Barriers and Benefits Of FLOSS In The Government of Australia

I am glad to hear that there is widespread consideration of using FLOSS including GNU/Linux in government in Australia. It’s been “The Dark Continent” for news on the web. On the one hand, the powers that be, CIOs and such, in individual departments and territorial governments seem to have an idea what FLOSS is, but on the other they are stuck trying to treat FLOSS as if it weren’t FLOSS… Very strange.

e.g. Here’s a comment from Victoria:
“We don’t aim to use OSS or not. We evaluate each system on its own merits. From an industry perspective, we think that it [using OSS] will be inevitable however. The Government Services Group has been considering officially supporting MySQL as a database platform, as well as re-evaluating all options around the desktop and productivity applications. Software as a Service is also gaining traction. Whether this results in more OSS use, remains to be seen.”
This shows that while the surveyed individuals appreciated the benefits of FLOSS they did not see the complexities of non-Free software as a problem. They should prefer FLOSS in almost all cases. It should be the default. The problem is that they expect all software to be encumbered unreasonably as non-Free software is and are willing to impose restrictions on FLOSS. For example, some are willing to receive binary-only support for Suse GNU/Linux operating system… preventing the government from seeing what’s really going on inside their systems. That’s just crazy.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a quotation:
“Finally, some interviewees confused OSS with freeware. Although both forms of sourcing
are free of licensing costs, there are important differences in the way freeware and open source can be deployed (see section “Theoretical foundations of open source”). For example, a provider of Business Process Management software (Intalio), claims to be open source but does not make the source code accessible. This could potentially result in ‘vendor support lock-in’, because others are not able to check, improve or simply learn about a solution if only binaries are available. In the case of Queensland’s eDA (electronic Development Applications) project, which is largely staffed by contractors, this led to the problem of finding support providers with appropriate skills to further develop the project. A similar issue was stated in Victoria, where a Linux based operating system (Suse 10) is sourced from Novell, but only in form of binaries which agencies have little influence on the product (VIC).”

Finally, a old myth:
“Government is obligated to be conservative and risk-averse when considering its software procurements, the need to demonstrate responsible usage of taxpayer funds being paramount. Open source, on the other hand, can be subject to continuous change, and may therefore be perceived as lacking the stability or continuity needed to support ongoing government business processes. It is therefore, important to weigh the potential of OSS in these conditions.”
Such statements are probably akin to businesses willingly being locked-in to that other OS because they have a feeling that what you pay for upfront must be better than what the world has produced. That’s irrational. FLOSS has many millions of users testing and giving feedback on the performance of the software. It doesn’t get any better than that. M$ certainly doesn’t allow all users to see the problems found by all users… What’s the risk in that? M$’s OS can jump up and bite you even though M$ knew of some problem years ago and never bothered to fix it because it wasn’t widely known.

A government not trusting the judgment of ordinary people actually using software but willing to trust a close-knit circle of friends in some business are really not doing their job of providing government for the people and by the people.

Further, the Australians seem to put an artificial line between desktop operating systems and applications. While they seem quite willing to accept GNU/Linux on servers along with FLOSS applications they do not seem to be mentally prepared to conceive of FLOSS applications running on FLOSS operating systems on desktops. That makes no sense since the same benefits, exactly, that they can get on the server by using FLOSS are available on the desktops/notebooks/client machines. They seem to see GNU/Linux as OK for infrastructure but they don’t seem to see the desktop OS as infrastructure. That’s a mistake. They cannot properly take advantage of FLOSS by excluding a major software component. There may be a hundred client machines for every server. Why not consider FLOSS on the client? Why not consider the OS?

The benefits of lower cost are partially eliminated when governments insist on complex support agreements from some business or other. A government is a large enough organization to support IT itself. Smaller local governments could certainly use shared IT support from state or national governments. It’s wrong to insist on non-Free software just because one can get a support-contract for it. FLOSS is a cooperative product of the world and the world is big enough to create and to support FLOSS. Governments should see themselves as part of the world rather than consumers of products offered on the market. Governments should see that they and their organizations are better off hiring a few developers and techies rather than shipping thousands of licensing fees to the other side of the world forever. M$ and its partners want them to pay an infinite sum forever rather than just a one-time licensing fee. It’s wrong to compare the cost of using and supporting FLOSS with a one-time licensing fee when M$ and “partners” will demand that fee every few years forever.

Governments should not accept to be divided and conquered by sales departments of global corporations peddling permission to use computers. Governments should do what’s right for their citizens and taxpayers. Use FLOSS.

See Barriers and Benefits – OSS is Aus Gov agencies.pdf.

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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One Response to Barriers and Benefits Of FLOSS In The Government of Australia

  1. ram says:

    Australian government procurements, particularly at the federal and state level are almost exclusively based on bribes and kickbacks. Google ICAC NSW Australia and read how things “work” around here.

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