Wake Up and Smell the Coffee: Open Source Advocacy

“Ignoring open source is costing us [the UK] dear”

The headline is from the Guardian on-line this morning. In a piece written by Victor Keegan, he explains how we [UK PLC] are suffering from our pathetic use of Open Source, especially in terms of leadership from our Government.

You would have thought that a Labour government, struggling to marry the success of market forces with the socialist endowment of its founding fathers, would have latched on to this new cooperativism which brings people together for a common purpose with a burning zeal. In fact, its wanton neglect could damage our economic prospects.

Well yes, apart from the fact that our previous leader was a bosom buddy of Bill Gates (And there are lots more. Just Google for their two names…) and so our Government was highly unlikely to shun M$’s approaches.

The depth of its neglect was made plain by speakers at a seminar last week hosted by Westminster eForum, which tries to make parliament aware of IT issues. It turns out, in contrast to what other governments are doing, that most departments – including Health, Work and the Foreign Office – are so risk-averse they have virtually no open source in their IT infrastructures. The Treasury runs less than 1% of its operations with open source. The Conservatives, who rightly believe Labour is vulnerable in this area, claim that nearly £700m could be saved by switching to open source. This is disputed by others who point to the high initial cost of switching from an embedded system and retraining everyone. But in the long run, low maintenance costs plus the absence of licence fees and upgrade charges must give open source the edge and, even if it didn’t, there is still a strong case for encouraging it because a workforce skilled in open source would be well placed to exploit the enormous opportunities opening up for the future.

See this piece from Glyn Moody for a transcript of the presentation he gave at the eForum meeting. (According to one commenter he received a standing ovation!). If the Government would actually take a look at the big Enterprises, they would discover that Open Source is very much in-place and gaining ground at a rapid pace. Why would Yahoo just spend $350m on an Open Source business with revenues of less than $10m? Why is Redhat so successful? Why are there more and more Open Source companies springing up? Why do IBM, Novell, Sun Microsystems, and even Oracle to a lesser extent, get Open Source? Because their customers (Big Corporates) demand it.

Schools are not much better, a double tragedy because they not only don’t benefit from savings but also lose the opportunity to train children in the skills of the future.

And this is nothing short of scandalous… As I have mentioned before, our schools have been completely sold out to M$. They are locked in to very expensive subscription licensing deals that mean they (we via our TAX) end up paying for software that they can’t use. And there are heinous penalties for cancelling contracts. In terms of the skills gap and the value of Open Source in “learning” I agree and would emphasise this point much, much more. This is the nature of Open Source, one of the Four Freedoms is the ability to investigate and learn. You can’t do that with M$, and other proprietary, products.

There is one other major issue that Victor failed to mention in his otherwise interesting article. Open Standards.

We have seen recently how Microsoft has bullied, bribed and threatened their way through the ISO to try and get a proprietary document specification, the sole aim of which is to continue to lock-in customers and make your data belong to M$ for the indefinite future, passed as an International Open Standard. And now we learn that they don’t intend to implement it themselves anyway!

Open Source software is built on true Open Standards and as such, your data belongs to you and you will always be able to get access to it because the formats are “open” and publicly available. Try opening an old MS Office document with your shiny, new and very expensive Office suite. Oooops. Guess what; you can’t. You have to go back to M$, cap-in-hand, and buy more of their software just to access your own materials. Just as the National Archive has recently discovered.

And finally, on Monday of this week, the EU has upheld the anti-trust decision made several years ago. Microsoft are a bunch of crooks and have been caught. They use their dominant position to smother and throttle competition. Nice. And don’t forget the ridiculous goings on in the BBC where their new iPlayer is Microsoft only (good for the licence payer, that one!) and they are employing ex, Microsoft people to promote and develop the platform.

Please, please, please. Everyone wake up and smell the coffee before it’s too late.

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