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BSA imagines open source policy, attacks mass.gov

People start saying 'open,' next thing you know they're durn Linux commies...

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When it comes to antipiracy policy Microsoft and the Business Software Alliance have a great deal in common, but when the BSA mounts an attack on a software purchasing policy that doesn't quite exist yet, and quite possibly won't exist, one begins to wonder who's driving the "voice of the world's commercial software industry". The BSA, it says here, "is concerned" about "reports" that "the Commonwealth of Massachusetts may be imposing a blanket policy on software purchases without giving the directive a full public discussion."

More specifically, these reports claim that "Commonwealth CIO Peter Quinn recently announced a state initiative that will require that all information technology expenditures in 2004 and 2005 be made on open source software. The requirement would apparently be part of a broader policy that also focuses on the issue of open technical standards, according to reports."

Except that at the moment there only seems to be one report, from Associated Press, and several reports of that report. The one report does not say that Massachusetts is "imposing a blanket policy on software purchases without giving the directive a full public discussion," but instead says that it "will become the first state to adopt a broad-based strategy of moving its computer systems toward open standards." It then, we accept, sets the hare running by continuing "including Linux, the rival operating system to Microsoft's Windows," and then compounds this by getting the definition wrong:

"In the technology industry, the term 'open standards' refers to nonproprietary software. Microsoft's software is considered 'closed' because application developers and other programmers don't have free access to the blueprints." Tut.

Proprietary software can perfectly well conform to open standards, without necessarily coming with source code access, as we all know round here, and as we feel sure the BSA at least ought to know, given its alleged line of business. But maybe it just didn't read the report it's reacting to. You can incidentally get a copy of that here; note how "open source" has leaped into the headline without obvious support from the body copy.

One can of course reasonably infer that open source software could do well from Quinn's plans, and that Microsoft could do less so. Adding a little local reporting to the wire story, the Boston Herald, here, reports the state's secretary of Administration and Finance, Eric Kriss, as making open source type noises, saying an objective was to "share what we develop in this state," and that the IT proposals were part of a capital spending plan to be unveiled on Monday (i.e. yesterday, but we can't seem to lay hands on it yet).

Quinn's plans are part of the development of "an enterprise-wide strategy, including all 3 branches of government and the constitutional offices, for the commonwealth's information technology infrastructure, system development and governance." This comes to a background, not exactly unusual in local government, of budgetary problems that require short term savings and the prospect of better value for money in the longer term. So Quinn has probably had to figure out what he's got, what the organisation's needs are and how best to fulfil these within the budgetary constraints. Which is scarcely an unusual task for a CIO, either.

But neither he nor Massachusetts has announced a policy whereby all state software purchases will be open source, nor will they announce such a policy. By implementing an open standards policy they will certainly tend to be favouring systems which are easier to interconnect, less prone to lock-in and less likely to turn into the only game in town. Sure, it looks to us like Unix/Linux (or BSD, why the hell not?) ought to do well, while the people coming round every couple of years telling you it's time to upgrade to the next hideously expensive proprietary kit probably won't. But although the M-word might spring to your lips in this context now, ten years ago you'd have said we meant IBM. If the cap fits...

Whatever, do we conclude from the BSA's knee-jerking that the organisation feels that its entire membership, not just Microsoft, will be entirely unable to sell into the Commonwealth of Massachusetts if it moves to an open standards IT infrastructure? Or something else? ®

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