[Linux-aus] ALP Open Source Forum: summary for SLUG and Linux Australia
mary at slug.org.au
Mon Jul 21 21:30:02 UTC 2003
Hi SLUG, Linux-aus,
The following are my notes from the "Open Source: Where Should Labor
Stand?" forum, held at NSW Parliament House with the ALP IT and
Communications Committee on Wednesday 25th June 2003.
For press coverage of the forum, see
This summary is more or less notes from each of the talks. I've written
OSS for "Open Source Software" in many places. It's a bit buzzowrdy,
which is an accurate reflection of these types of forums. I haven't
provided my own commentary, save in the conclusions and summary of the
discussion, so try not to read my opinions where I haven't stated them
Of the speakers, I probably found Michael McEniery (Freehills law firm)
most interesting, although his talk was short.
It's quite a long summary, so conclusions first.
--- Conclusions ---
The speakers agreed on the need for software to compete on merit, and on
the need for open standards. There was not in fact much direct advocacy
of Open Source.
The concluding speaker felt that much of the forum missed
the point. He claimed that the ALP was more or less "sold" on Open
Standards, and they wanted to squarely face the issue of what role Open
Source has to play in government software acquistion and development.
The committee has three focuses: enabling the whole community to take
advantage of IT; helping the government steer the means by which the
community acts (wrt to IT); and getting advice from stakeholders.
I was told after the meeting that the best way to get involved right now
would be to join the ALP. I am not intending to join the ALP, but Linux
users who are already members of the ALP and interested in advocating
Open Source within the ALP might want to get in touch with Michael
Gadiel, who convenes the ALP IT and Communications Committee.
--- Opening ---
The meeting was opened by John Della Bosca, MLC, Special Minister for
State. His NSW government portfolio now includes IT.
His introduction was brief, but mentioned that some parts of the state
government are both using open source and contributing source back to
--- Introduction ---
Professor Albert Zomaya, CISCO Systems Chair of Internetworking in the
University of Sydney's School of Information Technology, introduced the
Zomaya's role in the forum was not to take a side on the Open Source
issue, but to introduce some pros and cons. He mentioned that Open
Source was a process, and not just a software process (he regards the PC
as an "open source architecture") but an approach to development,
maintainence, products and technology.
In software terms, the source code is available and can be used, copied,
and distributed with or without modification -- allowing developers to
leverage other developer's work.
Zomaya gave a brief history of the Free Software movement, and then
listed some pros and cons of OSS. Pros included: expertise; quality;
quicker releases; customisability; stability; indefinite support; and
an OSS market bargaining position. Cons included: no warrenties or
guarentees; a more technical, less user oriented, focus; non standard
versioning mechanisms; traditionally weak GUIs; potential difficulties
identifying the owners of intellectual property.
In summary, he stated that OSS is "not free" (I assume he meant
cost-wise); is here to stay; and empowers users. The stakes for the
market are very high and currently in flux, and concluded by saying that
an absolutist stance towards OSS is not helpful.
--- IBM ---
John Harvey, director of Corporate Affairs, IBM Australia, spoke on the
topic "Open Standards in Government". He mentioned that he was going to
use the terms Linux and OSS interchangably.
He offered copies of his slides, a handout on OSS issues, and a small
book about IBM and OSS to interested audience members.
His talk focussed on the policy side of OSS in government. He mentioned
that OSS is developed collaboratively, and that it supports Open
Standards frameworks. Benefits of OSS include: cost effectiveness,
reliability, performance and open standards.
He then mentioned some market statistics -- most deployment of OSS in
the next 2 years will be as web servers, network servers, database
servers and development systems.
The specific benefits of Linux in government are: security; vendor
independence; portability (a BIG government concern); reliability and
availability; open standards; fostering innovation; the development of
a national IT strategy independent of software and hardware; ease of
migration between systems; and improvement of public sector skills.
He reviewed international government departments using Linux. Europe is
at the forefront and China's government is now using OSS almost
exclusively in new applications.
He concluded with IBM's policy recommendations:
- departments should be familiarised with OSS and protability
emphasised in decision making
- OSS should be seriously considered as a way to lower costs;
develop/deploy secure software; and to provide economic opportunities
for local software developers
- OSS should be taken seriously
- R&D incorporating the OSS model should be taken seriously
- OSS should be included in state IT strategies
- Open Standards should be embraced
IBM has embraced OSS for the interchangability.
--- Sun Microsystems ---
Duncan Bennett, director of Linux Products, Sun Microsystems Australia,
spoke about "Open Source: Where Does Sun Stand?"
He claimed that OSS is a proven driver for: increasing value; superior
innovation and providing choice. There is over 20 years of proof of
this, and Sun sees OSS as a natural evolution of their 20 years of IT
Sun advocates looking at Open Systems, not just OSS (for example of an
Open System, see Java). He then mentioned OpenOffice as an example of
complementary OSS/proprietry development: OpenOffice is the OSS version,
StarOffice is derived from OpenOffice and includes support and training from Sun.
Sun's policy advice to government is that OSS and Open Systems both
provide value, innovation and choice. OSS should be evaluated on a "fit
for purpose" basis and governments should choose standards over
--- Microsoft ---
Martin Gregory was introduced as Microsoft Australia's Platform
Marketing Manager, but microsoft.com.au describes him as Microsoft
Australia's Competitive Strategy Manager. He spoke on "Open Source:
Where Should Labor Stand?"
He described this as a very exciting time in the software world.
Microsoft is, of course, a commercial software company, one that has a
very strong incentive to innovate and test; and one that is very
user-driven. Microsoft is not anti-OSS or anti-non-commericial, but
views it as healthy competition.
He discussed whether commerical software is too expensive, and discussed
cost vs. value and total cost of ownership. He claims that credible
third party research into total cost of ownership is now emerging. He
quoted figures that show that 70% of software costs are people costs
(later, during questions, he mentioned that training is not included in
that figure and makes up a further 8% or so of costs); 20% are downtime
costs and 5% is software licencing costs. His measure of value was "is
it going to do what we want it to do?"
He discussed the issue of local software developers and economic
opportunities for them. He mentioned that Microsoft has 14 000 partners,
and provides 500 jobs in Australia, with another 10 000 provided through
partners. For every dollar that MS Australia earns, its partners earn
eight dollars. MS Australia generates four billion dollars in service
He said that Labor's policy should be that software procurement be based
on merit and not exclude Australian software companies who innovate
using commerical platforms.
--- Freehills ---
Michael McEniery, a solictor at Freehills law firm, spoke about OSS
intellectual property issues.
He described how OSS is governed by copyright, and how a
well-administered OSS project can track and protect IP. Authors of OSS
retain the right to prosecute over unauthorised use.
He described government policy from a law-making (rather than software
puchasing) perspective: there should be laws protecting IT assests and
infrastructure; and laws concerning the use of insecure platforms to
attack someone else. He mentioned that code reviews and audits should be
part of a security strategy, and that the government has a
responsibility to review code it uses as part of protecting assets. He
questioned whether government use of proprietry software fufils
government sovreignty obligations.
He briefly turned to economic arguments, mentioning that the IT deficit
is fourteen billion dollars and rising; that OSS allows product lifetime
to be extended; and that OSS provides opportunities for young graduates.
He discussed the terms of OSS and propriety licences. OSS licences have
no warranties, and allow you to redistribute, modify, fix and audit the
code. Proprietry software also has limited or no warranty, but does not
let purchasers redistribute, modify, fix or audit the code. He considers
that the government has a responsibility to find and fix bugs in
software it uses.
--- AUUG ---
David Purdue, vice president of the Australian UNIX and Open Systems
Users Group (AUUG), spoke next.
He introduced AUUG and mentioned their interest in Open Systems and
"open computing" : fully specified interfaces; access to interface
definitions; and industry standards are part of Open Systems. OSS is a
subset of Open Systems where the source code is available.
He said that the government should embrace Open Systems. The benefits
include: lower costs; robustness; no lock-in; adaptability; and less
need to monitor licence compliance.
As a large IT purchaser, the government should: tender for requirements;
mandate standards rather than protocols; favour open standards and open
document formats; and choose software based on merit.
Benefits to Australia of Open Systems include: lower entry barriers for
local companies; increased employment; less brain drain; reduction in IT
deficit; lower costs for government; and local skill development.
--- Stewart Fist ---
Stewart Fist is an journalist for the Australian, but didn't appear as a
representative for the Australian (that I could see).
He described the Apple computer and the open architecture model, the
death of MS-DOS competitors. He thinks of the last fifteen years as the
"lockdown/shakedown" phase of standardisation, in which standards are
developed by market leaders. As computers evolve, standards need to
evolve, and to a large degree, Microsoft has given us this. But now,
legislative standards are needed.
He then pleaded for standardisation of digital TV set-top boxes.
--- Discussion ---
I found much of the discussion disappointing, some of it was
inappropriate for the setting. For example, I don't think the ALP is
likely to embrace a platform involving the destruction of corporation
law, as one audience member seemed to be advocating. There was a
question about the ATO and their notorious MS Windows-only electronic
tax-return lodgement scheme, but the ATO, of course, is associated with
the Federal, not the NSW State, government. (I wasn't sure whether the
ALP IT Committee members present knew about or had thought about the
e-tax issue anyway.)
There was a question about the SCO case, and John Harvey stated that IBM
considers the case "totally without merit", and that their legal advice
agrees. They believe that the lack of merit is why SCO has chosen a slow
way of resolving the case.
There was a short discussion about whether there are reasons for the
government to *not* embrace OSS/Open Standards. Kim Yeadon (the former
NSW minister for IT, who I was told later was famed for reading his
Linux Handbook in the Parliament chambers) mentioned existing investment
in training and re-training costs.
There was a longer discussion of end-of-life issues. Stewart Fist
wondered whether the IP owners of abandoned (unmaintained) software
should forfeit their IP ownership. Micheal McEniery mentioned that the
legal trends are towards holding IT providers more responsible for their
products but felt that the government should not be held to ransom by
end-of-life dates (he was very big on sovreignty issues). Albert Zomaya
suggested that funded bodies might maintain OSS indefinitely, but that
there still needed to be a viable business model for longer product
Martin Gregory mentioned that Microsoft's end-of-life policies compare
favourably with Red Hat's; and also that for sufficient money, they
would be prepared to support products indefinitely. He also mentioned
that judging from the extremely small take-up of Microsoft's shared
source initiative (which he was involved in when he worked for MS in
Europe), code audits are not a large factor in IT purchasing.
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