Open Letter: Open standards and open source software are the way forward for NZ Information Technology
(directed to the Rt. Hon. Paul Swain, Minister for Information Technology, the Rt. Hon. Pete Hodgson, Minister of Research, Science and Technology, and the Rt. Hon. Trevor Mallard, Minister of State Services)
My colleagues and I would like you and the NZ government to consider an official position favouring "open source" software (OSS) for computing in the government and in business. We believe OSS presents a much better option for New Zealand than the current situation - nationwide dependence on the software sold by a single foreign vendor whose extremely competitive marketing tactics have caused considerable concern in the US courts.
Given that many governments worldwide are considering similar pro-OSS legislation, NZ taking the lead by adopting an "Open Source-Friendly" position would carry a positive weight in the global IT marketplace comparable to our Nuclear-Free stance. Moreover, we believe such a move would find considerable support from local IT vendors in addition to committed international OSS supporters like IBM, Intel, Sun, and HP/Compaq.
The Big Picture
You are all probably aware that more than 90% of computers in New Zealand run a version of the MicrosoftTM Windows® operating system. As a result, the New Zealand government and most of our businesses are dependent on a closed-source (proprietary) software product developed by a single foreign vendor. In addition to sending hundreds of millions of dollars in license fees to the US, we stifle our domestic IT industry, which can only participate on the fringes of a market wholly controlled by a single player whose business practices are being investigated by governments worldwide, notably in the US1.
We, a group of New Zealand IT professionals, would like you and the government to consider a compelling alternative: "open source" software (OSS)2 which is enjoying growing support within the IT community both domestically and internationally. We are prepared to present to you its capabilities, as well as our ability to support it. We would welcome an opportunity to discuss ways in which the government can encourage its use by means including legislation, tax incentives, and government funded initiatives.
At minimum, we would like a commitment from the government that all government funded publicly accessible software projects, like the current "e-government initiative"3, be built to open standards. Such a requirement would ensure access to anyone, whether they are using a proprietary or an OSS computing platform.
What is OSS?
The Linux operating system and other OSS has the potential to level the playing field. Unlike the closely guarded source code of proprietary software, anyone can freely access the inner workings of OSS, making domination by a single vendor impossible. In fact, neither Linux nor any other OSS is owned by any one company. They are the work of programmers worldwide, both paid and voluntary, who collaborate through the Internet, contributing working software code which is reviewed by their peers. Instead of selling software licenses, local vendors can and already do build profitable businesses on selling software installation, support, and customisation services based on OSS.
Built on Open Standards
OSS has the huge benefit that it is built to conform to open standards4, i.e. developed by non-partisan international standards bodies. This makes it possible for open source and proprietary software applications which conform to these standards to interoperate and exchange data. When a single company can dictate standards by leveraging its overwhelming marketshare, the potential for integration with competing products is effectively destroyed. It is worthwhile to note that the Internet itself, a collection of computers which can talk to one another via a standard called TCP/IP, owes its existence to OSS and would cease to be viable without it.
Benefits of OSS
Governments all over the world5 are considering or have passed6 legislation encouraging the use of OSS for economic and security reasons. It can cut costs, smooth interdepartmental integration, and increase capabilities. Its diversity makes it largely impervious to viruses in contrast to the computing "monoculture" of Microsoft Windows7. Its openness ensures that it has been thoroughly scrutinised for security vulnerabilities8. It fosters local industries because it is easy to access and modify 9. It is a boon for educational institutions because it is reliable, inexpensive to administer, secure and yet is open to the curious who want to "look under the bonnet" and learn how it works10.
Support for OSS
Corporates like SAP, Sun, Intel, IBM, and Hewlett-Packard/Compaq are committed to using OSS as a core part of their business and are investing significantly in enhancing its already impressive capabilities11. Countries like Mexico, Brazil, France, China, and Germany are already considering legislation to favour OSS deployment in government institutions12, schools, and in business13. Many of us have built our businesses around OSS and see a huge potential for New Zealand to "catch the knowledge wave" by legislating support for open standards and software diversity14 - it may be our only opportunity to demonstrate to ourselves and everyone else that as a nation of innovators we can stand with the best.
David Lane, Director, Egressive Ltd. (Christchurch)
Go here for the list of co-signers supporting this letter.
N.B. the New York Times requires free "registration" before articles (see below) can be viewed.
- "The Land of Monopolies" - sourced from the New York Times, see: go to source
- For the official definition of "open source," please see: http://www.opensource.org
- E-Government Note:
Tony Blair's Labour government in the UK learned the hard way what happens when a monopolistic vendor is allowed to develop the government's public interface on the Internet (please consider this with regard to NZ's "e-government" initiative!):
- before - http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/4/19239.html
- after - http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/6/19659.html
- follow-up - http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/4/23008.html
- For an article on the benefits of open standards-based file formats from
Sun CEO Scott McNealy, see:
go to source
Examples of open standards bodies are the Linux Standards Base (see http://www.linuxbase.org) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) (see http://www.w3c.org) (Thanks to Julian Carver for these links)
- The European Commission's Interchange of Data between Administrations
(IDA) organisation has made available (in Adobe Acrobat (PDF) and MS Word formats (DOC)) a comprehensive range of documents
related to OSS use in the public sector at: go to source
(thanks to Brian Chatterton for this link)
For a list of countries considering legislation to support OSS see: go to source
and this is a link to the European Commission community research program (fifth framework program) which manages part of the science budget (information society technologies) for the European Union including research grants, international events, etc.: go to source (thanks to Stéphane Popinet for this link)
- On 21 November, the French Agency for e-Government (ATICA) announced that they would be in charge of selecting open standards to be enforced all over public administrations in order to guarantee full interoperability. see: go to source
- For a report on the impact of viruses on business and world economies,
see: go to source (Ed. Note: unfortunately, cnnfn have removed this page...)
The Gartner Group recently recommended that anyone using Microsoft's IIS webserver software switch a different platform, specifically recommending the open source Apache webserver, which also happens to be the marketleading webserver software. For the article, see: go to source
Security is really a function of code quality - sloppy code leads to security exploits and usability issues. Here's what Jakob Nielsen has to say on the subject:
go to source
(thanks to Jonathan Hunt for this link)
- A version of Linux has been developed by the NSA as the new platform for the storage of secret data in the US: go to source
- "New Economy" based on OSS - sourced from New York Times: go to source
- For a good article on why OSS should be used in schools, please see:
go to source
For a diverse range of documents related to OSS and education, see go to site
- Major corporate support for Linux and OSS: go to source
- Government institutions are already seeing significant benefits from
using OSS: go to source
The German government is now rethinking its use of computers and backing open source software development: go to source
The UK government are considering alternatives to Microsoft Windows on nearly 500,000 government PCs due to escalating license costs and concerns about vendor dependence: go to source
- Because it needs security and reliability, the financial sector is taking a lead in adopting OSS: go to source
- For a compelling article on NZ's potential to benefit from the use of open source technologies, please see this article from the New Zealand Herald: go to source