WTF IS THIS SHIT?
Ok, that above would be what a newly-baptized “FOSS advocate-slash-zealot” would say upon seeing Federico Pascual Jr.’s PostScript regarding the FOSS bill. I suppose I could have said that myself a couple of lifetimes ago.
But, there is more than meets the eye. While I would like to think of myself as a “FOSS veteran”–believe me, I have still so much to learn about it–I would like to step into the shoes of such a person when approaching an article as sensational as Mr. Pascual’s. Despite what seems to be a most interesting article on the mechanics of government software usage, it fails to address the one particular bit that is just as important as the proposed bill itself: the real Free and Open Source Software.
Let me nitpick this article bit by bit:
FREE RIDE: A bill is being pushed in Congress forbidding all government agencies and state-controlled firms from buying and using any of the computer software sold in the market!
Alas, when I first heard of the FOSS bill sometime before September, I also had a bad impression of it. Perhaps I was just too politically allergic at that time (yeah right,) but I tried to adopt a `wait-and-see’ approach first and let the dice roll. Perhaps because this bill was to be introduced by a very visible congressman with alleged leftist ties made me feel uncomfortable, but then, so was (and still is) with the current administration. Or perhaps I just felt it wasn’t damn right to legislate FOSS as an end-all solution, preferring instead of presenting is as a process for reforming the local software industry.
Looks like first impressions definitely make a difference.
The proposed law – to be called “Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) Act of 2006″ – commands government offices to use only information and communications software that are given away for free and have no restrictions as to their use.
The objectives appear to be to save money for the government and to encourage the making of free (non-commercial) software.
So? What’s wrong with these objectives?
FWIW, the early FOSS bill draft did seem to have such a Draconian section as forcing the government and allied offices to use, and use only, FOSS. IMHO that by itself ran against the very fundamental ideal of FOSS: the freedom of choice. Not Hobson’s choice, but real choice.
The current bill IIRC now allows this true choice; unless there is an extreme case where FOSS cannot be applied without becoming non-self-sustaining (not to mention self-liquidating,) agencies may implement their infrastructure using FOSS as their primary instrument, with the application of open standards (that is, open document formats, open communications protocols, etc) unifying the disparate components. Perhaps right now, this situation may seem kind of far-fetched, but its not really that far-off, considering what other nations and cities have done (or not done) with FOSS. Munich, Extremadura, Beijing… the list is not yet that long, but its bound to go a long way
Now, while the government may now adopt open standards and open-everything, does not mean that the `openness’ forgoes security, either; the government may opt to use well-known encryption protocols and even base their own security infrastructure on them. In fact, they are free to even look inside the source of these well-known standards, to study them, and to branch off new implementation that may even change the way these standards work.
In fact, even without this bill in place, the government can participate in the production and development of FOSS!!!
Wait a minute, wasn’t I supposed to defend this bill?
Eh, well. I suppose this bill is good and all, but like I said earlier, there are those first impressions made by the parties involved in the making of this bill which unsettles me. IMHO I would rather see applications of this first in key cities (the happy works in Munich and in Extremadura are no accident, believe me) which in turn, would allow both local the national government to see just exactly how this FOSS magic works. Then, when the observations have been made, the papers are in, and the workers get hired, then, maybe, we’ll have a nation where FOSS can be mandated as a very strong preference, but never a forced one.
Its all about growing up, really. I’m being reminded of Tom DeMarco’s The Deadline, where a newly-retrenched guy from a telco literally lands into the fantastic job of his life, managing an entire nation of software engineers and architects to develop several killer apps within a year (or so; raid you nearest Book Sale and be lucky Its a great experiment: when it succeeds, you’ll be the first to be present, but when it fails, you’ll be the first to be nowhere.
But I can also hear in the background a call to an unholy war against multinationals whose popular software run virtually all – maybe 95 percent? – of the computers of the world.
Now this is a low blow. Maybe partly because of the prevailing images of the advocates–geeks and leftists, my, what a c-c-c-combo!–is what drives Mr. Pascual to make this point. But really, multinationals are not the main concern. FWIW, FOSS is multinational in nature: it is even multi-denominational and multidisciplinary. FOSS is one of the things that make anonymous people like you and me Internet superheroes. FOSS connects the Internet’s tubes and keeps away the trucks. FOSS makes the Internet serious business, yet also drives them crazy.
The Linux distros that I have worked, am working, and continue to work on, are all multinational: Debian and Ubuntu. People from all over the world, from all 7 continents, participate and work on what would arguably be the biggest software distribution the human world may ever produce, freely, regardless of motivation or goal. I suppose all the folks involved have only one common goal, and that is to see a work created for the benefit of the community by the community.
I suppose the background howl comes from somewhere altogether, but its hardly just from FOSS. FOSS is the epitome of what is truly multinational, and one thing that is not truly controlled by any one single person, corporation or not.