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Angus Tables Motion in Support of Open Source Software

NDP MP Charlie Angus has tabled a motion before the House of Commons focusing on the need for the government to support open source software, particularly through public tendering processes.  The motion (M-587) states:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) support open source information and communications technologies (ICTs) in all its tendering processes and throughout the departments of the federal civil service; (b) make available funding in the form of grants for targeted pilot projects involving Canadian companies with an open source mandate; (c) allow Canadian software developers to bid on government ICT contracts; (d) encourage citizen engagement with government through open access to government information and, wherever possible, government services, while respecting privacy and national security concerns; (e) streamline government data and service delivery, and modernize the way in which the government and Canadian citizens interact; and (f) develop strategies to encourage the growth of local businesses and enhance Canadian productivity and competitiveness in the global knowledge-based economy.

16 Comments

  1. Better focus on software patents
    There actually nothing inside this text to tackle software patents.

    This is the threat number one, and it is not even mentioned in this.

    Furthermore, the recent pro=software patent decision about the patentability of the Amazon oneclick makes it more urgent to act at the political level in Canada.

  2. John Wunderlich says:

    Privacist
    Good for Charlie!

    It would be relatively simple for government procurement processes to state that, other factors being relatively similar, open source software is the preferred type of software for the public service to buy. This adds to both cost reduction and transparency in government. That is is especially true if, as Lessig would say, the code is the law!

  3. Oversimplification of a Complex Topic
    Not sure this brings anything meaningful to the table. The far far larger issue is patent and copyright issues.

    A more important issue might be in promoting the use of Canadian developed software – open or closed.

    Finally, “Open Source” has such broad meaning and interpretation. E.g. is software that merely makes available its source code, but retains single owner copyright and control “open”. Is there an element that requires it to be “free” as well as “open”? Can this law make sense of it?

  4. Data formats / communication protocols
    IMHO it should start from the grounds up – make sure first that the data formats and communication protocols used by the government are fully documented and patent free. Once this goal is met, vendor lock-up (through “holding your data hostage in proprietary formats”) is eliminated and you can create the basis of a healthy competition amongst vendors, open source or not.

    This is an easier goal to explain to all parties – no one can deny that the government should know very well what format their data is stored in and what communication protocols are used when they transmit this data.

    Nap.

  5. Interoperability
    Just to add this example to support my previous post:

    http://science.slashdot.org/story/10/10/19/2251230/

    Interoperability is the first most important step to achieve. I’m proud to see Canada mentioned there.

    Nap.

  6. RE: P.
    “Finally, “Open Source” has such broad meaning and interpretation. E.g. is software that merely makes available its source code, but retains single owner copyright and control “open”.”

    Good observation. “Open source” software can be restricted and essentially become proprietary software. What Angus should have mentioned is Free-as-in-freedom or libre software, since that is far more clear.

  7. Whoa
    Charlie Angus really impresses me, I’m certainly glad he has a representative voice. We should ante up for caped costumes for Geist, Angus and McBride, frame up a couple of low-angle group photos for posterity.

  8. Angus seems to have his head on straight. I’d love to see an Open Source/Open Format mandate.

    And yes, I really hope Canada learns from America’s mistakes, re: software patents and patent trolls. They are just plain bad for business.

  9. Open source and trade protectionism don’t mix
    I love the open source part, but I think it’s disingenuous to suggest that Canadian developers can or should be favored. The whole point of open source is that anyone can contribute to a project. If (and hopefully when) the Government of Canada makes a major policy shift towards open source software, the software that is ultimately implemented needs to be chosen solely based on operational requirements, not who developed it or released it. Once Canada’s requirements have been met, Canada’s open source developers will be able to maintain and contribute to whatever solution was implemented.

    The other part of the equation is that the public service will need to develop and maintain in-house software coding expertise. You simply can’t adequately manage an open-source infrastructure without having any fluency in the subject matter itself. One could perhaps argue that the same is true for closed-source infrastructure as well. ;)


  10. @DB: “The other part of the equation is that the public service will need to develop and maintain in-house software coding expertise.”

    And what’s wrong with the government having in-house expertise on how their systems work? Especially now when these systems are critical infrastructure? How is it better to keep it in the dark and depend on a foreign corporation which might or might not renew their licenses or fix a critical (security) bug or purposely introduce one or activate/deactivate their system at will?

    Nap.

  11. Open Source does not mean “Free”
    There is no requirement that just because a piece of software is open source that it be “free”. Both the UNIX and RedHat Linux operating systems are open source and both are “pay for” products. In fact one can get a free version of RedHat called CentOS. Many companies use Oracle applications where the source has been released with the product. OK, this is not totally open source, but better than totally closed source. Zimbra is open source and free, but if you want support from them…$$$$$. Other large companies, such as SCT are switching to an completely community open source model and believe me, they will not be giving their software away. Quite often with large Open Source software packages, you’re not buying the software, you’re buying support and/or a license.

    In reality, a vast majority of open source software is for UNIX/Linux which, combined, only hold about 1% of the market share. So open source is still a niche market that will, for the forseeable future, only ever be feasible in a commercial environment where compliance with licensing requirements is a must. Angus is totally correct, open source should most certainly be an option for our govenment offices, but so should closed source. The selection should be made on what is required vs. the cost of implementation. I’m not debunking open source or promoting closed source, but one always must remember that even if the software is free, it doesn’t install or maintain itself and it’s not always easy to find or hire technical resources to do such things. Ultimately perhaps “closed source” software might be cheaper than a free open-source option due to pre-existing in-house expertise or a vast business knowledge.

    In a home consumer setting, Linux OSs like Ubuntu have made great strides. However, while the core OS is more stable and more secure than Windows, and doesn’t have nearly as steep hardware requirements, the user interface can be a little buggy, clunky and overall, Linux is more complex than most users these days care to deal with. Is it anymore complex than Windows? Perhaps not, but there is a much larger “command-line” requirement which can be quite daunting for an average Joe consumer. It becomes the devil you know or the devil you don’t and when presented with that choice many would rather pay for the devil they know than have to deal with a new devil for free.

  12. “in-house software coding expertise”
    The government is in a tough spot here, in particular when you throw into the mix political realities and pay equity legislation.

    In my situation, I am a professional software developer in the private sector… I spent a number of years in the public sector as well at the federal level. My wife is a first line manager in a federal department. My salary is about 15% more than what I would make as a CS-03 with the highest increment. I also have better benefits, save that we have a DC pension plan rather than DB. My wife, who has managerial and budgetary responsibilities (among other things, she is a Project Manager) makes somewhat less than that CS-03. And yet pay equity rules mean that not only do men and women who do the same job get the same pay, it has been extended to mean that work of equal value gets paid the same. The CFIB rails against this often.

    Mind you, the CS pay scales are lower than Ottawa private sector pay scales for a “CS” type… The main reason that people are currently moving to lower paid PS jobs is the presumed security involved in a public sector job. This is part of the reason that the PS had a significant turnover in the mid to late ’90s in Ottawa; computer specialists were leaving the PS in droves for higher wages and better benefits (more vacation, free parking, free coffee, profit sharing plans, etc).

    So Nap, while I agree with you that the federal PS would need to develop the in house expertise needed to support those open source apps, my experience in the industry tells me that this will be difficult. The system is geared so that during the good times there is a net exodus of your most skilled people, the ones you want to keep. Add to this budgetary pressures and you can piss off even more of your best people (remember the mid-90s pay freeze legislated by the LPC?), causing them to leave. Imagine the public uproar if the next contract gave the public servant CSes a 15% pay raise… This would bring them roughly in line with the private sector (based on where I’ve worked).

    Contractors are quite a bit more expensive that employees, even considering the PS benefits package. A friend of mine had a per-diem of $600 per day; that is what she made. The head-hunter shop that contracted her into the federal department put a markup on that. And she was doing the job of a normal line programmer, not a specialist.


  13. @Anon-K: Add the natural propensity of CIOs to flee responsibility by going for outsourcing/offshoring “because no one was ever fired for choosing IBM/HP/Whatever”. Most of them spend 99% of their time careful covering their a** by creating scapegoats for every possible situation.

    Now imagine they would have to lead in-house development on a platform that’s not backed out by a “big name”.

    Someone has to bring them up to the task.

    Nap.


  14. @IanME: “In reality, a vast majority of open source software is for UNIX/Linux which, combined, only hold about 1% of the market share.”

    You’re talking desktop, right? Because in those dark, hot, noisy places called data centers the situation is very different. And that’s what matter – as there’s where your own, irreplaceable, expensive data resides.

    Nap.

  15. Fun
    You can have fun checking what the gov is doing, here a couple of examples:

    http://toolbar.netcraft.com/site_report?url=http://www.assnat.qc.ca

    http://toolbar.netcraft.com/site_report?url=http://www.mto.gov.on.ca

    See any differences?

    Nap.

  16. ..
    Nap: “You’re talking desktop, right? Because in those dark, hot, noisy places called data centers the situation is very different. And that’s what matter – as there’s where your own, irreplaceable, expensive data resides.”

    Yes, absolutely. I’m talking desktop, I just threw UNIX in as an example of non-free open source.

    Anon-k: “Contractors are quite a bit more expensive that employees, even considering the PS benefits package. A friend of mine had a per-diem of $600 per day; that is what she made. The head-hunter shop that contracted her into the federal department put a markup on that. And she was doing the job of a normal line programmer, not a specialist.”

    I can do better than that. I knew an Oracle contractor some years ago who’s time was billed at $240/hr. That’s $4 per minute of her time…$1800 for a 7.5 hour day. I’m not sure how much of that she got, but like you’re friend, this was just a “normal” developer who wasn’t doing anything much more different than me and I was making about $22/hr at the time. Oracle database people have always seemed to come at a premium, but what some of these contractors get is obscene.