Levers of Government

Unlike businesses or consumers of IT, governments often have unique regulations designed to optimize price/performance in purchases. One frequently encountered provision is that purchases over $X must go to public tender spelling out requirements.

We have seen examples where governments tried to skirt their own regulations by dividing up purchases into smaller units, something usually less efficient, and wording tenders so that only a single supplier need apply. The latter was the case in the province of Quebec recently when a raft of computers were purchased that could only be supplied by M$’s “partners”. A FLOSS consultant took the government of Quebec to court and won costs but did not get the tender award reversed because the computers had already been installed. In that case the court ruled the deal had been made “in good faith”. That could be a joke as purchasing departments are supposed to know the rules… They are not supposed to assume stuff.

This is a complex issue. It could be approached differently depending on whether a purchase is for a new installation or a replacement of existing technology. There is an increased cost to change things in either case but in both cases you should consider future costs as well. FLOSS should be the default and have an advantage considering future costs, simply because licensing fees per unit multiplies by units multiplied by infinite upgrades is a huge amount of money to be spent. Locking that in is wrong.

As far as I know the regulations requiring openness in the purchasing process do not require examination of future costs but they should. That was one of the reasons Munich went ahead with migration from that other OS to GNU/Linux. While migrating to GNU/Linux was a similar cost to upgrading to the next step on the Wintel treadmill, the future costs should be much lower.

Let’s work an hypothetical example. Suppose it costs $1000 per unit to take the next step on Wintel’s treadmill and $2000 to convert systems to GNU/Linux, combined with buying newer equipment in both cases. If only the present upgrade is considered it’s no contest. However, if future upgrades do not require additional hardware with GNU/Linux and that other OS does, it’s a simple decision the other way. Even if future upgrades both require new equipment, GNU/Linux should win: $1000 X n ($500 for hardware and $500 for licences) will always be larger than $2000 + $500 X n (added migration cost plus hardware) if you make n (the number of upgrades) large enough, 4, in this case (non-free – free = $500n -$2000). Unless you believe the world ends tomorrow, GNU/Linux should win on costs. I am assuming labour and hardware cost is the same either way and I don’t believe that. GNU/Linux has always been easier to install/maintain in my experience. GNU/Linux gives good performance on lesser hardware, too. If the comparison is between that other OS on thick clients and GNU/Linux on thin clients, n, for break even is 1 or 0.

The reasons maintaining GNU/Linux systems is easier are several:

  • Mo accounting involved in licensing. If you have the software, you have the licence.
  • Far less malware, likely 1000 times less.
  • Better performance in beta and production. Installation/upgrading software is just copying. For large roll-outs to which this post applies, disc imaging is used to the time to copy is less relevant. Both systems will take about the same time to roll out except that that other OS just uses a lot more disc space to get less software on the system.
  • Fewer re-re-reboots which waste time.
  • Easier control of multiple systems in real time. No need for reboot to propagate changes in many cases.
  • Package manager for the system as well as applications.

I believe we are at a stage where governments around the world are going to put aside FUD and look at the facts in choosing/purchasing IT. Any OS can function. GNU/Linux costs less to do the job. The FUD that no applications are available for certain specific tasks is nonsense. Governments are larger than the corporations producing non-free software so they can produce their own software at much lower cost especially if it is shared amongst governments.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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7 Responses to Levers of Government

  1. oiaohm says:

    Contrarian also lack of Consistency make secuirty breaches more likely to be missed. There is a very big problem with the ketchup argument. The bad tasting ketchup was Consistency bad always because it was to spec.

    Computer secuirty and Specs are linked.

  2. oiaohm says:

    oldman 1 music is a sub-stream that most governments have nothing todo with. Oldman there are some Linux packages for music making that are also used heavily normally embeded into mixing tables or portable mixing devices. Again Linux has entered that field by kinda stealth. Yes there are more musicians using Linux for production than who know they are.

    “On the enterprise side where is the equivalent of Oracle 11g RAC, peoplesoft, SAP R/3.” Migration to Linux none of these are a factor since the all run on Linux.

    Postgresql with particular plugins does compete and emulate Oracle 11G RAC. Yes I do mean emulate applications think they are talking to Oracle 11G when in fact what they are talking to is Postgresql.

    Of course you will now complain about Postgresql low performance. Resources can change this.

    Contrarian ketchup is a picky beast. Its not something that near enough is good enough. Like if you severed up ketchup that was green but tasted perfectly ok people would skill kinda not like it.

    Yes software is very much like green ketchup on level of quality control required. So is government compatible. Slightly wrong is not the critical bit. Consistency is the important bit. So a user moves from one terminal to another and the new terminal acts exactly the same. Simple to pull off with FOSS.

    The USA DoD produced a very good documents on how to build a secure OS. But since they have stopped using them to follow the model you are talking about they have had many times more secuirty breaches. Contrarian. Proof of what model should be used is in the results. Software is a weapon. Weapon needs strict specs to follow to be secure and safe to use. Like you are not going to send a gun into the field without a safety switch or with no means to remove the last unfired round from the breach.(yes you can design guns that fail both).

    If free market items can pass the spec so be it. If they don’t they should be rejected by mil.

    Most open source distributions don’t will not pass the highest Mil spec. But neither does Microsoft.

    That is why the Mil spec was removed because people used the invalid ketchup argument.

  3. oldman says:

    “Lots of musicians do use GNU/Linux, though, so it must be sufficient.”

    Pog, on this subject you don’t know what you are talking about.

    I invite you to take a look at the web sites for these products and see for yourself who uses them, you will find that all of these packages are not only in wide use, but are available cross platform under both Windows and OS X. In fact many musicians still prefer the mac to pc for music making.

    The simple fact of the matter is that Very few musicians use Linux for music making, and I can guarantee that those that do are doing so for more ideological than musical purposes.

  4. Contrarian says:

    “As far as I know the regulations requiring openness in the purchasing process do not require examination of future costs but they should.”

    I remember the tale of ketchup as procured by the US Department of Defense back in the 1960’s here, #pogson. The DoD, in the spirit of openness, wrote an involved standard for ketchup that attempted to define what ketchup was and that would not lock out any particular vendor or favor any vendor. The result was a standard that no one met at the time and cost quite a bit to meet for future acquisitions. Several companies bid and a couple were selected.

    The ketchup was terrible and the troops were quite miffed, ketchup being needed to kill the taste of many chow hall dished and an ill-tasting ketchup was of no use to anyone. The DoD shifted to a policy of allowing the local base and fleet commanders to simply procure ketchup (and many other packaged foods) from local suppliers who would bid on overall contracts to supply many different items at specified quantities. So Heinz 57 got back on the table and everyone was happy. It came in an easy to handle bottle. The spec ketchup came in a 5 gallon can.

    The moral of the story is that the government is pretty poor at extracting the essence of common things and cannot create specs very well for day to day things since they approach ketchup, software, and atom bombs with the same procurement process. At the same time, their needs are pretty much what everyone in private business needs, so it is usually the right thing to do to simply buy what everyone else is using for whatever purpose is needed. Then the governement ends up with Windows, MS Office, Exchange, Sharepoint, et al, just like the free market decided.

  5. I find it strange that not every musician uses those. So, they must not be essential. Lots of musicians do use GNU/Linux, though, so it must be sufficient.

  6. oldman says:

    ““The FUD that no applications are available for certain specific tasks is nonsense.”

    Where is the equivalent in function and feature of FInale, Sibelius or Notion for musicians.

    Where are the in memory samplers of the capability of the Garritan samplers, let alone the vienna symphonic library.

    On the enterprise side where is the equivalent of Oracle 11g RAC, peoplesoft, SAP R/3.

  7. Ivan says:

    “The FUD that no applications are available for certain specific tasks is nonsense.”

    Where’s the tax software that runs locally on linux?

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