I'm a bit late jumping on this bandwagon, but I'm going to do it all the same. Just catching up on others blogs recently and courtesy of frog
, came across Francis Till giving from the NBR having a go at the Greens support of Open Source Software
(OSS). This is one of the few areas where I believe the Greens are right to support the promotion and adoption of OSS where practicable. I see that even Russell has commented
on this issue.
For those of you that have read my blog before joining Sir Humphreys, you'll know that I have a particular interest in the adoption of open source software within Government. I believe that there are significant economic benefits for our Government to adopt open source software as each year many tens, or even hundreds of millions of dollars are siphoned out of the country to support the Microsoft Tax.
It is interesting, and has been commented on by other bloggers, that around 70% of the publically accessible web servers on the Internet
run the open source Apache web server software, and this number is growing. Compare this to Microsoft's Internet Information Server (proprietary) which holds a lowly 20% of the publicly accessible web servers.
Fewer statistics are available on the Samba
- an extremely popular open source file and print sharing solution.
Dominic on Till's own blog
rightly points out that tillnet itself appears to be powered
by the Linux
operating system , the Apache
webserver, most likely the MySQL
database, and is running WordPress
for the blogging software.
Anyway, onto the fisking.
Even in servers, its strongest point of contention, Linux holds only a very minor share of the market.
More, much of the non-server Linux uptake in the enterprise market during the last several years has been experimental in nature, with little sign of escalation -- often for good reasons that include both security and cost of ownership.
And if you care to read the IDC report linked to, it has some interesting figures about Linux...
Linux servers posted their 12th consecutive quarter of double-digit growth, with year-over-year revenue growth of 45.1% and unit shipments up 32.1%. Customers continue to expand the role of Linux servers into an ever increasing array of workloads in both the commercial and technical segments of the market.
That to me does not sound like "growing -- but only in a limited way and in back-end operations". Rather it sounds like a platform that is running from strength to strength. Back in January even, IDC analyst Al Gillen said that Linux was going mainstream
Linux server revenue exceeded $1.4 billion in quarterly factory revenue in 2Q05 as Linux server revenues showed 45.1% growth, the fastest rate of growth since 2Q04. Linux servers represented 11.5% of overall quarterly server revenue – reaching an all-time high – as Linux servers continue to expand their presence in data centers around the world for an increasing variety of workloads.
What is interesting about this figure, is that whilst in terms of revenue Linux is generating approximately 25% the revenue of Microsoft platforms, this only covers the sale of new hardware which typically provides a measurement bias in Microsoft favour. It doesn't include the many thousands or millions of computers out there that have been retasked as Linux servers because of the free availability of server software. It is this 'recycling' of hardware where perhaps Linux is strongest, and also extremely difficult to measure.
Just a brief note here - I'm mainly referring to Linux as that seemed to be the target of Francis' attacks. In reality a number of these arguments apply to other server operating systems including the large BSD family.
... and only 1.7 per cent of consumers were opting for Linux on notebooks.
Many open source operating systems struggle with handling power management on laptops - even Rodney Hide has blogged on this very problem
. On a personal note, this is why I run a Mac. It has unix underneath, a fantastic user interface, and everything just works - unlike Windows and Linux laptops I've used (and continue to use and support).
But for enterprises, interoperability with off-campus software is key...
If that is the case, then why do you support closed, proprietary solutions instead of the recently released OASIS OpenDocument
Microsoft Office 12 -- the coming version -- will use an "open" XML code system, catchingly called the Microsoft Office Open XML Format, as a key component of its code engine.
It is not open. Microsoft has been patenting
the XML relating to its Office XML around the world. Here in New Zealand, the NZ Open Source Society
has appealed the patent
- where the appeal is currently at, I can't find out right now. But back to my point.
Any standard where a company owns of the intellectual property relating to the standard is not open - certainly not to the extent that governments, including own own, would like. The State Services Commission has warned
New Zealand Government agencies not to utilise Digital Rights Management
in Microsoft Office for precisely one reason - the only software they will ever be able to access the documents under will be Microsofts. And if they hold the patents on the technology used, then they will obtain lockin. Groklaw has a good article
that provides more detail on this issue.
But all that aside, one of the most critical issues with Open Office (apart from interoperability) is how much grunt it takes to run it -- and grunt is not a feature on most corporate computers, where RAM tends to be doled out by the teaspoon.
Riiiight. Funny then how the Windows XP Professional systems requirements
are identical to OpenOffice.org 2.0
On the security front alone, study after study has shown that open source code is more vulnerable to exploits than proprietary code
You've linked to plenty of other reports Francis, how about linking to this one too? Or is the only copy hosted on microsoft.com?
The idea that government "has a democratic duty to provide information to the public that is in an accessible and open format" is a fine declaration of principle, but meaningless in practice.
Right, so you would also agree then that if a move was made to file all our tax returns online, and that these could only be completed using Microsoft Internet Explorer running on Microsoft Windows that would be OK? The New Zealand Government would just have granted an exclusive monopoly on all the computer systems used in New Zealand by people that needs to file taxes.
The upshot is that documents built on one system are unlikely to render properly, if at all, on the other. In fact, the new, OpenDocument-based OpenOffice 2 is not even backwards compatible with its own precursor.
And Microsoft Office is the same - for example, ever tried opening a Visio 2003 diagram in Visio 2002 or older? It won't work, unless you explicitly save the diagram as a Visio 2002 or older document. I've had to do this with a number of our clients projects. This is a common problem with software where the document format is tied to the office application platform, and it will remain a problem with Microsoft software. One of the benefits of the OpenDocument formats is that they they won't necessarily be tied to an upgrade of any particular suite of office applications. Any application that is compliant with that version of the specification will be able to read and save the documents. Naturally, this scares Microsoft as they will no longer be able to force upgrades on users as they create new documents using features which are specific to only the latest version of their software - features which can't be used in older versions, and hence 'encourage' other users to migrate to the newest release.
... and if users based decisions on whether to use OpenOffice or Office on which was likely to be supported in ten or twenty years, Office would have to be the winner on the day.
Once again Francis demonstrates his naivety around the issue. He is too busy focusing on the software application and not the mechanism used to store the document
. The decision to make here is which format to use, not which office application suite. The great thing about truely open document standards is that a wide range of software can access and manipulate the same document format and this is why Microsoft and Microsoft supporters are running scared. Especially with regards to the recent announcement
that the State of Massachusetts is eschewing proprietary office formats in favour of more open formats. Microsoft has been hopping mad about this decision, but really it is easy for them to work with it - all they have to do is support reading/writing of OpenDocument formats.
Put another way, if the New Zealand Government opted to use proprietary office documents and in 10 or 20 years found they were locked into expensive solutions that resulted in the syphoning of hundreds of millions of New Zealand dollars being syphoned offshore - that would make past projects like INCIS pale into insignificance.
As it stands now, the government is a rabbit warren of department level bespoke IT solutions with isolated IT units sworn to their own unique visions.
Yep, it is amazing how many projects coming up on the Government Electronic Tenders Service
have Microsoft platform requirements. I don't hold this against them, because as I understand it, the Government IT environment is a very complex and complicated one in which to operate.
I am not suggesting that changes are made right away or even at all.
In fact, I am fully supportive of every organisation choosing how they wish to manage their internal IT infrastructure. The key, however, is in defining standards for communicating between different ecosystems in the IT world. I will defend to the death every organisations right to use and store documents in their internal IT system in whatever format they choose. However, the very reason we have the Internet, World Wide Web, blogging and many other fantastic technologies today is because they interoperate. There are many open standards at work just to deliver this page to your screen!
As long as each organisation can transfer their documents to an open format when it leaves the organisation - this is really all that matters.
I'll give you a brief insight into my business. Most of our document work is done in Microsoft Office on a mixture on PCs and Macs. Our server systems are Samba running on Linux and Mac OS X for filesharing, and we make use of the LAMP architecture (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) for running intranet applications. We internally work on Office, but most of our documents are delivered in pdf formats as they can be more widely distributed and accessed. Hopefully in the next year or so, I will also be distributing documents in the OpenDocument format to increase awareness within government of this format.
As you can see, we use quite a mix of hardware and software and we've got a system that works well for us. The general trend in our business is actually away from both Windows and Linux towards Macs as the machines of choice for security, reliability and productivity. The only downside currently is that I can't run OpenOffice.org v2 concurrently with Microsoft Office on the Mac.
Open source software in general (and I'm talking about more than just Linux here) is becoming well entrenched in the IT world and its here to stay. In fact the very nature of open source software only begets more open source applications.
I'll close with one important point to make - unlike computers, using open source software is not not a binary decision. You can use both at the same time. OpenOffice.org actually can compliment Microsoft Office quite nicely - creating pdfs from Microsoft Office documents, fixing corrupted Word documents files that even Microsoft Word can't read. My own laptop is stuffed with a wide range of both commercial (yes, it's legit before you ask) and open source software.
It's all about having choice and a wide range of options in this exciting market - and this is what open source software provides. Microsoft and their supporters solely want one system to rule them all.