[OSGeo-Discuss] Examples of Opposition to Open Source/Open FileFormats in the United States

Chris Puttick chris.puttick at thehumanjourney.net
Wed Aug 19 00:21:32 PDT 2009

The view from the UK...

With other hats on I've been involved in trying to get government bodies in the UK to take a genuine interest in open source for the best part of 9 years, originally with a focus on the education sector. The recent announcement is very similar to one in 2002, which had more or less zero impact.

However there is a difference this time. Specifically a combination of developments, not least of which is that the UK Conservative party (UK right of centre, a little left of the Canadian Conservatives. Leftwing socialists by US standards ;) ) is both likely to win the next election and has come out strongly for the use of open source in government.

Successful lobbying (that's grassroots, allowing paid-for lobbyists is bad politics...) in the education arena has made some important progress, in particular the backing of a UK government agency, Becta, who provide advice on the use of technology in education.

There's also some backing at senior levels among the civil service and some shining examples of successful open source adoption among local governments. Importantly there has been recognition that part of the failing of the 2002 announcement was down to poor purchasing guidance which both assumed all things supplied have a cost... There was also an expertise shortfall which meant the responsible agency failed to police IT elements of purchases. So where text of government tenders would invariably carefully step around the use of brand names and specifications that strongly implied specific brands, they would (illegally) name IT products as a requirement without showing the need for that exemption. This is being addressed and as a supplier we have already seen positive outcomes. I'm hearing positive news from other suppliers of open source solutions.

It helps, of course, that no matter how much we collectively try to pretend otherwise, Europe is something the UK is part of and is geographically very close. Almost daily comes news of another government body somewhere in Europe making huge savings and advances through adopting open source solutions. Can track developments in that area, including some of the UK news, through this handy site: http://www.osor.eu/ 

It also helps that a major national newspaper, The Guardian, is a supporter of "open" and has recently switched to using OpenOffice as its office suite. They mention it quite a lot :)



----- "Bob Bruce (CON)" <Bob.Bruce at gov.mb.ca> wrote:

> Awhile ago I read that the government of the UK had adopted a policy
> to
> adopt open source software "when it delivers best value for money"
> and
> government agencies """should where possible avoid being "locked into
> proprietary software""" . I found their policy at:
> http://www.govtalk.gov.uk/policydocs/policydocs_document.asp?docnum=905
> and this BBC article discussed this issue:
> http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7910110.stm
> So it would appear that the government of the UK is making progress
> in
> "being open" to open source. Does anyone have any experiences that
> show
> that this policy is actually being followed?
> Bob Bruce
> ________________________________________From:
> discuss-bounces at lists.osgeo.org
> [mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.osgeo.org]
> On Behalf Of Landon Blake
> Sent: Tuesday, August 18, 2009 1:56 PM
> To: OSGeo Discussions
> Subject: [OSGeo-Discuss] Examples of Opposition to Open Source/Open
> FileFormats in the United States
> It looks like I might have ruffled a few feathers with my earlier
> post
> about the lack of support for open source software in the United
> States.
> I was making a generalization, and didn't mean to criticize or
> downplay
> the efforts of advocates and government employees that are promoting
> open source software. I hope their advocacy continues, and I will do
> what I can to support it.
> I thought I would take a minute to post one or two articles that
> highlight the type of opposition/attitude that I was talking about.
> The first one isn't directly related to geospatial software, but it
> is
> related to the use of open source software and open file formats by
> government agencies in the United States. It has to do with the
> adoption
> of ODF (the file format used by Open Office).
> See the section on Massachusetts in this wikipedia article:
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OpenDocument_adoption
> Here is an article about legislation proposed in 2006 to do the same
> thing in Minnesota:
> http://www.informationweek.com/news/software/open_source/showArticle.jht
> ml?articleID=184429732
> These articles are old, and there may have been updates and new legal
> decisions that I am not aware of. You could check to ODF Alliance
> site
> for updates:
> http://www.odfalliance.org/mail_list.php
> There is no question in my mind that Microsoft opposed the adoption
> of
> ODF by state governments in the United States. If you don't think
> this
> is true, I've got a bridge I want to sell you. :]
> My second example involves the Autodesk suit against the Open Design
> Alliance. You can read an article about that here:
> http://www.stress-free.co.nz/autodesk_sues_the_open_design_alliance
> Autodesk may have legitimate concerns about trademark violation, but
> I'll bet they would love to sink the Open Design Alliance ship. The
> majority of CAD data produced in the surveying/engineering arena is
> stored in the DWG format, and Autodesk knows this. Controlling that
> format and programmer's access to it is a key component of Autodesk's
> business model.
> It looks like the legal battle was still on as recently as July 7,
> 2009:
> http://www.opendesign.com/node/398
> Autodesk is certainly entitled to protect is intellectual property,
> but
> in my mind this is a big obstacle to data sharing among the
> geospatial
> communities in the US, especially as you move to the
> engineering/survey
> side of things.
> Let's not kid ourselves. There is a lot of money to be made selling
> software in the United States, and people will do their best to
> influence our legal and commercial systems to serve their own needs.
> One
> thing I love about open source software development is the sense of
> sharing and community. This is a definite contrast.
> I think OSGeo (and all of us as individual software developers)
> should
> be aware of this opposition to open source and open technology
> standards, and should do our best to counteract it. A lot of the
> general
> public doesn't understand the issues involved, or understand how
> governments funded by their tax dollars might benefit from open
> source
> software. We need to be the voice the people aren't going to hear
> from
> Autodesk or ESRI.
> Landon
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