The Guardian has published a very curious piece today, entitled: "A Call for Caution on Open Source". It concludes:
The UK coalition government should take considered note that the procurement of open source software buys neither governments nor taxpayers a cost- and indigestion-free lunch.
Leaving aside the fairly obvious fact that nobody had claimed anything of the sort, it's worth exploring some of the thinking behind this post.
The very first paragraph says:
In a recent Guardian Professional article, Government Takes Action on Open Technology, OpenForumEurope (OFE) president Graham Taylor revelled in the UK government's issuance of a January 2011 Procurement Policy Action Note that effectively reinstated, at least for the UK, the initial version of the European Interoperability Framework (EIFv1.0). This was despite its having been rejected by the European Commission and Council of the European Union in December 2010 in favour of technology and business model neutrality.
The reason it was rejected was because of massive lobbying by traditional software companies afraid of real competition from free software. And it's not true that the European Commission chose "technology and business model neutrality". As I've explained in detail, EIFv2 is inherently incompatible with the GNU GPL: it therefore excludes solutions that are based around it – not at all neutral, but tilting the playing field in exactly the way that those same large software companies wanted to ensure.
Another paragraph runs:
It leaves readers with the impression that the government has been called upon to protect its citizenry from the evil hand of the proprietary IT industry and has been convinced of the necessity of imposing interoperability mandates on government agencies for the deployment of open standards compatible with free and open source software (FOSS) "wherever possible...made irrevocably available on a royalty-free basis".
Well, yes, that's exactly the case. Traditional software companies have used monopolistic lock-in to proprietary formats to ensure that the British government has had no effective choice about buying their products, and to lock out open source alternatives. The Cabinet Office procurement policy is simply designed to ensure that a completely level playing field is available for all players to submit tenders, and that requires open standards based on Restriction-Free licensing.
The final part of the piece's argument is based around a report by the General Court of Auditors of The Netherlands:
At the request of the Dutch House of Representatives, during 2010 the Audit Court investigated "whether the phasing out of closed standards and the introduction of open source software would improve the operation of market forces and save costs for the government". In March 2011, it released the results of its investigation in a report, Open Standards and Open Source Software in Government. It "concluded amongst other things that the potential savings the government could [realise] by making more use of open source software were limited", and that the "switch to open source software...does not necessarily... lead to cost savings" at all.
The first part of that last comment can be found on this page, but I can't find the second part anywhere. However, it turns out that's pretty irrelevant, since the entire Auditors report has been widely dismissed as being superficial and lacking in rigour, unlike the work that preceded it:
Lacking concrete numbers, the Court of Audit's report is in stark contrast with calculations done earlier by the ministry of the Interior in 2010. According to that earlier report, the government could save between one to four billion Euro per year. That report looked at government costs for proprietary licences, costs for procurement, costs for licence management and costs for IT maintenance.
The ministry at first denied the existence of this earlier report. Following questions from the Parliament, the ministry then attached it to a letter intended only for the parliament. The letter and the report were accidentally briefly made public. According to the letter from the minister, the earlier report was the work of a single civil servant and, the minister deemed it ‘unsound'.
However, this report is actually written by a civil administrator from the ministry of the Interior, a civil administrator from the ministry of Finance, a civil administrator at the ministry of Defence and two IT consultants. The authors, who prefer to remain unnamed, are peeved by the dismissal of their work: "We spent months going over these savings. It is based partly on audited accounting numbers, that were also submitted to the Court of Audit for its study on open source. The Court concluded our numbers ‘could not be confirmed'. If that is truly the case, they should not have approved the annual financial report of our ministry either."
The Guardian article's author makes no mention of this rather important fact – not surprisingly, since it completely nullifies his argument.
He's "director of the Institute for Trade, Standards and Sustainable Development, Inc. (ITSSD), a US-based non-profit legal research, analytics and educational organisation." Here's how the ITSSD describes itself:
ITSSD is an independent, not-for-profit, non-partisan educational organization dedicated to the promotion of a positive paradigm of sustainable development consistent with private property, free market and WTO rule of law-based principles.
U.S. High-Tech Innovations Face Gathering ‘Perfect Storm' Of Compulsory Licensing and Royalty-Free Interoperability Frameworks Abroad
describes the growing number of foreign regulatory frameworks and national standards initiatives designed to convert privately developed intellectual property-rich high technologies into virtually free-of-charge ‘public interest' assets mostly at the expense of U.S. innovators and investors
- initiatives like the UK's espousal of RF open standards, for example. This reveals the real motivation for the attack: it's about protecting US dominance in the computer sector, not about "safeguarding" the interests of the UK in any way. Here's some more ITSSD analysis on the subject:
According to Mr. Kogan,"such market intervention mechanisms are grounded in United Nations human rights, technology transfer and wealth redistribution soft law declarations and ambiguous UN environmental and World Trade Organization treaty provisions that have already begun to weaken the prevailing neo-liberal exclusive private property right basis for patents, trade secrets and copyrights
Ah, yes, those tiresome "human rights", and "wealth redistribution" that keep eating away at the really important things – intellectual monopolies like patents, trade secrets and copyrights.
Let's see what else concerns the ITSSD. How about this?
U.S. Navy Had a Whale of a Job Fending Off Green Lawfare in NRDC v. Winter Case
In a newly released Washington Legal Foundation working paper, international lawyer Lawrence Kogan describes the U.S. Navy's challenge in convincing the U.S. Supreme Court to vacate a green injunction effectively preventing critical U.S. Naval sonar training exercises from taking place off the Southern California coast. The injunction had been issued on the grounds that the Navy's failure to prepare a full environmental impact statement could trigger possible but scientifically unverifiable discomfort to beaked whales.
"The green group and California State pleadings the Supreme Court reviewed in Winter provide a bird's eye view of continuing activist efforts to rewrite U.S. environmental regulatory law from the bench in pacifist Europe's socialist image," emphasizes Kogan."
You see, it's getting worse: those "pacifist" "socialist" Europeans are trying to protect the whales from pain – whatever next?
Well, how about this [.pdf]?
Congress Should Do its ‘Homework' Before Adopting Costly Euro-Style Energy/Climate Change Rules
Crafted by unelected bureaucrats, environmental activists and socialist party ‘kingpins' and supported by most European leaders, such policies have focused more on promoting sustainable development via consumer and business sacrifices than on securing desperately-needed regional energy supplies.
Yes, it's those crafty socialist party ‘kingpins' again – probably all cheese-eating surrender monkeys – aided and abetted by environmental activists, who have the audacity to promote "sustainable development via consumer and business sacrifices": can you imagine it?
Yes, I think lots of caution is required here....
Update Here's some fascinating commentary on that Court of Audit's report from someone who gave evidence to it.