Although the types of systems you have mentioned are extremely going points and useful examples that poorer countries would benefit from!
Some good points here but I think it got off topic a little bit. Malta aren't looking to take up the reins on huge open source programs and help with the development - they are looking for places to save money where a like to like replacement can be used. Have a look at the comparison tables in the document (I know it's a long read, I'm still only halfway through). However, what's wrong with government projects to develop software which could then be released under GNU licenses for other (poorer?) countries to use. It's almost a more useful form of financial aid. Patient Administration Systems, Benefit processing systems, Vehicle licensing systems etc etc...The only companies the government would crowd out would be the ones that were making crappy and expensive software in the first place.
Although the types of systems you have mentioned are extremely going points and useful examples that poorer countries would benefit from!
Everyone already uses open source. the likelihood is that this web page (or it's parts) coming to me went through 3-30 proxy/load ballancing/cache servers, all of the ones i know about were OSS, so local cache (squid), LGFL (squid) ect. I'm also pretty sure that all of the switches and routers on site are using a linux variant and/or include OSS code. And alot of govt website use open source tech like php. I think it's a common misconception that the govt doesn't use OSS, they do, but without knowing it.
I don't think using PHP on a government webpage quite qualifies as embracing OSS...in those areas (squid too), Linux is pretty much the de facto standard (for good reason!).
(I am a Capita employee and am posting personal opinions unrelated to my employer.)
I'd like to pick apart slightly the different meanings of 'Open' and how the forum sees the capabilities and needs of governments within that context. From memory, "open" has meant many things during my professional career;
1) Originally it signified either a published standard of specification (typically for data transfer file formats). I remember systems which could transact CSV files being described as having 'open data transfer' capabilities.
2) Open then came to mean some kind of compliance with an open standard, rather than publishing a proprietary standard.
3) Open also seems to mean to some people 'open source code', where third parties can view a set of source code in order to critique/understand its function, but with the source code remaining under copyright.
4) Open also has meant the adherance to certain API standards such as COM etc in order that certain components of systems can be unplugged and alternatives provided from another source.
5) Latterly Open has come to mean software source code distributed with an open copyright where the originator no longer enforces their right to limit the copying of the source code.
In response to the original question posed, it seems to me that a government has a unique role in setting specifications for data transfer standards for data to be transacted within the government (such specification becomes the 'legal tender' of data). In this case the government is acting as a client for industry, and defines how industry should send data back and forth to it (for industry, substitute 'department of government' for education). If the governments data specifications are best met be a pre-existing international open standard, so much the better, but it makes little difference within the borders of that nation. A parallel with currency is useful here - governments specify 'legal tender' as being the specie that is used by the government to denominate government debt; it doesn't care what citizens actually use to trade with each other, so long as the government only needs to handle 'its' currency when it comes to government transactions.
Does a government have a unique capability to publish computer source code, and seek contributions to its construction ? Here I think the situation isn't quite as clear. I'm not sure any government department has a unique expertise in software construction; its not a function of state. If the argument is that a government should specify the method by which software is constructed when that software is paid for directly, or indirectly out of taxation revenues, then it follows that we believe the government to be uniquely capable of being correct in their decision on the method of construction. I don't see where this projected expertise arrives from. Where governments have used external consultants to provide that level of strategic advice, its not been universally popular or successful.
What is the functional difference between a product procured by government, then provided freely to its citizens, and one which the government specifies must be provided to its citizens under an copyright-free arrangement ? The first model is illustrated by the BBC. Essentially the government has 'picked a winner' and provided its product freely to its citizens; however the product is neither free to produce nor a community endeavour. Alternatively the government could have specified that all television (and radio etc) be provided free to its citizens and specified the mode of production and in addition declined to fund it. I would agree this would mean lower taxes, but would it mean a better outcome ?
I hope this slightly wooly line of reasoning does make sense to some of the forum participants; I know a lot of you are very positive about the Open Source/Free Source model, but I'd like to see if there are parallels in other industries where open specifications have actually led to a similar solution to that advocated in the Open Source/Free Source community. My PC is built from components that follow a mixture of open and proprietary (published) specifications - however I can't see how it could ever have been produced for 'free'. Is it that, because software reproduction has zero marginal cost, it leads us to believe that paying for an easily reproduced item is somehow incorrect. Even in the sphere of gaming (a non trivial industry) moddable games are a huge seller, customisable to the nth degree, but they are not free and are not Open Source - is this 'open enough' or is there an absolute neccessity for highly customisable software to be free at the point of consumption ?
A thoroughly thought out post there, however, your argument about using PC components which are open standards is flawed...manufacturing costs go into mass producing these...and all of the varients
for open software, it only takes 1 person who wants to better the world to produce it, and each person can mod it as they see fit (if allowed by licensing) and does not have massive costs likes computer components manufacturers have.
Its the fact that software reproduction has zero marginal cost (i.e. one can copy it with almost zero additional cost) that means the "free software" model is more viable than otherwise ? OSS not only grants a license to re-use, it also (generally) grants that license free of charge. It doesn't neccessarily follow that all the other declared benefits of OSS hang off the "free of cost license" model. Bear with me;-
If the relationship between marginal cost and charge to the consumer is valid, then the following must be true - "it is better for society that products must be sold for a price equivalent to their marginal cost of production for a single unit". I believe this is the moral point being made by OSS - as you say "1 person who wants to better the world" is a moral position; it talks about "bettering" the world rather than making an argument that such a mode of production leads inherently to a better product.
If this argument is to stand, I suppose it must (on the same moral and philosphical grounds) be applied to all other products which have the same low marginal reproduction cost. All electronic media entertainment for instance would be required by a government to be provided free of royalties to their citizens. This seems odd; and indeed its not the case. The artist decides under what license they will have their work reproduced - the government has no role. When applied to something like the BBC it would required that 'all artists broadcast by the BBC must waive their royalties in perpetuity'. Here I'm trying to make a difference between what the artist might choose to do (out of the goodness of their hearts; or alternatively to raise their media profile) and what role a government has to play in mandating such an arrangement. Would this neccessarily lead to better music and films ?
How about the "millionth mini" - would that also need to be provided at a charge equivalent to its marginal cost of reproduction ? If it applies to the millionth mini, what about the first one off the production line whose marginal cost is enormous. It seems the manufacturer would need to act as some kind of charity, backed by some kind of investment (but not from the end-consumer; else its simply a proxy for a consumption charge negating the argument) which is written off immediately the product goes on sale. This is essentially what OSS authors are doing - waiving the initial production costs of software and charging the marginal costs on reproduction (nil) and the marginal cost of installation and training (some).
Thanks for debating this - its easy for this kind of thing to become swiftly accusatory.
I think the original post revolved around two meanings of 'open' in relation to IT endeavours and government involvement.
1. Open standards - being largely interoperability issues of one form or another, essentially allowing decoupling of systems at specified boundaries - such as electrical connectivity between devices or specific file formats allowing connectivity between systems or between publishers/information providers and information consumers. Open standards should be championed by governments. They allow for properly competitive and efficient markets.
2. Open Source - being 'free' and properly quantified by the Free Software Foundation "Free as in free speech, not free beer". I don't see this as something that compels any government to mandate the actual production of software - as you rightly point out the 'state' (as such) has no expertise in such areas as software production. But they could state a preference - where two products are equally suitable for doing a job and perhaps competing on equal TCO basis, should they then be able to discriminate on the basis of the availability of the source code - that the code is 'open'? I think in general they should and in some cases, where governments are purchasing software from suppliers that they should only do so if code can be inspected and held in escrow (think nuclear power station control systems or military communication systems).
I don't see any of that interfering with competition or mandating that people have to give things away. The BBC commissions and purchases from independent producers despite being in the production game themselves. The arbiter is quality not some notion of communism or the frequently mistaken notion with free software - of something for nothing.
torledo (1st November 2010)
Thanks for your reply.
In the realm of open standards, I think a government has a responsibility to mandate standards for communiction with and within the government, in order to make it efficient, but I don't understand why you think they have a duty to champion open standards elsewhere. For example (glib; I realise) I think the government was quite right not to champion either of the open standards Betamax or VHS; its not their duty or expertise to do so. Similarly, I see the government having an absolute right to specify DDA AAA open standards compliance for publicly funded web sites, but probably don't have a right to specify how a games console user interface should operate, and indeed they don't do so.
In terms of my example of the BBC, I was trying to draw a parallel with other areas of government provision of electronic services. Certainly they mandate the data interchange format (i.e. the radio spectrum and the format of the signal encoding) but they don't seem to perceive they have a role in mandating the terms under which the content is licensed from authors producers despite all of it being paid from the public purse. I believe you are agreeing with me here, that the government have no role in intervening in the licensing/royalty model used by authors/artists to produce their product - the key arbitrator is quality, not terms of sale ?
Yet the line for DDA isn't drawn at 'publicly funded'. I think that is conflating two issues - the government isn't really the one with rights as such, in that case the government is legislating to protect people's rights, access to things considered as rather 'basic' rights - employment, education, transport, land and property. You could look at that another way though, surely if the businesses and corporations played fair to everyone, then there would be no need of such legislation. The simple truth though, is that corporations don't play fair and don't want to play fair. Openness and transparency are poison to most corporate entities. They want the majority of the market where the money is without having to cater to the minority who will only reduce their margins. They don't just want the sale based on the merits of their product, they want to maximise the lock-in that product gives them and milk the revenue stream for everything it is worth.Similarly, I see the government having an absolute right to specify DDA AAA open standards compliance for publicly funded web sites, but probably don't have a right to specify how a games console user interface should operate, and indeed they don't do so.
I certainly agree that they do not need to intervene at the level you are suggesting. I think you are mistaken in one of your basic assumptions as I pointed out. Copyright in open source is not relinquished by the authors. Perhaps this is leading you to some ... err ... weird conclusions.In terms of my example of the BBC, I was trying to draw a parallel with other areas of government provision of electronic services. Certainly they mandate the data interchange format (i.e. the radio spectrum and the format of the signal encoding) but they don't seem to perceive they have a role in mandating the terms under which the content is licensed from authors producers despite all of it being paid from the public purse. I believe you are agreeing with me here, that the government have no role in intervening in the licensing/royalty model used by authors/artists to produce their product - the key arbitrator is quality, not terms of sale ?
Adoption of open source by governments is not something that overturns the rights of the creators of works - nor should it. The question is whether open source in itself, all other things being equal, is a criteria that gives the state (or society if you prefer) something of 'value'. I would argue that it can, one obvious value being higher quality and better guarantee of assurance of quality, but there are other benefits too - such as reducing lock-in which increases the fairness of markets as all competitors are then on an equal footing to provide the downstream services.
Thanks for the further reply.
I agree that DDA was a poor example - it was intended to illustrate that, where a government is the specifier of a product they buy, they have the authority to specify how it works but not how it is produced (or at least they <could> specify how it was produced, but generally they dont care).
I understand that the copyright in open source remains with the author of the work; I am attempting to draw out what part of 'Open' should fall within the remit of government. The statement from the Maltese government merely mentions 'best value for money', and 'interoperability', both of which I believe UK goverment has an active current role in. danbuntu (and I believe SYNACK and toledo's comments also concur with the spirit of them) commented that he would be happy for his taxes to be spent by a government on working with and building open source software, which I contend is not within the remit of government (and I think we agree on this, as does jamesfed from his comment).
Where I think the situation becomes contentious is where there is support that government generally should support the Free Software Foundation definition of 'Free' which would force upon the author a specific form of contract between them and the consumers of the software. Although the author retains the copy right, they confer the 'freedom' for any user of the software to distribute it in whole or part to anyone they see fit, and I'm not sure a government has a role in specifying that the author should provide such freedom to consumers; its seems a little 'totalitarian' in aspect.
Again, to avoid doubt, these are my own personal views and do not reflect the views of my employer.
Thanks for the debate !
I'm not clear either your reasons why you say "I'm not sure any government department has a unique expertise in software construction; its not a function of state". If the government doesn't have unique expertise in building systems for government, then who does? Perhaps the problem is that there is very little experience anywhere of building large national systems because they are a relatively new thing and few have trod the path before. Perhaps the problem is compounded because we have not invested in gaining and retaining the expertise because when it comes to such projects, they are outsourced and the expertise (such as it is) evaporates after (or often during) the project.
I don't see how. If the government commissions someone to write a piece of software, then the government is the copyright owner (subject to the terms of the contract - but why should that not be a term?). It's not forcing someone, they have a choice of entering into the contract or not. The other circumstance is purchase/selection of pre-existing systems where there is competition between closed source and open source. Again this doesn't involve anyone forcing IP holders to give up their rights.Where I think the situation becomes contentious is where there is support that government generally should support the Free Software Foundation definition of 'Free' which would force upon the author a specific form of contract between them and the consumers of the software. Although the author retains the copy right, they confer the 'freedom' for any user of the software to distribute it in whole or part to anyone they see fit, and I'm not sure a government has a role in specifying that the author should provide such freedom to consumers; its seems a little 'totalitarian' in aspect.
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