Open source for an open government

One article this week seemed to attract the most attention from our commenters (or at least, the longest comments). We wrote about the 10th anniversary of GOSLING (Getting Open Source Logic into Governments), an organization that promotes open source software and methods in government. GOSLING has argued that the Canadian government could save $1 billion (with a ‘b’) if it embraced free or open-source software inside its walls.

First up was Russell McOrmond himself, one of GOSLING’s founders, who had been quoted in the article. He expressed surprise that we managed to find people who hadn’t gotten with the times:

“Unlike a decade ago when more were unaware,” he wrote, “FLOSS [Free, Libre and Open-Source Software] is now mainstream. It is hard to find software practitioners who aren’t engaged, given nearly all from the smallest individual entrepreneurs to the larger companies like Google, Amazon and Microsoft are major participants. There may be middle-managers and people who aren’t themselves practitioners who may be unaware, but even that issue is diminishing over time.”
He also dismissed the idea that open-source software was inherently more dangerous than proprietary code. The latter, he suggested, could pose a larger threat,  a threat to our democratic system itself:
“When speaking of legal code we will find few claiming that people are more safe, or the full costs to the governed are lower, when it is authored in a sole-proprietorship (i.e., feudal) way. We would be saying, ‘Think of the corruption and public security implications of critical elements of federal law being kept secret.’
“FLOSS, like democracy, may not be perfect and has scenarios where it will fail: but it is the best we’ve come up with so far. When I am evaluating best I’m speaking from the perspective of software users, not the convenience (or revenue streams, etc.) of the authors.”
Meanwhile, Peter thought that we (as well as some of the people we quoted) were both running scared and living in the past:
“It’s interesting to see the panic in this author’s writing and the comments of others, but I dare say that their fears, (resurfacing 15-year old concerns) are far from today’s reality and technological advancements.”
He compared the cost of an operating system to that of a mortgage. Using open source software was equivalent to living mortgage-free, he contended:
“In short, if we didn’t have a mortgage to pay, we would be able to use the money saved and divert it to things such as implementation and doing work. We can choose to enhance this software if it will serve us better. But most important, by using OS software we can remove much of the overhead of other version[s] of software. And if we can remove overhead, we reduce cost, and make it far less restrictive to get things to WORK.”
But Andrew K was having none of it. Despite their pretenses about saving money and safeguarding freedom, he wrote, open-source advocates like GOSLING are simply trying to get paid:

“GOSLING is another attempt on funneling money to their ‘communities,’ i.e., companies making money on ‘sponsoring’ the open-source software.

“From my experience, open source is not cheaper. It is less reliable, may dramatically change within a span of a year, leading to frustration and prompting for updating the in-house knowledge/expertise on particular software. [Take the] example of Linux: there are a number of distros there, each releasing a new version every ~6 months. The organization of the configuration settings, user interface, etc. for each version changes. Sometimes dramatically. The already deployed applications do not work anymore.

“At the same time, nothing is well documented and requires hours of digging on [the] Internet in attempt of finding some relevant information. It takes time, inhibits productivity and is [a] source of endless frustration. If it comes to security of the code, open-source applications and libraries are known for not being secure and prone to exploits.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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