Feeds

O'Reilly questions free-SW regs

Politics, yuck

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

3 Big data security analytics techniques

We'd be hard pressed to identify a person with better open-source advocacy credentials than Tim O'Reilly. So it came as a mild surprise to read his column over the weekend lamenting the politicization of software by a radical fringe.

He characterized the efforts of Peruvian Congressman Edgar Villanueva Nuñez to mandate free software in government as "great theater," but ultimately misguided. Particular IT solutions should never be mandated, he argued quite reasonably.

He also dismissed the Digital Software Security Act, a (halfhearted?) 'proposed law' written chiefly to draw attention to open source alternatives for government bureaux, delivered to the SanFran City Hall during the recent LinuxWorld Conference by Red Hat honcho Michael Tiemann and our own occasional guest columnist and evangelist-at-large Bruce Perens, along with a few stragglers.

Perens wrote a good column for us here, in which he advocated not specific mandates for government, but a few basic principles for government to consider in choosing software. Personally, I found them modest and sensible: maintaining open standards, using open-source development as a way to keep publicly-funded research in the public domain, that sort of thing.

There was nothing 'radical' about it. Perhaps the DSSA was a bit much; but surely one can indulge in a bit of theater like it or the Villanueva proposal to dramatize an important issue without actually being a maniacal all-or-nothing insurgent.

Where are these 'radicals' O'Reilly is concerned about? Apparently he's been frightened by a handful of teenage Slashdot trolls. Meanwhile the grownups are making sense, so far as I can tell. So what if they get a bit dramatic to make their point? Drama, like open source software (and skateboarding), is hardly a crime.

Common sense

Ensuring a citizen's right to communicate electronically with the vast bureaucracy which regulates his life from cradle to grave, involving everything from his indoor plumbing to his public behavior, certainly doesn't depend on forcing every bit of software in use to be GPL'd. It does, however, require that open standards be mandated.

Suppose a government decided to accept only document files 'certified' in some way (think Palladium). Fine if the certification mechanism is open and available to all document files, and the formats are open and interchangeable.

Let's use Palladium as an example. MS says the certification standard will be open, and that's grand. Perhaps they're even telling the truth (though their past inclination to use secret little coding landmines to thwart competitors isn't encouraging). But for the sake of argument, let's give them the benefit of the doubt: the Palladium standard will be open, and there will be no tricks. This means OpenOffice.org can incorporate this certification scheme into their own, open document format. So far, so good.

But there's more to it; suppose MS keeps its Word format closed. This might well mean it won't be possible for an 'open' document application to create a Word document with the required certification, so it becomes useless if the government or business entity one wishes to communicate with insists on a certified and proprietary file format like Word. That's how I see Palladium working in the end (if it ever succeeds); and that's how I think MS sees it working, the sneaky bastards.

Currently there's no legislation in effect anywhere in the world that I'm aware of which would prevent government bureaux from using proprietary standards for documents and Web services. I really don't care what software they use, so long as they take it easy on taxpayers by doing an honest cost of ownership analysis (none of this mickey-mouse MS marketing propaganda) and choose the least expensive solution that addresses their needs adequately; and so long as whatever software they buy interoperates with 'alien' files, browsers, software apps and hardware.

Even with the best of intentions, e-government may end up shutting out citizens through some unforseen 'catch' buried within reams of cheerful marketing and lobbying propaganda eagerly proffered by certain software behemoths with the resources and inclinations necessary to pile on the distractions until it's too late.

The answer is legislation demanding -- yes, demanding -- open standards for Web access and document formats. Not particular standards, mind; that would be just another drag on innovation. I'm merely saying that whatever IT solutions a government chooses, costs have got to be calculated rationally and standards have got to be open so that citizens aren't paying more than necessary or getting locked out of the public debate merely because they've chosen their own software.

Government should never be forced to choose a particular brand of software or type of licensing scheme; but it should certainly be forced to pinch pennies and consider open-source alternatives seriously. And that's all I hear the 'radical fringe' saying.

Fancy being frightened by a proposal like that. ®

SANS - Survey on application security programs

More from The Register

next story
Android engineer: We DIDN'T copy Apple OR follow Samsung's orders
Veep testifies for Samsung during Apple patent trial
This time it's 'Personal': new Office 365 sub covers just two devices
Redmond also brings Office into Google's back yard
Batten down the hatches, Ubuntu 14.04 LTS due in TWO DAYS
Admins dab straining server brows in advance of Trusty Tahr's long-term support landing
Microsoft lobs pre-release Windows Phone 8.1 at devs who dare
App makers can load it before anyone else, but if they do they're stuck with it
Half of Twitter's 'active users' are SILENT STALKERS
Nearly 50% have NEVER tweeted a word
Internet-of-stuff startup dumps NoSQL for ... SQL?
NoSQL taste great at first but lacks proper nutrients, says startup cloud whiz
Windows 8.1, which you probably haven't upgraded to yet, ALREADY OBSOLETE
Pre-Update versions of new Windows version will no longer support patches
Microsoft TIER SMEAR changes app prices whether devs ask or not
Some go up, some go down, Redmond goes silent
Red Hat to ship RHEL 7 release candidate with a taste of container tech
Grab 'near-final' version of next Enterprise Linux next week
Ditch the sync, paddle in the Streem: Upstart offers syncless sharing
Upload, delete and carry on sharing afterwards?
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a defence for mobile apps
In this whitepaper learn the various considerations for defending mobile applications; from the mobile application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies needed to properly assess mobile applications risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.