computers or operating systems to read this "standard"?

Then they wouldn't be able to afford any computer/OS at all. Since the whole point of such standards is for them to be implementable by anyone, you're saying such people can't afford any computer-based product at all, and they'd be out of luck no matter what standard was chosen.

Re:so as I understand it... (1)

ckaminski (82854) | about 12 years ago | (#4166767)

Now you're positing a straw man. We're not discussing access to information. We're discussing access to information to the lowest common denominator. When talking about computer information systems, there's a blatant assumption that you have a computer.

And for those who don't, there's the library down the street. Which is still grounds for making sure you have open standards for information dissemination.

Or have I just been trolled?

Re:so as I understand it... (3, Interesting)

CrazyBrett (233858) | about 12 years ago | (#4166332)

I think it's stupid to mandate this at all. They should be able to use the best product/format whatever for the job.

In principle, you're right. However, the "job" in this case is very specific and very unique. The system must protect MY data, allow me full, unrestrained access to it (without having to purchase a license from some company first), its operation should be transparent to public scrutiny, and its maintainers must be accountable for these guarantees. These requirements significantly restrict the set of possible software systems that can even do the job, let alone do it well.

Right, ideally we wouldn't HAVE to mandate this. However, current governments have shown that they cannot and will not fulfill the requirements above without a legal kick in the ass. Hence, the proposed legislation.

Re:so as I understand it... (1)

JPriest (547211) | about 12 years ago | (#4166762)

CrazyBrett, what government data is it that you need unrestrained access to or is this just another thing I should support because Microsoft is bad Linux is good? This is not really just some stunt to get the government to throw money at OSS instead? I was WAY off base.

Re:so as I understand it... (1)

ckaminski (82854) | about 12 years ago | (#4166799)

Ok, so let's use an example. Gasoline. The government doesn't use some special brand of gasoline in their weapons of war (unless you call diesel special). No, they use relatively common fuels that 1) are cheap 2) are the same from every pump that dispenses said fuel, and not just from say, Shell's pumps.

If we were to demand the same of our governments information, we'd want all documents in XML, with our imagines in TIFF or PNG or GIF or something. As opposed to all documents being patent restricted .GIF's and Microsoft Office .DOCs and .XLSs.

I could care less what application they use to create those documents. As long as the files are open, I'm happy. Because say I want to use those images in a tiny little mapping computer. I surely don't want to embed WindowsXP in every single one I sell. No, I want to author my own lightweight application that uses the same data that you can with Adobe Photoshop at home...

Re:so as I understand it... (2)

sheldon (2322) | about 12 years ago | (#4166918)

If you request information from the government, say like Bill Gates police report, it is going to come to you in the 5000 year old industry standard paper format.

Re:so as I understand it... (3, Insightful)

DunbarTheInept (764) | about 12 years ago | (#4166738)

The proposal isn't saying to the government employees, "use this exact tool for the job". It's saying to the government employees, "As dissemators of government information to the people, making said information as open as possible is your job. So, yes, go ahead and use the right tool for the job - given that you remember that using a closed format doesn't really qualify as doing the job.

Re:so as I understand it... (3, Informative)

curunir (98273) | about 12 years ago | (#4166236)

The way this works is, you mandate formats, not applications.

Not quite...the format is not mandated, just the openness of the format. So, for example, if Microsoft were to produce full documentation (available free of charge) for the .doc file format, the state would be free to purchase copies of Microsoft Word for whatever price Microsoft agrees to. They would also be just as free to use OpenOffice which uses a completely different, yet still fully documented file format.


Subject Line Troll (581198) | about 12 years ago | (#4166677)

Re:so as I understand it... (5, Insightful)

J. J. Ramsey (658) | about 12 years ago | (#4166252)

I would suggest two criteria for deciding whether a file format is really open:

1) The file format should be completely documented

2) There should be at least two different applications from two different suppliers that can both read and write the format.

Criteria #2 would smoke out file formats that are badly documented, such as the MS Word file format, which vendors *still* have to reverse-engineer to get some semblance of real-life compatibility, even though a spec for the format exists.

Re:so as I understand it... (0, Troll)

sllort (442574) | about 12 years ago | (#4166279)

I propose a third criteria:

3) The format is free from any patents for reading, writing, or transmitting instances of the format. The format ceases to be open when any of the above patents are granted.


Re:so as I understand it... (5, Insightful)

Bruce Perens (3872) | about 12 years ago | (#4166322)

Patents embedded in the standard must be available royalty-free with no discrimination in the licensing.


Re:so as I understand it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 12 years ago | (#4166356)

um, s/what i said/what bruce said/

I don't understand (2)

Raul654 (453029) | about 12 years ago | (#4166427)

What is the purpose of having a patent on something if you are going to make it available royalty free and available on a non-discriminatory basis. Once you do that, what value does the patent serve other than to prevent others from trying to patent it?

Re:I don't understand (2, Informative)

LordNimon (85072) | about 12 years ago | (#4166535)

what value does the patent serve other than to prevent others from trying to patent it?

You'd be surprised how many companies file patents for just this purpose. The larger your "patent portfolio", the easier it is to get cross-licensing contracts with other companies that have patents you want.

Re:I don't understand (2)

DunbarTheInept (764) | about 12 years ago | (#4166647)

Trying to prevent others from patenting it *is* a big value. Often the patent office wears blinders and only compares a proposed patent to previous patents to determine if it is really a new idea or not. It often fails to compare it to the actual real world. If it's not in their records, it hasn't been invented as far as they can tell. That practice is how we got stupid things like the one-click shopping patent, or (from quite a while back) IBM patenting the common practice of using XOR'ed display bits to create a cursor (instead of having to remember what's on the screen under the cursor, just draw the cursor by XOR-ing the color bits. Then when you want to move the cursor to a new position you can put the display under the cursor back the way it was by XORing the color bits again. This was a common, obvious tactic, but IBM got the patent on it because nobody else who was using it had even thought it worth patenting. The patent office didn't realize it was already common practice because it wasn't in their records.)

Some company who doesn't want to *own* an idea, but wants to make sure they are allowed to use it in the future and it doesn't ever get owned by someone else might decide to patent the idea but allow anyone to use it.

Re:so as I understand it... (1)

jcast (461910) | about 12 years ago | (#4166530)

Are defensive patents allowed?

Re:so as I understand it... (-1)

Klerck (213193) | about 12 years ago | (#4166313)

Please stop making Dilbert references until such time that Dilbert actually becomes funny.


PS, you're an idiot.

Re:so as I understand it... (2, Interesting)

grumpygrodyguy (603716) | about 12 years ago | (#4166314)

The way this works is, you mandate formats, not applications

Sure, but how do you expect to do that? There seems be any number of commitees and agencies that regulate things like traffic laws, public safety, pollution, economic policy, etc, etc...but where are our representatives?

Lawyers and finance people regulate business and anti-trust laws(supposedly), the Fed hires economists with Phds to make economic policy etc...but can anyone name a single government appointed/empowered commitee of computer scientists?

The only way you can make a "standard format" mandate is if you have:

1) A commitee of qualified and un-biased experts making the decisions as to what should or should not be allowed.
2) That commitee has to be empowered to enforce thier determination.

As far as I can tell, and please someone correct me if I'm wrong, we have niether of these two things established in this country.

What's the point of people like Bruce Perens saying what makes sense to almost all of us...if there's no infrastructure in place to make it a reality? Do you really think the governent cares two cents about what the IEEE thinks is "the right thing to do"? How do you expect this stuff to happen without representation in government? ...sorry if I sound cynical, but I'm honestly asking can anyone give a concrete example to the contrary?

Re:so as I understand it... (2)

Bruce Perens (3872) | about 12 years ago | (#4166467)

I think all you really need is some rules on disclosure of file formats and intercommunication protocols. The disclosures must be licensed for royalty-free use, in a non-discriminatory fashion. So, if your file format is proprietary and you want to sell it to government, publish the file format. No committee necessary.



Re:so as I understand it... (2)

catfood (40112) | about 12 years ago | (#4166921)

Well, the change is definitely not going to happen unless someone starts advocating it. It might as well be Bruce Perens to get the ball rolling.

Re:so as I understand it... (1)

CutterDeke (531335) | about 12 years ago | (#4166495)

You're not mandating the format. You're mandating that formats cannot be closed/proprietary. This does not mean "lowest common denominator". It means that if Microsoft decides to "embrace and extend", then Microsoft needs to open their extensions. It's up to competitors to write hooks to those extensions.

You can still compete through "innovation" and "extension", but you can't lock your customers' data up in a proprietary format.

Prediction: "Word" format will be called open (3, Insightful)

ProfDumb (67790) | about 12 years ago | (#4166551)

The problem here really is the definition of open. The MS-Office file formats could be called "open" because: [i] there is a published spec and [ii] there are multiple software packages that claim to both read and write them (WordPerfect Suite, OpenOffice, etc.)

Now slashdotters will claim, correctly, that the spec is incomplete and constantly changing and that the other software packages aren't 100% compatible. But MS has mucho lobbying muscle and the "State Commission on Open File Formats" will approve MS-Office formats, trust me.

"Sincere Choice" will become the "Sincere Status-Quo" pretty quickly.

Re:Prediction: "Word" format will be called open (2)

reallocate (142797) | about 12 years ago | (#4167210)

>> Now slashdotters will claim, correctly, that the spec is incomplete and constantly changing...

Doesn't XML represent a potential "open" data exchange tool that changes and grows about every 5 minutes?

Isn't it grand that people affiliated with or paid by companies making money on open source are so disinterestedly helping the State of California save money?

Don't try to mandate government purchases of any kind of software. A company selling open source is just as capable of ripping off California as is Oracle.

Re:so as I understand it... (0)

Amiga Trombone (592952) | about 12 years ago | (#4166971)

The way this works is, you mandate formats, not applications.

So you say, "all forms must be in PDF, all email via normal RFC822 mail (MIME allowed), documents in some-or-other format".

Sure, this at least makes some sense. Specify the file formats, and have the vendors compete on the implementation. That gives a product like Open Office an opportunity to compete, but doesn't exclude MS Office in the event someone needs the particular feature set of that particular product. This is a lot better than the clueless scheme to mandate only the use open source products. That would have been a nightmare. There would have undoubtedly been circumstances where the best product, and possibly the only product, for the job would have been excluded from the competition. This is better - and it creates some leverage with the proprietary vendors. Something like MS Office is still acceptable, but you could make it a requirement that they publish their file formats to compete on a bid. They still get to compete on the strength of their proprietary code, but no longer have exclusive control over the formats. This could actually be a more effective way of dealing with a MS monopoly than breaking them up. Restore competition on open standards. It's unlikely MS would want to give up the revenue from government contracts enough to walk away. And let the best implementation of the standard win.

Commentator (0, Offtopic)

GigsVT (208848) | about 12 years ago | (#4166133)

You know, I always wonder how someone gets the job of "commentator". I often hear them with their 60 second or 2 minute pieces on NPR, and I wonder... Did they apply for the job? Does one become an apprentice commentator first? Do you just start bitching a lot and being nostalgic, and then people assume you are a commentator, and the rest follows?

Re:Commentator (1)

olethrosdc (584207) | about 12 years ago | (#4166184)

Hey, it is something everyone can do - and does. I guess the more opinionated you are and the more intelligent your opinions sound (it is usually good enough if they are almost intelligible to the layman) - the better chances of you landing that job.

Most journalists are not merely reporters - they also like to stuff their own clumsy misinterpretations down our throats. If you are a know-it-all you too can be a professional commentator. :P

However, the reason that this happens is that unfortunately some people take journalists and commentators seriously.

How to be a commentator (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 12 years ago | (#4166368)

1. Be very liberal

2. Despise Christians

3. Hate morality in all of its forms

4. Espouse moral relativism

Got it?

Excellent strategy (2)

jukal (523582) | about 12 years ago | (#4166139)

... I can almost see the creators of the DSSA proposal and Perens shaking hands. No-one thought that DSSA could go through... but first you have to propose something, that twists things to the extreme - and do it seriously - and then land in something like:

"The good thing is, California's lawmakers won't have to pay a dime to anyone to formulate the policy, since Perens has already done that job."

I will eat my (win)socks if this was not the plan from the beginning. Fortunately, no-one will ever know, if it was not :)

Re:Excellent strategy (4, Informative)

Bruce Perens (3872) | about 12 years ago | (#4166266)

You must be aware that trying to lead this community is like herding cats. Do you really think that there would have been that much coordinated activity among so many people with differing goals and viewpoints, and in a Machevelian way? No, sorry. I actually could not get Red Hat to sign on to Sincere Choice, Tiemann had alread decided on his direction.

And you credit me with more political sophistication than I have, so far.


Re:Excellent strategy (0, Flamebait)

sllort (442574) | about 12 years ago | (#4166326)

You must be aware that trying to lead this community is like herding cats.

Yes... like herding cats... cats that like HUGE PILES OF CASH MONEY.


Re:Excellent strategy (2)

jukal (523582) | about 12 years ago | (#4166369)

> And you credit me with more political sophistication than I have, so far.

;) conspiracy theories make good stories. Seriously, the Sincere Choice [] is a masterpiece - the best part of it is that I believe it is easily adoptable for other purposes than state/government use --> companies could(should?)(already do?) base their decisions on these principles. They make sense - not only ideologically but businesslogically too - , and I am hoping policiticians could make sense, atleast every 42nd day.

Re:Excellent strategy (1)

Scott Hussey (599497) | about 12 years ago | (#4166569)

I think one of the largest problems with these ideas is they are based on true merit. From what I've seen in both the corporate and government world, that is not the deciding factor. Lobbying and WhoUknoW(tm) are the key factors. Having visible figures such as Mr. Perens, ESR, and Richard Stallman help a lot, but sometimes it hard to compete with the large lobbying budgets of corporate America.

Terrific (2, Insightful)

bytesmythe (58644) | about 12 years ago | (#4166141)

The article mentions a great point, which is that no government agency should use proprietary formatted commercial software. This means no more MS Word docs, Excel spreadsheets, etc., unless they are saved as RTFs and CSVs.

I would love to see some work done on open standard file formats for common office applications, such as word processing, spreadsheets (that include formulas!), presentation, charting, calendars, small databases (like for FoxPro or Access), etc.

I know there are open source apps for these things, but you still have to translate the files from one format to another. Ideally, a single XML standard would exist that allows all the applications to use each other's files.

Re:Terrific (5, Insightful)

Bruce Perens (3872) | about 12 years ago | (#4166287)

MS Word format would be fine if they specified it completely and didn't want any royalty for usin it.


Re:Terrific (1)

bytesmythe (58644) | about 12 years ago | (#4166377)

True, but Microsoft opening up their format is about as likely as getting hit in the foot by a meteorite.

Well, maybe that was a bad example...

I do think that solution would work equally well, but, barring some kind of court order, it ain't gonna happen. I have checked around before for open document standards, but never found anything that seemed poised to take off. Do you know of any progress being made in the open document standards arena?


Re:Terrific (2)

Bruce Perens (3872) | about 12 years ago | (#4166488)

Actually, I think MS does document some of their file formats. If OpenOffice could track the MS Office file formats reliably and royalty-free, I'd have no problem with MS Office use in government.

Now, there may be patents and other gotchas in the existing MS documents, as with CIFS.


Re:Terrific (2)

gsfprez (27403) | about 12 years ago | (#4167020)

i agree with you 100%


If you're going to get ANYONE beyond /. types (read: PHBs) to understand what you're talking about, you're site needs to give some concrete examples of what you're speaking of. You are going to have to name names and point at the naked emperor.

For Example:

"Open File/Protocol Formats: File and protocol formats should be open, correctly documented, and have no charge for their use.

Currently, some popular file formats which do not fall under these caveats are Microsoft Word .doc files (incompletely/incorrectly documented file format) and the SMB/CIFS file sharing protocol (incompletely and incorrectly documented, and recently deemed that use of this format outside of the Win32 API is prohibited).

Open File and protocol formats would allow one to use an application, such as OpenOffice, to read/write/edit Microsoft Word .doc files with 100% accuracy. They would also allow non-proprietary browsers and servers, such as SAMBA, to interoperate on par with Microsoft Windows clients on Microsoft File Sharing servers"

Until its spelled out in large letters with crayon - you're really talking around the issue, and you're not bringing the problem to the focal point.

If Microsoft is really for Software Choice (i'm sorry, that just cracks me up every time i say it) - then you have to give them a 5-foot thick carbon-fibre cube of a target to try to shoot holes in.. Without naming specifics, you're giving them the sky. They will (and are) talking around your points.

MS's life depends 3 legs - Windows, Office, and Exchange. Lets work on one of the 3 legs - maybe that will finally begin the toppeling of the monopoly.

I also agree that if some company is stupid enough to BUY Office - let them.. I have no problem with that. The problem is that if I work with them, i must have it too. And that is what I find objectionable

Re:Terrific (3, Interesting)

linuxwrangler (582055) | about 12 years ago | (#4166541)

I am all for this in spirit. A few comments:

Formats/protocols are most important where exchange of data or interconnections take place. I'm not sure that, say, Oracle would need to make its internal file formats public as long as the interface to the outside world was standard and any client programs developed/purchased adhered to that standard (SQL92 as an example). As long as you have the freedom to dump your data from one system to another you have the freedom to change at (relatively) low cost.

Similarly, the biggest problem with Word/Excel/etc. formats comes when the government expects you to purchase single-source vendor-specific products that support those proprietary formats as the cost of doing business with the state.

The public would be up in arms if the state decided to only allow General Motors cars into government office parking spaces. The effect of using proprietary formats and protocols is little different.

We know that vendors, especially Microsoft, will interpret things so the result is the complete opposite of whatever the government/courts intend so in addition to your comments on "completely specified" I would add a time frame - ie. "1 year following publication" or "following wide industry adoption" or possibly just limit formats those with an accepted RFC.

Also, the specs must be completely released for permanent, no-strings, royalty-free use. You don't want a format to become widely used and then have the "owner" retract permission to use it royalty free (see GIF, MP3, JPG, etc).

Re:Terrific (2)

blakestah (91866) | about 12 years ago | (#4166902)

MS Word format would be fine if they specified it completely and didn't want any royalty for usin it.

Wayull, this is sort of an impossibility. Don't even worry about it, unless MS suggests it as a counter. The Microsoft Office formats allow any COM objects to be included, by calling system libraries to place them on the page. This means anything that uses COM in Windows can be in DOC format.

Documentation of the DOC format is equivalent to documentation of the Windows DCOM !! This target is moving, changes, etc., and includes a LOT of the system libraries. It was intentionally written to be difficult to duplicate.

But, Bruce, the other place you missed the boat (at least as Hal Plotkin wrote about it), is the other MAJOR reason to use open source in government - use of it in programs that exchange data across networks. The use of open source allows choice in security audits of the data - of OUR data. Proprietary solutions rely on the vendor to check the security. With open source, the government can easily do their own audit, or commission a private firm to do it, or trust their vendor.

Also, the use of open source will prevent squirming around the use of open standard formats. If the code used to read/write the format is open, then the format is open and documented.

Don't sell the government short. Open source solutions provide security checking assurances, and standardized document/data format assurances, that are simply not available in closed software. Such a solution should be preferred, ceteris paribus.

Bruce Perens to the Mighty: (1)

Ratfactor (15886) | about 12 years ago | (#4166178)

"Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

Appologies to Ozymandias.

The best government (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 12 years ago | (#4166181)

is NO government. Unless you happen to LIKE 50% of your income going directly into it's pocket. If government could be OSS (free as in beer and free as in speach) without restricting people and robbing it's citizens of all of their wealth, then we would be right at the top. Right now we steal money from me and pay people to sit at home and not work, that is NOT right, and if we model the new government after OSS we must be VERY careful.

One thing is for sure, communism doesn't work. Maybe Microsoft is not as bad as you think.

Re:The best government (1)

nightsweat (604367) | about 12 years ago | (#4166479)

No government of course works really really well. Unless you're one of those big government lovers that likes highways, defense, clean water, clean air, etc... What have the Romans ever done for us!?

ROI (3, Informative)

gokubi (413425) | about 12 years ago | (#4166192)

I agree that legislating interoperability would go a long way to fixing the problem. How does anyone propose to get legislation to this effect?

The Internet/Computing industry gave $16,138,743 [] in the 2002 election cycle. If there is one thing that these people understand, it's Return On Investment.

The big deal is? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 12 years ago | (#4166205)

Who on earth in their right mind wants to force for example government agancies to use a particular kind of software?

It's weird that this discussion even exists.

Re:The big deal is? (2)

renehollan (138013) | about 12 years ago | (#4166224)

Er, the people that pay for the software so used? That is, the taxpayers, perhaps?

Re:The big deal is? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 12 years ago | (#4166261)

They should require the best back for their bucks ofcause. Variables used to determine this is price, quality, ease of use, documentation, support and so on.

When I buy a car I don't buy Russian Lada (or is it Polish?) despite the fact that it's very cheap, do you?

Re:The big deal is? (0, Flamebait)

sllort (442574) | about 12 years ago | (#4166262)

Who on earth in their right mind wants to force for example government agancies to use a particular kind of software?

Their CUSTOMERS. i.e. YOU.

I'm Not Just A Customer or A Consumer (3, Interesting)

krmt (91422) | about 12 years ago | (#4166421)

Um... I'm not a customer of the government, I'm one of its bosses. That's what a republic is about. I pay taxes. I vote. "Government of the people, by the people, and for the people" and all that stuff, you know? Thus, as one of the bosses and owners of the government, I get a say in how it's run.

Re:I'm Not Just A Customer or A Consumer (1)

mwjlewis (602559) | about 12 years ago | (#4166557)

Hahahaa... Then someone in FL loses a few ballots and GWB is president. (not that i don't like him)... but attorneys and money get what you want.. not your vote.

SteelCage! (1)

sllort (442574) | about 12 years ago | (#4166208)

"Bruce Perens disagrees with both sides in this debate. By striking a middle ground between the two, he's come up with a far more elegant solution. Unlike the most radical elements in the open-source movement, Perens maintains that a complete ban on state purchases of proprietary closed-source software isn't necessary."

But Michael Sims of Slashdot disagrees [] , and actually accuses Tim O'Reilly of being an industry whore for his "middle ground" position:

"O'Reilly seems to be promoting the agenda of Microsoft's Software Choice campaign."

Michael, Bruce, you both read Slashdot and have posting privelges. Here's your SteelCage : have at it. Is Bruce an industry whore or a visionary? Inquiring minds want to know...

Re:SteelCage! (1)

bytesmythe (58644) | about 12 years ago | (#4166245)

From the article:

"Perens maintains that a complete ban on state purchases of proprietary closed-source software isn't necessary."

Well, I would guess an actual BAN wouldn't be necessary. If any software could use the data, chances are pretty high that open source software would become the norm rather than the exception. We only use MS Word because everyone else does. If everyone moves to a format that ANY word processor can use, I guarantee Microsoft is going to lose a motherlode of license revenue.

I imagine if anyone did come up with an open standard file format, Microsoft wouldn't bother supporting it. Or better yet, they'd make the xlator module buggy so it corrupts files saved in other formats. You know, kind of like it does when you save as HTML. ;)


bahh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 12 years ago | (#4166270)


bill o'reilly is a right wing extremist

my money is on connie chung .. the CHUNGSTER


Re:SteelCage! (2)

SquadBoy (167263) | about 12 years ago | (#4166299)

Simple question besides posting to /. what the hell has Michael [] ever done?
Bruce [] on the other hand. So I think Bruce wins.

Re:SteelCage! (1)

Chemical Serenity (1324) | about 12 years ago | (#4166307)

"I can't see a difference... can you see a difference?"

Still seems like business is thrashing about trying to find a long term viable money generating plan for OSS, and that's where the majority of the conflict comes in. Governments are just other types of businesses (often very poorly run ones, but still businesses) which just seem to have different budgetary and regulatory constraints than 'normal' businesses.

I dunno if which side of the shill fence I'd fall on, but I think forcing anyone to accept either an all-microsoft or all-OSS solution is inane. Pragmatism with a little forward thinking should be the rule, with a heavy emphasis on interoperability.

Is that so hard? Perhaps not if you're an individual or small business without lobbyists or other special interest groups fucking with your policy, but when you get bigger...

Re:SteelCage! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 12 years ago | (#4166483)

Sims would disagree - he claims to be all for freedom yet is happy to support a law requiring one kind of software over another. Uh, freedom?

Nothing wrong with dictatorship as long as you're the dictator, eh Michael? But that's been your attitude for a long time, both here on Slashdot (where the ability to "moderate" without limit or remove posts entirely has always been irresistible) and on the Censorware project.

hi (-1)

xdfgf (460453) | about 12 years ago | (#4166223)

I like to fuck children.

I like to take them from other peoples homes and keep them in my basement for up to 3 weeks at a time. I sodomize them over that period of time reqularly, and when it comes time to dump this fuck hole off I put a plastic bag over their head for a few minutes.

Its fun to rape and kill!

Linux causes terrorism (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 12 years ago | (#4166264)

/home/osama : /bin/laden
Binladen 2.2 Released under the General Terrorist Licence.

Smashing 2 Areoplanes up george bushes ass.
Segfault, Not implemented.

Oh fuck, i knew i should of got a warez version of Windows XP instead of this crap.

Re:Linux causes terrorism (1)

bashly (583994) | about 12 years ago | (#4166967)

No, linux removes terrorism rm /bin/laden

Hal Plotkin... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 12 years ago | (#4166267) not a respected columnist. At least not by anyone serious.

Possibles issues...? (4, Insightful)

Raccroc (238757) | about 12 years ago | (#4166308)

Here is the problem I see with mandating file formats "open"...

What stops MS from making the default (in Gov. Editions anyway) Save feature in Word to be .rtf? They can then say (even with "some" legitimacy perhaps) that Word supports open standards.

I'm sure they'd figure out how to support open standards with most of thier suites, knowing full well not many would actually use them.

Re:Possibles issues...? (1)

SquadBoy (167263) | about 12 years ago | (#4166348)

I think you misunderstand this would mandate that the goverment produce things in open formats. It would mean that they *would* save things as .rtf or plain text or whatever. It would mean that they open formats *would* be used.

Re:Possibles issues...? (1)

Chemical Serenity (1324) | about 12 years ago | (#4166351)

For most people's word processing, .rtf would be more than sufficient. It'd make wading through those annoying word-generated emails a lot easier.

Re:Possibles issues...? (1)

mwjlewis (602559) | about 12 years ago | (#4166577)

I disagree, With Government, there are many A law document, most consist of very complex formatting and styles that are not availble under RTF format.

My $0.02

Re:Possibles issues...? (2)

krmt (91422) | about 12 years ago | (#4166398)

Well, they obviously do support open standards with their suites. Word supports rtf (although I don't think that one's truly open), plain text, and html, all of which are open. The problem is that most people choose to use .doc, which isn't open. Supporting open standards is fine. Why shouldn't someone be able to use MS Word to read and write text files? Just because it can handle .doc, doesn't mean it handles .rtf any worse.

So long as only open formats are used, using Word and its ilk isn't going to be a problem. And that's what this is about. I think it'd be great if MS started shipping "Word for Governments" with rtf as the default. I wouldn't be surprised if the practice spread in to the private sector too.

Re:Possibles issues...? (1)

Milo Fungus (232863) | about 12 years ago | (#4166748)

I administer a small number of computers for a university research lab. We have a site-license for MS Office, which is what most of our researchers use. I configure all of our machines so that Word writes *.rtf by default. I haven't heard any complaints from any group members, or from my professor. I don't think they even noticed. I also use as much free software as I possibly can on group machines, and teach my group members how to use it.

If you administer computers for your company, change the default filetypes in MS Office to open ones. Most users won't even notice. Even fewer will complain. Those who absolutely HAVE to use *.doc can go ahead. But they'll be only a small percentage of your users.

I don't have authority to mandate that all of my group members use But I do what I can here and there to further the cause and to prevent us from being locked into a proprietary prison [] .

Re:Possibles issues...? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 12 years ago | (#4167236)

What stops MS from making the default (in Gov. Editions anyway) Save feature in Word to be .rtf? They can then say (even with "some" legitimacy perhaps) that Word supports open standards.

Are you suggesting that .rtf is somehow inferior to their default format? That simply means that their closed "superior" formats would not count towards their advantage when they bid for government contracts.

Want to claim advantage of .doc? Tell us how the information could be accessed by other software. Otherwise it does not count.

Now I don't want to say I told you so (2)

Raul654 (453029) | about 12 years ago | (#4166309)

Aww hell, why not? I told you so [] .

To paraphrase Ender Wiggin (1, Offtopic)

Rupert (28001) | about 12 years ago | (#4166333)

The Gate is down.

No comments and /.ed already/

Open Formats (5, Insightful)

paladin_tom (533027) | about 12 years ago | (#4166390)

I agree with Perens' demand for open document formats. So long as the format is open, I have choice in what application I use. I can choose to read a PDF file, for example, with gv or Acrobat Reader. The competition comes from who can make the product more convenient to use.

When formats are closed, then one product must dominate. This is what we've already seen happen with MS Office, and we're seeing again with Internet Explorer, since MS is leveraging its market dominance to saturate the market with non-standard HTML (ie the Microsoft Document Object Model), thereby locking everyone into using IE.

PDF"s (2)

aaarrrgggh (9205) | about 12 years ago | (#4167199)

I actually take issue to the government using PDF forms; to actually save the data on a form, Joe Sixpack must purchase Acrobat! It is not a functional electronic form without that minimal level of support, so we loose some level of access to our government. Really, who has a (working) typewriter anymore?

Why force anyone to use anything? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 12 years ago | (#4166404)

I'm sorry if this goes against the /. party line but why should anyone be forced to use one piece of software over another so long as they can output data into a format that is readible / compatible by anyone.

Of course you realize that this means that EVERYTHING would have to be output as ASCII text. Seriously. Why be bigots about it and say "Oh, we only mean that formats should be XML|PDF|RTF" there are machines / users who can not read those formats. Older PC's may not be able to read XML as one example. Do we force them to upgrade? Do we then reduce everything else to the lowest common denominator? People shout about how they want "Free Open Standards|Applications" yet they do not say how one goes about providing these to people who can't use them (not just in the hardware sense, how many of you out there have parents that can build a Linux distro and keep it patched etc.?)

Re:Why force anyone to use anything? (1)

bytesmythe (58644) | about 12 years ago | (#4166449)

>>EVERYTHING would have to be output as ASCII text.

Except for mainframes which use EBCDIC.

At some point people simply MUST upgrade. However, software that easily maintains backwards compatibility with older file formats doesn't force everyone to upgrade when a new version of the software comes out.

Also, if some of the software choices ARE open source, then upgrading periodically only costs some time, not thousands of dollars in new license fees.


Good thinking once again (1)

joncarwash (600744) | about 12 years ago | (#4166451)

Looks like Bruce [] came up with a good, common sense idea again. Sincere Choice [] is not only just a good idea for the government, but a good idea for computing as a whole. It makes sense from both the business point of view and a developer's point of view.

It's a good start and people can support it by really trying to only use open standards. You don't need to go to either extreme to make a point (either proprietary or free software extremes); open source and specifically open standards give an excellent compromise between proprietary and free software. It will give an even playing field and promote competition, so that everyone will really have a choice. Or if you don't like it you can always write your own software to meet the open standards.

Actual competition in the software / computer industry? Well with open standards it's much closer to being a posibility.

Answer a question with a question (2)

serutan (259622) | about 12 years ago | (#4166574)

I love the analogy Mr. Plotkin makes near the end, that letting software vendors lock the state into proprietary systems is similar to letting construction firms install their own toll bridges on freeways. Hits the nail right on the head.

As for his closing question, "Will our legislators do their [job]?" Unfortunately the answer is another question: are they doing it now?

Almost right question, wrong answer. (1)

john_roth (595710) | about 12 years ago | (#4166607)

The right question is: why do government projects cost more, take longer and fail more frequently than private sector projects?

The reason is that they mandate long discredited project management techniques. A for profit company that took ten years and $100 million for a mission critical system, and then failed to deliver, would have been driven out of business by its competitors.

I could recommend XP (Extreme Programming, not the Microsoft OS, which has nothing to do with development,) but that's undoubtedly too extreme for government. However, just requiring the contractor to ship meaningful results every three months, instead of the complete system after three years, would probably work wonders.

John Roth
Any opinions expressed in this post are genuine, certified opinions.

Re:Almost right question, wrong answer. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 12 years ago | (#4167097)

Still the wrong question:

"Is there any evidence that the gov can do anything right, except by accident?"

By 'right', I don't even mean "considering all alternative uses for the money".

Some simple mind below cited "interstate highways, clean air and water" as gov accomplishments. BS. The roads, built by gov at 10 - 20 X the cost achieved on comparable projects by private industry, wiped out trains and produced quite a lot of the bad air via SUV pollution. Most of the water pollution was due to city govs dumping sewage.

You guys learn history from gov schools, and wonder why the economy and gov services (health care, education) keep getting worse.


Uhh... am I missing something here? (1)

f00zbll (526151) | about 12 years ago | (#4166668)

Why not make a small grant to create a set of open file format standards. Once that is done, demand that all software purchases support the standard format. This way, any company can implement it and there's no issue of "playing favorites."

If MS does a better job, they deserve to get the contract. If some one else does a better, that's fine too. Trying to force MS to do something is both stupid, pointless and ultimately will fail. If it looks like there's any favoritism, any rules about software purchases won't get very far. On the other hand, if there is a solid file standard, it looks bad for software vendors because their motives are more apparent. Let's make it open for everyone to compete. Not just "we hate MS and love OSS."

Given SincereChoice, Open Source wins (2)

Rev Snow (21340) | about 12 years ago | (#4166859)

I think the SincereChoice principles are the correct ones. Furthermore, they are sufficient. There's no need to mandate purchase of Open Source alternatives, when a SincereChoice will naturally lead to choosing them (where they exist).

Say there are two competing products that meet the interoperability requirements of SincereChoice. One is Open Source, the other is proprietary secret source, but with interfaces and formats suitably defined to qualify for the SincereChoice requirements.

If I pick the proprietary one, then next year when there's an update that fixes the security bugs, but the updated version does not meet SincereChoice requirements, what's gonna happen? If the law doesn't let the purchaser buy the update anyway, they'll have to switch.

So forseeing that, the purchaser will pick the Open Source version because they know the security fixes will be available without changes that prevent update purchases under the SincereChoice conditions.

Of course, if the SincereChoice law allows purchase of non-compliant updates to a compliant original purchase, then this logic does not hold, but then the policy is a sham anyway.

great idea, but don't use source code as docs (2)

AdamBa (64128) | about 12 years ago | (#4166932)

The article on sfgate implies that the way a format is defined as "open" is if the source code that read/writes it is available (although a quick scan of the Sincere Choice website doesn't say that)...I don't like this because a) it gets into a murky area of releasing source, which will make some companies resist it, and for no reason, because b) having a real doc is better than source code anyway, since the source code may not be compilable on its own, may be obscure, etc.

Also, Bruce Perens is not the first person to write about using government buying power to require open file formats...I'm probably not the first either [] however (although my article was discussed on LinuxToday [] ...where're you getting your ideas from Bruce?!?)

- adam

right on, Bruce (1)

Jack Brennan (597055) | about 12 years ago | (#4167012)

This exactly the middle-of-the-road approach that we need.
I have no doubt that open-source software will blow away proprietary competition, I've experienced that over and over again myself.
But there are some cases where open-source apps don't exist, or are not up to speed yet.
This middle-of-the-road approach is perfect for opening up closed gov't doors. And for motivating developers to notch-up their efforts too.
By not forcing the gov to take an all-or-nothing 'leap into the void', sincere choice should succeed where the DSSA initiative will fail.
Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>