Beta
×

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!

Governments, Beyond the Open Source Hype

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 8 years ago | from the hype-isn't-always-a-bad-thing dept.

180

An anonymous reader writes "ForeignPolicy.com takes a look at Open Source as it applies to governments and some of the reasons that a governing body may or may not like OSS. From the article: 'Governments around the world are enchanted by open-source software. Unlike proprietary software, for which the code is kept secret, the open-source variety can be copied, modified, and shared. [...] Trouble is, the benefits of open source are not always so clear-cut. Software is too complicated a creation to be captured in rhetoric, and assertions about some of the technical benefits of open source fail to tell the whole story.'"

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

Its the money, first and foremost (5, Insightful)

rob_squared (821479) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431496)

Tell your citizens that its cheaper and they'll thank you for it. The details about where the saved monegy goes usually become obfuscated however.

Re:Its the money, first and foremost (1)

Drinking Bleach (975757) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431512)

Where does the tax-payers' money go? Well, I certainly don't want to see it supporting proprietary software while I'm 100% Free Software at home.

Re:Its the money, first and foremost (0, Redundant)

Jim_Callahan (831353) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431515)

There's also the danger of them asking why the overall size of the budget is the same, taxes have increased, and schools and roads don't appear to be getting any more funding, if so much money has been saved. (Or rather, the danger of your opponent asking it in the next election year.

Re:Its the money, first and foremost (4, Insightful)

Bogtha (906264) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431806)

More importantly, not only is it cheaper, but the money that is spent on it goes back into the local economy rather than straight into the pockets of a foreign company, because the government have the option of hiring any local firms willing to do the work instead of simply whoever holds the copyright.

Most big "foreign" software vendors are US (2, Insightful)

rmerry72 (934528) | more than 8 years ago | (#15432005)

... as are most of the body shops that install and implement these projects. There only foreign if you live outside the US. Following that logic shouldn't the US governments be supporting their own US economy and buying more software from the big boys?

Re:Most big "foreign" software vendors are US (2, Insightful)

Bogtha (906264) | more than 8 years ago | (#15432087)

There only foreign if you live outside the US.

Erm, yes. What's your point? You do realise that most people live outside the USA? And that when the article talks about governments around the world, they aren't just referring to the USA?

Following that logic shouldn't the US governments be supporting their own US economy and buying more software from the big boys?

I don't see why. I identified an advantage that open-source has for most governments. If the advantage does not apply to a particular government, that doesn't mean the proprietary alternative is automatically better, it just means that they are equal in this respect. Think about it - it would be reduced to a choice between local companies (open-source) and local companies (proprietary).

PS: To make yourself appear more intelligent [wsu.edu] .

Re:Most big "foreign" software vendors are US (1)

rmerry72 (934528) | more than 8 years ago | (#15432201)

Think about it - it would be reduced to a choice between local companies (open-source) and local companies (proprietary).

So you're point is about foreign and national companies. City governments should only invest in companies head-quartered within that city (ie, local economy), eh? It doesn't seem to be about open-source vs closed-sourced, rather national vs local. That's a different discussion.

Yes, both open-source and closed-source products should be weighed appropriately, and yes, I agree, that for products from foreign companies "control" of the code is an issue and should be considered above and beyond money. That's a key discussion about sovereignty and opens-ource has the advantage of "if we go to war with them we can still support our systems".

But only at a national level. Are you worried about your state or city govenment "giving control" of some vital infrastructure software to Redmond or Silicon Valley? Or are you just worried about jobs moving over there (and then on to India)?

Re:Most big "foreign" software vendors are US (2, Insightful)

Bogtha (906264) | more than 8 years ago | (#15432331)

So you're point is about foreign and national companies.

Let's clear the terminology up. I understand "national" companies to be companies that are partly controlled by the state. Given that we are talking about trade between countries, I used the word "local" to talk about companies owned by citizens of the country in question. I am not differentiating between different areas of the same country.

I'm saying that, all other things being equal, open-source software allows governments to get software work done in such a way that the profit is earned by people residing in that particular country. Proprietary software, on the other hand, forces at least some part of that profit to go to the shareholders of the company that holds the copyright to the software, which - for most governments of the world - means that the government is giving money away to other countries.

You see, if a government spends money in such a way that the money goes to the people in that country, the country doesn't get any poorer. But if it spends money in such a way that the money goes to the people in another country, it does get poorer. Buying proprietary software services makes a country poorer if that software is imported. Buying open-source software services does not make a country poorer because there's no need to use foreign companies.

for products from foreign companies "control" of the code is an issue and should be considered above and beyond money.

Well yes, I should hope that software required for a country's infrastructure should come with buildable source code, but that's not at all what I was saying, and it's unrelated to open-source. Open source doesn't just mean access to the source code. [opensource.org] .

Are you worried about your state or city govenment "giving control" of some vital infrastructure software to Redmond or Silicon Valley?

Certainly. Why wouldn't I? Are you assuming I'm from the USA?

PS: To make yourself appear more intelligent [wsu.edu] .

Re:Most big "foreign" software vendors are US (1)

WilliamSChips (793741) | more than 8 years ago | (#15432126)

Not for any local government(and there are a lot of these in the US) other than Washington's and Redmond's. And for the national government, until Bush exits we have more pressing things to deal with.

Penny-wise and future foolish. (4, Insightful)

jbn-o (555068) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431855)

Proprietors agree with you, which is why they're interested in cutting their prices or giving away gratis copies of their software to large-seat clients in exchange for locking government users into something that will pay off (both monetarily and in terms of control) in the future. Money is not and should not be the chief rationale by which these decisions are made or else more valuable points that pay off now and in the future will be lost.

Because it works (5, Informative)

porkThreeWays (895269) | more than 8 years ago | (#15432031)

I work in municipal gov't in Florida. We use a lot of open source software in our organization. Why? Because it works. It has little to do with money. I've never been denied money for software if I can justify it.

"Enterprise" software has never really impressed me. A great deal of the time, the guy on the other end of support is no more knowledgable than me of the product. That is when you are lucky enough to get someone who speaks english natively. So what's the point for lackluster support? (Hardware is the exception. Many service plans can guarantee you a new server in less than 4 hours).

Highly specialized software generally has an unreasonable amount of bugs. We have one dept that has "enterprise level software", that I'm in the process of rewriting its so buggy. It's almost as if this company has no regression testing procedures in place.

And it's always a lot of fun paying 2,000k a pop for marginal glue code between applications. God-forbid that gluecode break one side. You'll get thorwn into a fun blame game of each company blaming the other. You need complex glue code? That'll be $10,000 and 6 months. You'll also recieve a windows front end in tk with extremely complex install directions. Minor versions are incompatible. You can never patch that box because xp sp2 will break the very customized non-standard registry settings.

People can spread all the FUD they want about open source, but I use it on a daily basis whenever I can. I have control over it and things just work. It's comical to see some of the rediculous things that go on in the closed source community. I like being able to change the ip address of a server if I have to. I don't need a license holding me back from doing that.

You can spin anything (1)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 8 years ago | (#15432035)

You might be able to show savings on a spreadsheet, but it is easy to put a spin on anything since it is not just straight costs, but perceived cost/benefit with disregard for hard facts. For example it would be easy in the current xenophobic paranoid USA climate to say "Sure we could save $200 million (or whatever) by switching from MS to Linux, but then we'd be using a Finnish operating system and they're communists! We can't have our Christian Nation being enslaved by dangerous Communist deviants and open code that Al Qaeda can modify if they so wish."

It is also easy for geeks to forget that most people don't even know what software is. Voters are far more interested in other issues like reality TV, tax, terrorism an whether or not the prez is getting blowjobs.

Written by an ex-Microsoft employee. (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15431504)

This article is written by a Ms. Caroline Benner.

And if we look her up, we find... [washington.edu]
Caroline Benner previously worked as policy researcher for Microsoft's Geopolitical Policy and Strategy Group
...as her only listed non-media job on at least one version of her bio.

Just saying.

Re:Written by an ex-Microsoft employee. (5, Insightful)

jmorris42 (1458) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431536)

> Caroline Benner previously worked as policy researcher for Microsoft's Geopolitical
> Policy and Strategy Group

Ya know, I knew something like that was coming before I clicked into this article. The summary alone smelled of astroturf. But they do it because they realize while we will spot the paid 'independent scholarship' almost instantly the intended audience either won't.

The sweet smell of plastic grass (3, Insightful)

Bimo_Dude (178966) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431592)

FTA:
Software, with its millions of lines of code, is so complicated that experts don't know for sure that open source has fewer bugs, nor can they say with certainty that having fewer bugs makes open source more secure.
It seems to me that this may be all the evidence we need of astroturfing. While I don't really know for sure if this statement is true, there is a glaring omission in the article where the author neglected to compare the time-to-patch for bugs between FOSS and closed software.

Re:The sweet smell of plastic grass (4, Interesting)

Ithika (703697) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431782)

nor can they say with certainty that having fewer bugs makes open source more secure

Well, that's a good one. "There's no evidence that our product, having more flaws than their product, is actually any worse."

Oh puh-lease.

Re:Written by an ex-Microsoft employee. (1)

Mikkeles (698461) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431671)

In this case, they are honest about her credentials.
FTFA:

'Caroline Benner is a fellow at the University of Washington's Institute for International Policy. From 2001 to 2003, Ms. Benner was a consultant with the geopolitical policy and strategy group at Microsoft.'

Re:Written by an ex-Microsoft employee. (1)

Slash Veteran (561542) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431620)

She also writes under the pseudonym of Dr. James A. Bottle. And after reading her top ranked Dr. Bottle article, it is clear she's a Microsoft shill. Check out some of her related Dr. Bottle works [bottleguy.com] . Quite a treasure trove.

Re:Written by an ex-Microsoft employee. (1, Insightful)

Tim C (15259) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431631)

Perhaps she quit because she became disgusted with the way in which MS does business, and in fact the entire notion of proprietary software?

Perhaps she quit because she didn't think they went far enough, and was disgusted that they gave consumers as much freedom as they do?

The point is, who knows? It might amaze you to learn that not everyone who works for a company necessarily believes in the same ideals, and even if they did, people can change. On the other hand, maybe she is a true believer, and would never change.

Also just sayin'.

Re:Written by an ex-Microsoft employee. (1)

i_should_be_working (720372) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431642)

Now it makes sense how everytime a benefit of FOSS was seemingly touted there was a "but" usually ending with "and proprietary software can also do this".

Even with an obvious example like FOSS being easy to localize to one's local language it was asserted that "Microsoft makes a living out of making its software customizable while still closely guarding its source code". Sure it can but it doesn't, at least not until it's profitable. Which is understandable, but with FOSS speakers of unpopular languages don't have to wait until translations to their language becomes profitable to some company.

Re:Written by an ex-Microsoft employee. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15431681)

Absolutely. This is horseshit.

I write proprietary software; and I write it primarily for government organizations (and maybe some private companies, but they have yet to express an interest). No, I'm not willing to ID myself here, hence the coward bit.

Here's some more FUD for you: the article author makes an association between For-Profit Corporations and proprietary software, on the one hand, and no-corporation amateurs and F/OSS on the other.

I see this association all the time, and it annoys the hell out of me. Yes, it's convenient for the F/OSS evangelists, and for the proprietary reactionaries. But for people who want to see the free exchange of ideas (and thus the rapid improvement of software) and who want to see everyone, especially their clients, get the best software possible, this association is lethal.

It's quite simple: if big clients, such as governments and corporations, make "open source" a requirement, and pay more for the software (or pool as groups to commission it), more companies will produce open source software. If more companies do that, those big clients will find themselves paying for fewer titles outright, and instead commissioning customizations that make that software work well for them.

Yes, it's a stretch. But, at heart, "Open Source" is not anti-commercial; it is simply a different way of doing business. Incidentally, it is a form of doing business that predates the notion of proprietary intellectual property and is far easier to support legally.

Microsoft wants Office to be usable around the world. But Microsoft could still make money on Office customization and make it open-source.

Yes, I am insane.

Re:Written by an ex-Microsoft employee. (3, Insightful)

cp.tar (871488) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431915)

Good one.

Governments could very well profit from Open source software, as well as the programmers hired to make it.

Just because it is Open Source, it doesn't mean that the work the programmers put in is free.

What it does mean is that:

  1. Governments pay a single fee for a piece of software.
  2. The source code of said software is also available, which makes the government vendor-independent.
  3. The money goes to the local economy instead of a company which could buy the country I live in.
  4. When you need something, you have someone do it. You don't wait for the next update & bugfix cycle.

But because of the omnipresent FUD, very few people in governments worldwide have any idea whatsoever about these things.

P.S.
5. ???
6. Profit!

Re:Written by an ex-Microsoft employee. (1)

goarilla (908067) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431828)

it's odd they didn't mention that in the article

Re:Written by an ex-Microsoft employee. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15432470)

RTFA. They did. In the bio.

Moron.

Re:Written by an ex-Microsoft employee. (1)

Instine (963303) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431984)

So? Does this mean anything. She could be allied or bitter, or a mix of the two as an ex-employee.

Just Astroturfing, don't Bother to Click (2, Interesting)

jrbrtsn (103896) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431534)

Caveat at the bottom says it all.

"Caroline Benner is a fellow at the University of Washington's Institute for International Policy. From 2001 to 2003, Ms. Benner was a consultant with the geopolitical policy and strategy group at Microsoft."

Not necessarily. Decide for *yourselves* (1)

linvir (970218) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431600)

Yes, there's some iffy stuff in there:
Microsoft makes a living out of making its software customizable while still closely guarding its source code.
But it's not the worthless astroturfing that some are rushing to dismiss it as:
Governments may be wise to choose open source. They just shouldnt count on it to do much more than what software does best: process the data of the information age.
Are we really so insecure in our convictions that the slightest whiff of Microsoft makes us cry 'shill'?

Re:Not necessarily. Decide for *yourselves* (2, Interesting)

Russ Nelson (33911) | more than 8 years ago | (#15432426)

Are we really so insecure in our convictions that the slightest whiff of Microsoft makes us cry 'shill'?

It's not insecurity. It's not wanting people to be misled by non-facts.

Your average computer user (1, Insightful)

Blue6 (975702) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431535)

is not switching to OSS, until it works out of the box. Most people do not have the time or patience to work on getting NIC and video drivers working. Let alone the effort involved in getting mp3's, DVD's, and the what other have you.

Re:Your average computer user (4, Insightful)

AuMatar (183847) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431573)

THen they should be coming to Linux in droves. My last Windows install took 4 hours and required me to hunt for drivers all over the web, and reboot a dozen times. My last Linux install worked smoothly with all hardware recognized.

Re:Your average computer user (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15431792)

Just because it took you 4 hours to get your system up and running doesn't mean it takes everyone else that long, or that the PC that comes out of the box from Dell, Gateway, CompUSA and so on has that problem.

Re:Your average computer user (1)

AuMatar (183847) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431835)

Try reinstalling the OS on one of them after it gets hosed (due to virus, spyware, or user error). 4 hours is lucky then.

Re:Your average computer user (1)

MooUK (905450) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431816)

Your average windows user didn't install it.

Re:Your average computer user (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15431586)

Good thing we're talking about government workers. Workers who have a support team to worry about those things for them.

Re:Your average computer user (1)

linvir (970218) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431622)

Dear Sir,
This is is not a story about desktop Linux. Please take your hackneyed flamewar with you as you leave.
Yours,
A plate of my balls

Your average government (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431738)

Is not your average computer user.

For one, its more likely to use a piece of software for decades and want to avoid concerns about the vendor end-of-lifing it, and have the resources (provided it has access to the source) to arrange its own support, so it has a lot more to gain than a consumer from OSS -- which, btw, is more than just Linux. While desktop Linux may not work "out of the box" as well as Windows (a debate for another time and place), plenty of OSS software does work out of the box as well as its commercial competition, and a lot of that is the OSS that a big purchaser like a government would be most interested in.

Re:Your average computer user (1)

misanthrope101 (253915) | more than 8 years ago | (#15432023)

Many Linux distros already work better out of the box than does Windows. The only version of Windows that supports your hardware is the one that came with the computer--install from scratch with a plain Win-whatever disc and you'll be hunting for drivers all day, plus another half-day insstalling enough software to do anything other than surf the web.

If my HD dies right, then I can't just go to the store, buy a new HD, and re-install, because Sony just installed a hidden partition on my HD, and didn't give me restore disks. So I'm hosed for days or weeks until Sony deigns to give me a new disk. Or, I can install Linux, or a pirated copy of Windows. So which is better right out of the box?

Am I saying that Linux is better, by definition? No. But we have to admit that Windows is succeeding in the consumer space because of marketing and convenience, and in the business space because buying Microsoft makes it someone else's fault if the network or database goes off-line. Linux can be more complicated, and does involve learning, and if someone doesn't want to use it, it gives me no grief. But to give this reason--that it doesn't support the hardware like Windows does--is just false. Stick with the "it's too complicated" reasons and I'll leave you in peace.

If I were a foreign government (4, Insightful)

MarkEst1973 (769601) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431539)

Why the hell would I want to entrust all my gov't operations, all my military, all my businesses' computing needs to a closed source, foreign (from my point of view) vendor... like, say, MS?

Ok, so your military doesn't run windows. Our military runs (or at least used to) Solaris and HP-UX... but those are closed source, too, and owned by a foreign entity.

In the end, open source provides me -- as a sovereign nation -- the ability to control the critical pieces of my own infrastructure.

That's how I (as a person) see it, anyway. Whether or not foreign governments agree, I don't know.

Re:If I were a foreign government (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431585)

Our military runs (or at least used to) Solaris and HP-UX... but those are closed source, too, and owned by a foreign entity.

Sun has been providing OS sources to third parties for forever and a day. I realize it's BSD-derived but even I have access to the SunOS4 sources. Someone actually using SunOS5, especially a government defense entity, should have little trouble.

Hire your own people. (2, Interesting)

khasim (1285) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431770)

This isn't just about control. This is about jobs.

With any closed source software not written in your country, you're importing it and sending your money to another country.

If you pour some cash into your education system and train up your own programmers to modify the Open Source code to suit your needs, you're investing in your own people. The money stays in your country. Those programmers pay taxes to you on that money.

And you've got to realize that this is going to be a very important field in the future. Do you really want your people left behind?

Re:If I were a foreign government (1)

gnud (934243) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431956)

I remember the norwegian military got a copy of the Windows source some years back (I think it was for W2000).

Re:If I were a foreign government (1)

Cheapy (809643) | more than 8 years ago | (#15432022)

But then again, would you want your government and military running something that anyone could change?

I for one would rather have a closed source product, where people could be held accountable for their mistakes.

Re:If I were a foreign government (1)

IHateChoosingAName (976267) | more than 8 years ago | (#15432117)

How does having closed source software hold anyone accountable for mistakes made in it?

Re:If I were a foreign government (1)

Petrushka (815171) | more than 8 years ago | (#15432212)

How does using open source software mean that anyone can change it? What, you think any member of the public can log on to a government server as root and start changing stuff?

Re:If I were a foreign government (1)

rmerry72 (934528) | more than 8 years ago | (#15432041)

--> Why the hell would I want to entrust all my gov't operations, all my military, all my businesses' computing needs to a closed source, foreign (from my point of view) vendor... like, say, MS?

Because its a lot cheaper than writing your own - at least percieved cheaper - as is always the case with software. In the case of operating systems like Solaris, HP, and Windows (yes, even WIndows) the cost of writing from scrtach is enormous. You want your tax dollars funding a couple of thousands programmers, design and govenerment middle management for the next decade?

As typical on /. when the term OSS is thrown around it quickly runs down into a discussion about the free side of OSS. If you write it yourself it's always open source to you, you always matain control, and you don't pay maintenence to anybody. So why is OSS better than in-house?

Re:If I were a foreign government (1)

Eccles (932) | more than 8 years ago | (#15432273)

If you write it yourself it's always open source to you, you always matain control, and you don't pay maintenence to anybody. So why is OSS better than in-house?

Many, many companies need software that doesn't provide a special competitive advantage, it just keeps them going. As such, it behooves them to share development costs. This can either be done via proprietary software or OSS; in-house means you foot the entire bill.

Would you rather pay someone to fix a few issues you have with OpenOffice.org, or write your own office suite from scratch?

Re:If I were a foreign government (1)

rmerry72 (934528) | more than 8 years ago | (#15432423)

Many, many companies need software that doesn't provide a special competitive advantage, it just keeps them going.

As do many government departments. But this is about "control" of your software and assests, not about expedience.

Would you rather pay someone to fix a few issues you have with OpenOffice.org, or write your own office suite from scratch?

How is paying OpenOffice.org to fix a few issues with their products any different to paying MS to fix a few issues you have with MS Office? I thought one large difference between OSS and proprietory code was that I (or my team) or change the code. Paying somebody else is always an option, even the vendor themselves.

Perhaps the difference is there is a perception that buying a product like Office from a company like MS implies that I have already paid them enough to get a product I want to work the way I want. It "should" allow me to what I need and there should be few "bugs". Because we don't have that requirement of OSS then we wouldn't mind shelling out a few dollars for them to improve (as opposed to fix) their products.

Or is it that OSS teams are usually way more receptive to adding customers' suggested imrovements, whether money changes hands or not? Historically, the perception is, once you buy a product from a large vendor for lots of $$$ then they collect maintence and upgrade fees regularly but ignore suggested features from existing clients. You can't pay MS to add a particular widget to the Word toolbar, 'cause they'll just ignore you. Is that any different to large OSS projects where 99.9% of the other customers of the product don't need your widget?

Re:If I were a foreign government (1)

asuffield (111848) | more than 8 years ago | (#15432519)

How is paying OpenOffice.org to fix a few issues with their products any different to paying MS to fix a few issues you have with MS Office?

The difference is that you can. When was the last time you found a bug in MS Office and actually managed to pay MS to fix it? Unless you are buying millions of units, they won't even listen to you.

Author background. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15431564)

From the "fine" article:

To put it another way... M$ shill!!

OSS isn't everything (4, Insightful)

linvir (970218) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431568)

In practical terms OSS is only relevant as a part of a wider policy. Brazil's Digital Inclusion [wikipedia.org] (Google translation [66.249.93.104] ) is a good example. OSS barely even figures in the rhetoric for this. It's just one enabling factor.

This is how it's always going to be as well. Example: People don't move to Firefox because it's open source. They move to it because they're told it's better than IE, and they then stick with it because it's demonstrably better.

At the end of the day ideology is irrelevant to most people.

Re:OSS isn't everything (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15432071)

No. Ideology is irrelevant to most people during the day. At the proverbial "end of the day" it's the only thing that matters, and things like transparency and freedom become life and death. Poor policies lead to poverty, and more importantly social inequality. Inequality breeds resentment, which leads people to destructive and violent behavior.

Re:OSS isn't everything (1)

Russ Nelson (33911) | more than 8 years ago | (#15432376)

At the end of the day ideology is irrelevant to most people.

You were talking about Open Source .... and then you switched to Free Software rhetoric.

Open Source isn't an ideology. If Open Source isn't (as you say) demonstrably better for you (yes, in part because of freedom), then you shouldn't use it. We won't think the worse of you, either.

Re:OSS isn't everything (1)

linvir (970218) | more than 8 years ago | (#15432451)

Oops. Normally I'm quite good at keeping the two separate as well. What I really meant was that even though it's nice to sell the idea of open source using the ideological aspects of it, what with the main open source stuff being idealistic GPL'd Linux Free Software stuff, it's the practical benefits that really close the deal 'at the end of the day'.

And don't be so quick to assume that I'm just another one of those pesky anti-Linux fanatics. My point about ideology was intended to be objective, not another lame +5 Insightful dig at teh Lunix.

and this article says what exactly? (1)

DigDuality (918867) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431579)

Nice to note that this is an ex-MS employee. But the person doesn't debunk a single claim, just throws out some "uncertainties" to muddy the arguement. And it's not just foriegn governments i'd worry about. I don't want MS or whoever having access to government records and information without anyone else's knowledge. Now it'd be product suicide if they did so, but it's still a risk i wouldn't want to take. The government, IMO, should use FOSS (or at least OSS) whenever they can unless a proprietary solution is the only solution IMO. Wasting tax dollars (200 per OS? 150 or more on an office suite?) so some overpaid secretary is some obscure department can send e-mails and print fax cover sheets all day is a waste that would be better spent on other tasks (or better yet, in the people's pockets).

Re:and this article says what exactly? (1)

flimflammer (956759) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431706)

It would be more than product suicide if Microsoft decided to snoop some government documents. That's coporate suicide with prison time.

Open Source isn't about cost. It's about soverign (1)

Russ Nelson (33911) | more than 8 years ago | (#15432389)

Open Source isn't about cost. It's about getting your soverignity back.

Curiously contradictory article summary? (3, Informative)

Angostura (703910) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431582)

On the one hand the article summary claims:

"Trouble is, the benefits of open source are not always so clear-cut. Software is too complicated a creation to be captured in rhetoric"

While at the same time giving us a splendidly succinct piece of rhetoric:

Unlike proprietary software, for which the code is kept secret, the open-source variety can be copied, modified, and shared. [...]

And an Uncertain Argument of Uncertainty ... (1)

rewinn (647614) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431744)

From the article: "Software, with its millions of lines of code, is so complicated that experts don't know for sure that open source has fewer bugs, nor can they say with certainty that having fewer bugs makes open source more secure."

That argument proves too much. If it is impossible to be certain that any software is bug-free and/or in other ways insecure, it is all the more important that one be able to examine the source code.

Re:Curiously contradictory article summary? (1)

danceswithtrees (968154) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431928)

I don't see how her argument makes any sense. You could just as easily have argued that
Trouble is, the benefits of proprietary software are not always so clear-cut. Software is too complicated a creation to be captured in rhetoric.

Poorer Countries (2, Insightful)

runlevel 5 (977409) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431583)

I think poorer nations have the most to gain from employing open source software. The lower real cost of obtaining and updating computer systems (when using open source options) enables them to build infrastructures that would cost many times more to operate with closed source OS's and apps.

There are more things in heaven and earth.... (1)

Kenja (541830) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431589)

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Use the best tool for the job, regardless of philosophical ideal.

Which isn't to say that access to an application or platforms source code isn't a consideration when looking for whats best. Likewise budget is also a concern. But do not avoid a good solution, just because you feel that all software should be "free".

Re:There are more things in heaven and earth.... (1)

Tom (822) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431652)

Use the best tool for the job, regardless of philosophical ideal.

Bzzzt, wrong.

Governments are based on ideals. Such as democracy, freedom, equality, whatever.

A tool that blatantly violates these should not be used by a government, even if it is the best one. For example, many governments have strict quotes for minimum numbers of disabled employees even though they would probably "function" better without.

Free Software is important because it prevents data lock-in. One of the main reasons for Free Software by governments is that you can't make electronic tax forms mandatory if using the system requires a proprietory software that costs money (such as Windos). It's just not the government's job to force people into the direction of a specific company.

Re:There are more things in heaven and earth.... (1)

eln (21727) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431662)

Sure, use the best tool for the job. Or, in the case of government, use the tool suggested by the largest corporate donor to the most influential Senator or Congressman in the subcommittee in charge of making the decision.

Open Source has trouble making inroads into government because Open Source has no lobbying power. Certain large open source providers may have some lobbying power, but it pales in comparison to Microsoft's. You may see certain corners of the government using OSS in certain limited circumstances, but I wouldn't hold my breath on having the entire US government declared an "OSS-only zone" any time soon.

OSS has a chance in smaller, less wealthy nations, but anywhere where the bureaucracy and the lobbyists who support it are well entrenched, OSS is not speaking the right language for anyone in power to hear.

And stop calling me Horatio.

Humans make tools to make tools to accomplish task (1)

khasim (1285) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431825)

Not enough room for the final "s" in the subject.

Anyway, this "Use the best tool for the job, regardless of philosophical ideal" sounds nice ... and it may even be applicable for short term goals.

BUT ... we build the tools we use. If the tools that suit your philosphical ideals are not sufficient to the task, then make them sufficient.

It's only code. And governments have the money to hire the people to write the code that is the tools.

If there isn't an Open Source tool that will work for the project due next Friday, that's one thing.

But if you never start writing the tools as Open Source, they will never be available. You know what tools you use.

Thank you, please try again. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15431839)

Use the best tool for the job, regardless of philosophical ideal.

That is a philosophical ideal in itself, one saying that getting the job done is the most important thing there is. Which in turn invalidates the phrase as stated, as it is *not* regardless of philosophical ideal.

That getting the work done is the most important thing - especially in any imaginable case - is something a lot of people would disagree on. Sometimes other things are more important than the trains rolling on time, you know.

It's also a very bad saying in that it rarely actually states what a best tool is. Maybe MS Office is the best tool for writing a document today, but is it going to be the best tool for reading it tomorrow? You can't just blurt random stuff like that to get karma without clarifying how you know what the best tool is.

Thank you.

Re:There are more things in heaven and earth.... (1)

isilrion (814117) | more than 8 years ago | (#15432092)

But, what if I don't feel that all software should be free, but rather, that I want to be free, and I'm willing to work harder for it?

And what if I feel that my country should be free, and I'm willing to work harder for it?

"The best tool for the job" is nice in concept, but when the best tool for the job attacks your freedom and your country's, perhaps one should think twice before appliying that label to the tool.

There may be more things in earth than are dreamt in any philosophy, but a government that is not willing to defend its citicen's freedom is no government, and such an aberration should not exist.

I just hope that in your quest for comfort you don't make me lose my freedom.

Open is not Technical.. typical Microsoft FUD.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15431591)

This is another totally stupid FUD story about "Open Source"

Open source does not change your computer. It does not magically make the hard drive faster and the network slower. There are no "Technical Benefits". You can write the same software as "Open Source" as you can write in propritary, and you can make the same technical mistakes. Fundamentally this means "Free as in Freedom".

The benefit of "Open Source" is that everybody can see what you have really done; your work is available for others and that others can volunteer to help you with your work.

This means that the same "Technical" system should always be demanded by Governments as "Open Source".

Governments should not be allowed to work in secret. They should not be allowed to hide from their citizens. Closed source actually forces this with no benefit. It should not be allowed for use in public systems.

That's true (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15431597)

When the components that make up a "basic" linux system with a GUI and a web browser are 10 layers of libaries (kernel, GNU libc, binutils, X.org, DRI, XAA, Xgl, Cairo, Pango, glib, GTK, GNOME, Gecko, Mozilla) and the source code beyond 3,000,000,000 million lines of code and every one of these components has "open bugs which are fixed in CVS", it's not that anybody can actually do anything with the system, except wait for the next version of Debian which will hopefuly will fix all the issues and also include a free demo of Duke Nukem Forever. In the $100 laptop. And transparent Xterms. Maybe.

Government Bug Reports (1)

happyfrogcow (708359) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431616)

Bug reports about the government from it's workers, Whistleblowing, is now less protected. [reuters.com]

Talk about closed source government...

Open Source is Really a Threat (3, Insightful)

burningion (936461) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431655)

Open Source is really a threat to most governments. Open source software gives everyone equal access to the same tools, regardless of social class. It threatens the entire model of top-down hiearchy, as open source is a means for equalizing all access to information and exchange of information. Anyone can put together an Apache webserver and begin experimenting with having their own website, for free. No need for expensive schooling, as information is freely available to teach yourself. This will become a "problem" for places like the US, where we utilize the leverage of patents and trade secrets to maintain our superiority in the global marketplace. As places like India and China quickly become more technologically saavy, our economic model becomes threatened. One of the biggest keys in the future will be the regulation of the internet, and the censoring of information. I believe the best thing for the global society is free and anonymous access to all (public) information on the net.

Make your own DemocraKey [travelingforever.com] , and help spread the technology for free and anonymous access to all information.

Re:Open Source is Really a Threat (1)

linvir (970218) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431725)

Open source software gives everyone equal access to the same tools, regardless of social class. It threatens the entire model of top-down hiearchy, as open source is a means for equalizing all access to information and exchange of information. Anyone can put together an Apache webserver and begin experimenting with having their own website, for free. No need for expensive schooling, as information is freely available to teach yourself.
I disagree quite strongly with you. All OSS does is to remove one secondary barrier to entry, and it's still only the social elites who have full access. Illiteracy and poor education remain, OSS documentation is hard to understand at the best of times for the most technical of us, and given that anyone can also get pirate copies of non-free software, the difference is looking pretty insignificant.

This is why I think open source is only worth a shit socially if it's part of a much wider process of social change (and why I support the $100 laptop project). Otherwise it's piss in the wind.

not quite (1)

misanthrope101 (253915) | more than 8 years ago | (#15432090)

No one opposes OSS because of the reasons you give. They aren't trying to hold down the proletariat by keeping them ignorant of computing. They distrust it because it isn't based on the greed model, so they can't fathom where it came from, what motivates it, etc. It's just too disorienting to be told that a bunch of hobbyists put all this together because they wanted to, and gave it away. All the rich people like Bill Gates and Ralph Ellison, the very people who govt goes to for "expertise" (because they're rich, they must know what they're talking about, right?) tell them that OSS is comprised of a bunch of wacko communists whose ideas are bad for the nation.

That is where the perceived threat is--government listens first and foremost to the rich people, because of the assumption that is what is good for the rich people is good for the nation. There is no Marxist or Kafkaesque plot to keep the poor away from quality software.

"Better" has nothing to do with it (1)

Enrique1218 (603187) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431713)

Foreign governments aren't necessarily embracing open source because its better, but rather it is not Microsoft or tied to any other US entity (Apple or Sun). It could because of nationalism, pragmatic foreign policy, or a national security issue. Whatever the reason, no government reasonably wants something as important has the operating system of their vital computers at the whim of company based in a foreign country and subject to its policy decisions. Open source is good because it is viable alternative, it is open, and they don't have to start from scratch which could take years of R&D. This isn't hard to understand.

Re:"Better" has nothing to do with it (1)

RockModeNick (617483) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431773)

Aren't we already at the whim of foreighn companies to get the hardware to run it on anyway?

Re:"Better" has nothing to do with it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15432178)

Aren't we already at the whim of foreighn companies to get the hardware to run it on anyway?

Perhaps but those companies probably can't send a "patch" that'll hose your entire infrastructure in seconds.

To put it another way that'll make more sense to USians: suppose MS was a Chinese company?

FUD (1)

penguin-collective (932038) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431736)

Trouble is, the benefits of open source are not always so clear-cut. Software is too complicated a creation to be captured in rhetoric, and assertions about some of the technical benefits of open source fail to tell the whole story.

The story is pure FUD, full of trite generalities that are intended to create doubt in the reader's mind.

In fact, the situation is quite simple: we have two kinds of software, free and open source one, and for-pay and closed-source software. Without further information, free and open source software is the default choice, in particular when it comes to tax-payer funded purchases.

The burden of proof is on those advocating proprietary software, not on those advocating free and open source software. It is people advocating proprietary software who must demonstrate, in each and every case, that the costs and risks associated with buying software from a vendor is offset by clear and significant benefits.

Re:FUD, FUDDER, FUDDEST (2, Insightful)

rewinn (647614) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431785)

From the Article... it is misleading to say that open source empowers people in ways proprietary software does not. Both open source and proprietary software allow you to change the behavior of a software program in significant ways without touching the program's source code

Those two sentences go beyond mere FUD to outright deception.

  • It equates empowerment to changing program behavior without changing the source code, as if source code inspection for security flaws were of no significance; +1 FUD
  • It ignores the possibility that modifying source code can be far more empowering more than tweakiing program behavior; +1 FUD
  • It accuses OSS proponents of being misleading. +1 FUD

Bad doggie! No cookie for you!

Re:FUD (1, Troll)

KingMotley (944240) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431939)

That's not the way it works. It's those that want to deviate from the norm/corporate standard that must demonstrate the benefits/cost of an alternative, and in many cases it must VASTLY outweigh the standard for it to even be considered.

Something being "Free" in itself doesn't make a solution the best one (or default). If I offered your company "Free" lunches for all your employees everyday, would they hire my services? What if I charged $5000 per plate I had to wash (and you have to use me for dish washing)? "Free" doesn't mean anything unless you also consider all the costs involved with such a purchase. This is something companies are very used to doing, and something that FOSS doesn't do particularly well on in most cases.

The fact is that linux is NOT ready for the desktop. It's come a long ways, and it will get there eventually, but it isn't. Without it being on the desktop, IT shops then have to decide whether it is worth having a single OS throughout the company (Windows) for all desktops, laptops, servers, and even some PDAs, or would it be more cost beneficient to have some machines linux and some machines windows. This entails having two completley different set of tools (Backup, maintenance, diagnostics, imaging), and atleast one more person in the IT department that is a linux person that can support, configure and maintain the linux machines. Then you have to retrain all the people that might need to use the servers (Network admins, email admins, web server admins, etc). You will either have to move some stuff to OS-agnostic software packages, or deal with the inevitable higher maintenaince of dealing with the interoperability issues. Usually, it does right at the point you say it's FREE (But we have to hire another $40,000-$80,000 IT guy to support it). At $30-$50 a license for Windows that most mid/large companies pay for a copy of Windows, it'll take a LOT of licenses to justify that single additional person. Not to mention that in a time when companies are trying to focus on their core products, it's a rather hard sell to try and explain why you need to expand you IT department to support something that has nothing to do with your product at all. Most accountants/CFO's see this a dilution of ROI, which is not a good thing.

I'm not against linux. It has it's place and it has it's uses, but advocate the right tool for the right job when appropriate. There is a lot more than just what is technologically "better" when deciding on what platform(s) a company uses. All good companies keep an eye on what will make it profitable (or more profitable), not necessarily what costs the least to buy, or even what costs the least in TCO.

Re:FUD (1)

m874t232 (973431) | more than 8 years ago | (#15432111)

That's not the way it works. It's those that want to deviate from the norm/corporate standard that must demonstrate the benefits/cost of an alternative, and in many cases it must VASTLY outweigh the standard for it to even be considered.

You are describing how many irrational organizations work. I'm stating how rational organizations need to behave.

The fact is that linux is NOT ready for the desktop.

The fact is that you're full of shit. Linux is technically superior as a desktop OS to both Windows and Macintosh: it's more consistent, less prone to security problems, more advanced technically, easier to install, and easier to maintain.

One can argue that there are non-technical reasons why a Windows or Mac purchase still makes sense. For example, I'm using a Macintosh laptop right now simply because OS X is preinstalled on it. And I have a Windows partition for the occasional Windows-only software. But none of those are intrinsic advantages of Windows or Macintosh.

IT shops then have to decide whether it is worth having a single OS throughout the company (Windows) for all desktops, laptops, servers, and even some PDAs, or would it be more cost beneficient to have some machines linux and some machines windows.

First of all, the idea that Microsoft ships a single Windows OS is a myth; Microsoft ships half a dozen different operating systems, some of them wildly incompatible. If you go with all-Microsoft systems, you are already running a multi-platform shop.

Second, in my experience, almost any Windows system you replace with a UNIX or Linux system in an organization, desktop or server, greatly reduces support costs.

Usually, it does right at the point you say it's FREE (But we have to hire another $40,000-$80,000 IT guy to support it). At $30-$50 a license for Windows that most mid/large companies pay for a copy of Windows,

No, usually, at this point, I point out that, in all the organizations I have ever worked, each Windows desktop machine has required about 10x the amount of IT support hours as UNIX or Linux desktop machines.

Windows systems are enormously labor, support, and training intensive. That is one big reason for getting rid of them.

There is a lot more than just what is technologically "better" when deciding on what platform(s) a company uses.

Indeed. But except for compatibility with some proprietary software and corporate inertia, Windows loses in just about every category: TCO, support costs, training costs, security, licensing costs, reliability, usability, consistency, interoperability, technology, business risk, upgrade costs, etc.

...And the FUD-spreading site runs on what? (4, Interesting)

orzetto (545509) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431749)

Running a nmap -P0 -O foreignpolicy.com, you get among other things:

Device type: general purpose|media device
Running: Linux 2.4.X, Pace embedded
OS details: Linux 2.4.18 - 2.4.27, Pace digital cable TV receiver
Uptime 175.187 days (since Tue Dec 6 19:18:51 2005)

So it's open source, Linux, and running continuosly for 6 months. Ahh, the coherence.

Re:...And the FUD-spreading site runs on what? (1)

linvir (970218) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431790)

Shame it's a worthwhile read and not actually FUD at all. Honestly, I have the word Linux branded all over my Slashdot account and my website, and apparently even I am viewing the world more objectively than many Slashdotters.

The fact-based intellectual content was zero (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15432144)

Vague statements negative. "This opinion/that opinion" pseudo-balance. Nothing you can pin down, but clearly intended to induce FUD in people who aren't knowledgable about software.

There are serious fact-based positions wrt security, feature-set, TCO, ... of OSS vs proprietary software.

This woman knows none of it. At best, she is someone who picked up on the Zeitgeist at MS, and had enough political pull to get an article into FP. At worst, she is a professional spreader of FUD for MS.

Re:...And the FUD-spreading site runs on what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15432412)

Pace digital cable TV receiver

Nah, you're just seeing their cable modem. Which seems like a kinda crappy connection for a website...

That said, given this lady's bio, I think you're right about the astroturf.

Heh. Take a look at the source. (3, Interesting)

dbarclay10 (70443) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431769)

Caroline Benner is a fellow at the University of Washington's Institute for International Policy. From 2001 to 2003, Ms. Benner was a consultant with the geopolitical policy and strategy group at Microsoft.

Yeah. Take a look at the source. I wonder if maybe she's still freelancing for them.

Really all the article does is point out that there's no silver bullet. She does so by pointing out that there are "claims" about open source. That's it. She doesn't dispute the claims. She just says they're claims. Unsurprisingly, she also doesn't point to the evidence of the claims.

FUD stands for "fear, uncertainty, and doubt." This may very well be a simple, subtle form of doubt-sewing. Nothing actually inaccurate in the article, that I saw, but also called into question some faily well-proven FOSS benefits (such as a lower cost of ownership).

About the worst I saw was:

For example, they believe that the total cost of ownership of open-source software is lower than that of proprietary software because they avoid the expensive licensing fees that companies like Microsoft charge.

Actually, most people I know don't consider "Total Cost of Ownership." That's a term made up by Microsoft in an attempt to make FOSS proponents look like they're narrow-minded and that their conclusions were incomplete and "irrelevant to business." Everybody I know looks at "cost" - period. "Cost", by definition, without any modifiers, *must* mean total cost. "Partial cost" or "license cost" may mean something other than Cost, capital C.

Likewise, relatively few people I know think Microsoft licensing is the main cost in a Microsoft shop; the legions of sysadmins and helpdesk staff, as well as the lost productivity and downtime cost quickly outweight the (relatively benign) up-front cost of Microsoft software. Take a look at Red Hat's licensing - it's actually more expensive than Microsoft on most fronts. You make it up tenfold in reduced operating expenses, however, and you can save even more in operating expenses if you go with a more technologically advanced flavour such as Debian GNU/Linux (you also reduce the up-front procurement costs as well).

Bah. I can't believe I wasted five minutes debunking this Microsoft-shill fluff piece.

Re:Heh. Take a look at the source. (1)

KingMotley (944240) | more than 8 years ago | (#15432039)

Actually, most people I know don't consider "Total Cost of Ownership." That's a term made up by Microsoft in an attempt to make FOSS proponents look like they're narrow-minded and that their conclusions were incomplete and "irrelevant to business." Everybody I know looks at "cost" - period. "Cost", by definition, without any modifiers, *must* mean total cost. "Partial cost" or "license cost" may mean something other than Cost, capital C.


Actually, the term TCO was made up by the Gartner Group in 1987. Cost by definition, without any modifiers, *must* mean cost. Any other assumption is wrong, and most likely just used to try and prove a point that you believe. Either you had no better proof, or you made the poor choice of using a false idea as a backup to your supposid truth.

You are of course, welcome to your own opinion. Everyone has one, but stating things that are either opinions or wrong as undeniable truths/must-be/can't-be-anything-buts doesn't help prove anything other than how bad your logic is, and why what you say can't be trusted.

Re:Heh. Take a look at the source. (1)

Petrushka (815171) | more than 8 years ago | (#15432255)

Actually, most people I know don't consider "Total Cost of Ownership." That's a term made up by Microsoft ...

The IT services department at the university where I work did consider precisely that, specifically and explicitly, using that exact phrase, and chomped on the MS bait -- hook, line, and sinker. And, purely by-the-by, now they specifically and explicitly refuse to support Linux or BSD. (Oh, they support OS X; that's somehow "OK" -- it's just Linux that's not "OK". I wonder what kind of dealing went on to ensure that little distinction.)

Re:Heh. Take a look at the source. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15432421)

Wow, you both flamed the term "TCO" and managed to make the standard *nix TCO argument in the same post. Not very well played.

The Article is NOT true (Linux excepted) (2, Insightful)

i am kman (972584) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431810)

No, No, No! The headline and much of the article is extremely misleading).

Sure, governments are starting to use Linux as the ONLY viable alternative to the hated Microsoft.

But that's it. While Linux is open source, open source is not defined by using Linux.

Much of the US government explicitly bans open source and I've supported 2 foreign government contracts that also had explicit anti-open source requirements. And they ban open source specifically because it is a potential security risk. In fact, it seems quite reasonable to question why the US (or European) countries would want to use open source code that may have been developed in China or even France (or others countries well known for their industrial espionage).

In any case, who the hell actually believes open source is MORE secure simply because they publish their millions of lines of code? Like ANY customer is actually going to look at the code.

Ok, before flaming, I agree some, well tested, well accepted, and well controlled open source with blessed versioning is more secure (probably MUCH more secure) because of exhaustive testing and support by real companies, but that's VERY different than arguing it's more secure governments can peek at the source code.

As a side note, open STANDARDS are a completely different topic and all governments want, love, and support open standards. Unfortunately, Open Source and Open Standards are very often confused by governments and government contracts.

That said, some countries like open source because it providesa competative advantage. For instance, China is rapidly excelling in HW production so open source acts to undermine the competative advantages more developed countries have built up in their commercial software industries. (That, and open source allows the Chinese government to insert all sorts of filters in place, but that's a different story).

security of open source (1)

bananaendian (928499) | more than 8 years ago | (#15432371)

who the hell actually believes open source is MORE secure simply because they publish their millions of lines of code? Like ANY customer is actually going to look at the code.

Apparently everyone else but you...

The keyword you missed is 'inherently'. Having a lot of independent eyeballs on the code is essential priciple for locating bugs and avoiding backdoors. That's why even proprietary software companies pay for 'verification' by 'independent' certifiers. And there is not a single closed encryption algorithm in the world that is considered secure. There is simply no security in obscurity.

Your disclaimer is no excuse for this FUD where you imply that somehow adversaries could slip compromising code into open source projects used in government contracts. The chances of such code remaining unnoticed is much less than in proprietary projects where you merely have to bribe one key developer. And nobody runs mission critical things off latest source trees anyway. The blanket ban on all 'open source' software is likely a kneejerk reaction by uninformed byrocrats. Or perhaps they're already owned by the vendors and private companies the contracts predictably go to.

No FUD can stop Open-Source. Try again Mrs. Benner (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15431815)

>>Across the globe, politicians are embracing open-source software with grand pronouncements >>and great expectations.
False. It has less to do with the politicians. It has more to do with the real people who need this to happen. The inertia comes straight from software developers that believe in the common good and the synergy that can happen people share ideas and creations.

>>Although they are correct to identify potential benefits, software is far more complicated >>than their talking points, and it may disappoint those with outsized hopes.
I smell FUD(Fear Uncertainty Doubt)...particularly some seeds of UNCERTAINTY being disseminated in this statement. "It may disappoint...?"
The people open-source projects may disappoint are mostly "Microcerfs" such as Mrs. Benner herself
>>>Caroline Benner is a fellow at the University of Washington's Institute for International >>Policy. From 2001 to 2003, Ms. Benner was a consultant with the geopolitical policy and >>>strategy group at Microsoft.

>>>Trouble is, the benefits of open source are not always so clear-cut. Software is too >>>complicated a creation to be captured in rhetoric, and assertions about some of the >>>technical benefits of open source fail to tell the whole story.
MORE FUD.

>>"There are really two reasons that it is very difficult to know whether software is >>secure," says Stanford University computer scientist Alex Aiken. "The first reason is that >>even the simplest software program consists of hundreds of thousands to millions of parts, >>and potentially all of these have to be correct, or the system may have security >>vulnerabilities.
The same goes for closed proprietary software. Stalemate here Mrs. Benner.

>>The second reason is that we have no technology for systematically
>>checking that the parts are correct and fit together in a way that ensures security."
These are a work in progress. The same goes for closed proprietary software. Stalemate here Mrs. Benner.

>>The Chinese have a preference for open source because they distrust software that cannot >>be audited, a concern that became especially acute after the discovery of the phrase >>"_NSAKEY" (thought to refer to the National Security Agency) in the code of Microsoft's >>Windows software in 1999.
Mrs. Benner is certainly not scoring any points to support proprietary software by mentioning this fact.

>>Microsoft has sought to allay worries over trapdoors by allowing governments to peruse its >>code.
That said, the general public, the tax payers giving the money to the governments to serve them well are not allowed to look at Microsoft's source code. Microsoft is certainly not winning any points here either. Contrary to what some people may think, not all of the world's innovative software developers work for Microsoft or for the governments. The trapdoors might not be detected by anyone working for Microsoft or the government. Besides I find it arrogant to think that regular tax payers should not be allowed access to source code to see what Microsoft has delivered to the government considering the tax payers should be able to see what kind of value they are getting for their money. I am actually proposing that all Microsoft source code should be made RMS compliant (GPL) because that is the right thing to do. The work Microsoft did is ultimately all the tax payer's property.

>>>Furthermore, software is so complex that serious source code manipulation and maintenance >>>is a high-cost endeavor,
There are many pieces of open source code out there available to do whatever you can think of. If it doesn't do what you can think of, there usually is something close that you can use, make do with, or modify.

>>computer science is too young a discipline, and there is too much we do not yet know about >>software to be so sure. Governments may be wise to choose open source. They just shouldn't >>count on it to do much more than what software does best: process the data of the >>information age.
Governments are wise to choose open source GPL and Operating Systems like DEBIAN and UBUNTU which clearly understand the notion of Free and Open-Source software.
Contrary to what Mrs. Benner is saying, Open-source doesn't have to stop with just software application and operating systems. Open-source hardware like computers, robots, sensors, chips etc...

OT: Story Tags (1)

LesPaul75 (571752) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431823)

Ok, so I see the new tags under each story. Now, how do I actually browse by tag? For example, how do I find all the stories tagged as web20? Isn't that the point of tags? I'm probably just not doing something right, but when I click a tag, it just pops up a little window allowing me to enter more tags.

People have no clue about govt usage... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15431887)

Highly classified government programs....labs, R&D, etc....DO get windows source code....MS engineers were basically assinged full time to several projects to provide source code and go over it line by line with the agency engineers who wanted to be sure of what they were using/customizing.

The idea that people on here have that the US government agencies at the highest levels do NOT get Windows source code is very naive...

Open-source is not about "technical benefits" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15431895)


> and assertions about some of the technical benefits of open source fail to tell the whole story.

Open-source is not about technical benefits at all.

Open-source is exclusively about licensing benefits, which leads to a whole set of legal, economic, and political ramifications.

It's extremely misleading to say that the technical benefits of open-source "fail to tell the whole story". In fact, open-source is completely technology neutral -- so there's really no story to tell here. An equal number of anecdotes can be found to suggest either the superiority or the inferiority of open-source.

A response for the non-techie (3, Informative)

grcumb (781340) | more than 8 years ago | (#15431951)

Benner's article states:

'In a 2002 letter to Microsoft, Peruvian Congressman Edgar David Villanueva Núñez noted that, "Relative to the security of the software itself, it is well known that all software (whether proprietary or free) contains 'errors' or 'bugs' (in programmers' slang). But it is also well-known that the bugs in free software are fewer." Yet, ask computer security experts and they'll tell you that's not necessarily true. Software, with its millions of lines of code, is so complicated that experts don't know for sure that open source has fewer bugs, nor can they say with certainty that having fewer bugs makes open source more secure.'

This statement is true, as far as it goes. But it ignores something that's far more important than the opinion of a computer scientist: empirical evidence. No matter how you measure it, FOSS software is successfully exploited far less often than proprietary software. In many cases, the differences are striking. There are, for example, effectively no Linux viruses in the wild.

Even in cases where FOSS is the dominant application (like the Apache web server, for example) the number of successful attacks are so much lower that there is no effective competition from the alternatives.

So the key here is not whether software is provably secure (i.e. auditable) but that it's effectively secure. The difference here is subtle, especially to those who don't understand software. It's something crucially important, however.

There's another issue here that's at the core of the Free Software philosophy: process. The FOSS software development process is based entirely delivering quality software. In fact, development cycles and processes often sacrifice convenience for IT folks in favour of solid code. Proprietary software is almost always driven by business priorities which sometimes - but not always - put a low priority on software quality.

Another quotation from the article:

'There are really two reasons that it is very difficult to know whether software is secure [....] The first reason is that even the simplest software program consists of hundreds of thousands to millions of parts, and potentially all of these have to be correct, or the system may have security vulnerabilities. The second reason is that we have no technology for systematically checking that the parts are correct and fit together in a way that ensures security."'

Both of these points (that even simple software is hopelessly complex, and that there is no systematic way to test intereactions between software) are inaccurate. It's like saying that human bodies are composed of billions of cells, so we'll never be able to measure a person's health.

Unix-inspired systems usually use a 'toolkit' approach, in which a number of small, special-purpose tools are brought together to perform complex tasks. The result is that each individual part is very well understood and performs its task(s) in a clear fashion. So, while it may be true that it's hard to document every possible interaction between software elememts, that's not nearly the problem the writer makes it out to be.

The article concludes:

'Software becomes more interesting--indeed, rhetoric-worthy--when it promises a better future. Open source may well deliver that promise, but computer science is too young a discipline, and there is too much we do not yet know about software to be so sure.'

This is a silly argument, especially in an article that claims to compare two alternative approaches to software. Computer science is not a young discipline, even if you compare it to physics and mathematics. The fundamentals of computing were understood even before we had computers to test with. The assertion that we just don't know enough is just plain wrong-headed.

Furthermore, even if it is true that we don't know enough, shouldn't that be an argument in favour of open source, where at least nothing is deliberately hidden?

Obviously, the author has never developed or... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15432161)

supported software.
Both open source and proprietary software allow you to change the behavior of a software program in significant ways without touching the program's source code.
The ability to see source code to customize, debug or even just understand it is an enormous advantage. Configuration files or administration screens cannot come close to the flexibility of that.

We want the feds to use open source (1)

pestilence669 (823950) | more than 8 years ago | (#15432223)

Once OSS becomes commonplace in divisons like the IRS, congress will be much less likely to pass bills that jeopardize operations (like tax collection). Their adoption almost ensures continued protections for the GPL and the open source community in general. If only they'd start giving tax breaks to OSS developers for performing a patriotic duty... I can dream, right?

not the us airforce (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15432244)

The US Air Force does not like open source. They block all open source sites
on firewalls. Calling them "freeware/shareware". Cannot even get to apache.org
anymore

Oh, good, the "It's so complex" argument (1)

Mateo_LeFou (859634) | more than 8 years ago | (#15432350)

It's impossible to tell how many bugs pieces of software have because they're so complex. In other news, it's impossible to tell which animals are smarter because brains are so complex.

"auditing any source code in order to ensure there are no security vulnerabilities is nigh on impossible"

True, if the auditor is a government, even a large, well-funded government. If the auditor is the entire computing population of the earth, it's easier.

Which gets us full circle: the way you find faults an exceedingly complex device/program is to drop it onto as large a population as possible; put it into service in as many widely-varying situations as you can, and the overall uptime stats will show you which pieces of gosh-this-is-complicated software are most stable. EOF.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?