Don Marti

Sun 17 Apr 2005 08:33:51 PM PDT

Should it ever be legal for governments to license proprietary software?

The problem with the idea of ever allowing governments to license proprietary software is the lock-in effect. When a government agency chooses a proprietary program, that decision can take away the private sector's option to run anything else if they need to communicate with the government. Giving the government the choice of free or proprietary software can too easily deprive citizens and businesses of the same choice.

A compromise worth getting to here is a "free and open at the interfaces" provision so that government doesn't use software with undocumented network protocols and file formats, thereby forcing the private sector to do the same.

Somebody needs to speak for the people and the companies who have to exchange data with the government. If the dialog is...

government: "We're thinking of mandating free software for government use."

proprietary vendor: "Don't do that, here's some proprietary software
for government use. No charge."

government: "OK, we'll use that, thank you."

...then the loser is everyone who has to communicate with the government.

Government free software/open source mandates aren't about the government. They're about giving people and companies the choice to communicate with their own government without paying a second set of taxes to proprietary software companies.

A government purchase of proprietary software is like passing a hidden tax -- but one the government can't spend. Giving bureaucrats the power to enter into proprietary software contracts is giving them the right to tax the people and companies that have to submit information to them, with no accountability.

You can get the beneficial effects of a mandate without mandating licenses for the software itself. The ideal compromise is: Yes, the government will be willing to buy proprietary software, but full specifications of how to interoperate with that software must be submitted along with the bid and made public if the software is chosen.

If a vendor refuses to submit the specs, they're obviously trying a cheesy lock-in scam and shouldn't be considered anyway.