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Nader urges Feds to get into productivity software publishing

And make closed source illegal, or something

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After a short layoff Ralph Nader and his oppo at the Consumer Project on Technology, James Love, are back on Microsoft's case, this time loudly lobbying the US federal government to use its purchasing power to squish the dreaded Microsoft monopoly. Their letter to Mitchell E. Daniels, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, can be found here, mysteriously. But we'd be the last to suggest that the motivation for writing a letter was largely in order to slap it onto a web site then grandstand.

The letter purports to be a follow-up to a meeting Nader and Love had with Daniels on April 8th, and asks whether "the federal government [could] use its purchasing power to solve issues concerning security and competition in the software market".

The question is of course rhetorical, and the pair go on to query how much the government has spent on Windows client licences in the past seven years, the percentage of federal systems using MS Office products, how much it would cost the government to just buy "high quality" productivy code outright (an intriguing notion this, but one we fear would inevitably end in a train-wreck if pursued - they later suggest purchased code should then be released "into the public domain"), whether lack of competition in the client market is a threat to security, and whether it would be easier to manage security using open source client software.

Couldn't they have asked this back in April, one wonders? But we can't help noticing the appearance of the word "monoculture" with reference to Windows. This word also showed up in the documentation for Monday's German open source announcement, so may be becoming the open source riposte to Redmond's current fave, "ecosystem."

But it appears that those questions were rhetorical too, because they move swiftly on to recommendations. The OMB should get Microsoft to disclose its Office file formats, "consider a cost benefit analysis to determine whether dominant software providers should make their source code public" (which would presumably result in an open source only policy for the federal government, possibly including making proprietary software a felony under anti-terrorism legislation), "consider if limits on the number of purchases from any one firm would enhance competition for PC operating systems and office productivity tools, and if such enhanced competition would have significant benefits in terms of licensing fees."

They claim that "limits on market shares are feasible to implement in the client area" because Apple has a good OS and Corel and IBM have "quite functional" (faint praise indeed) office productivity tools. And, er, if there was more demand "Linux office productivity tools might find a market", and, um, "new [shurely "dead"? -Ed] operating systems like the BeOS might become more important alternatives, particularly if file formats were more transparent and interoperable."

And maybe the OMB should consider "if dominant office productivity tools... should be required to provide high quality ports to other operating systems, including platforms such as Linux or the BeOS. Such a policy could be enforced by having a sliding scale for the permitted market share, depending upon the number of operating systems the product would support."

And finally:

"The federal government spends billions of dollars on software purchases from one company that is continually raising prices, making its products incompatible with previous versions in order to force upgrades, deliberately creating interoperability problems with would-be competitors, and is well known for engaging in many other anticompetitive practices. Would a business that was spending this much money be such a passive consumer?" Well Ralph, as we survey the serried ranks of business customers nerving themselves up for the onslaught of Licensing 6.0, we can't help hearing the word "yes" ring out loudly. ®

Naderwatch: Checking out nader.org we couldn't help noticing that, with the exception of In the Public Interest, which is reprints of his syndicated weekly newspaper column, and a section pushing his new book on his presidential campaign, the site seems to have largely been left fallow since 1999. Come on Ralphie, is this the sort of service consumers are going to accept?

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