Monday, September 13, 2004

California Goes to Open Source

After Munich and China, right now California, governed by Arnold Schwarzenegger has decided to use OpenSource software in California in order to reduce operational costs. But there were some debates on some decision made about a different section of the cost-reducing white pape that was considered dangerous and stands against the ideology of open source enthusiasts. Shlomi Fish originally wrote this letter to California's governor :

Dear Mr. Schwarzenegger,

The purpose of this letter is two-fold:

1. To congratulate you for your choice to utilize open source software in California in order to reduce operational costs.
2. To warn you that the path you take in a different section of the cost-reducing white paper is dangerous and stands against the ideology of open source enthusiasts.

I am not a U.S. citizen and do not live in California. Nevertheless, as a user, developer, and advocate of open source software, I feel I have the right to express this opinion.

First of all, the compliment: Using open source software within California will not only reduce cost but also increase productivity and give a better user experience. While a few studies seem to have shown that open source software has a lower total cost of ownership than the commercial equivalents, I refer you to the Check the Facts campaign, by Hamakor, the Israeli NPO for free and open source software. This study (in Hebrew only, unfortunately) debunks these claims.

(Some non-open source software may be superior to its open source counterparts and may provide a better TCO. It's not necessary to prohibit using it, just to make sure open source software is used whenever it is possible and appropriate.)

I sincerely hope that the State of California will not give in to lobbyists of proprietary software vendors and will maintain the benevolent stance it has chosen.

Now to the other issue: I noticed in a different section of the document some disturbing plans and ideological errors that are not compatible with the free and open source software ideology:

1. "Intellectual Property" -- There is no such thing as intellectual property. Copyrights, trademarks, patents, and trade secrets are all valid, but serve different purposes and are different things. They should not be placed under the same umbrella.

Another harmful aspect of the label is associating them with property. Copyrights, patents, and the such are not property, neither legally nor morally. Infringing on them does not harm the original invention or copy, which is the case for theft and other violations of one's tangible property. While it isn't ethical to violate copyrights, trademarks, or patents, it is still much less harmful than violations of one's physical property. Therefore, please avoid using this term in the state's publications from now on.

2. Using patents to garner money -- This is probably a violation of federal law, but one still has to respond to it, because even if this is the case, its presence in the document is disturbing. Many patents and especially the vast majority of software patents are harmful and damaging. Most of them have prior art, and a lot of the others are quite trivial and meaningless. Issuing software patents and trying to enforce them is perceived by the open source community as a clear sign of being a software parasite. It is my hope that the State of California will reverse this decision and stress that it won't follow this path.

A final note regarding this issue is that it is that you probably won't garner much revenue this way anyway. It is very hard to make money out of software patents. Most software patents are issued by companies to protect themselves from future patent violation suits, and most of them are not truly enforcable. There is a very small number of patents that are valid and hold.

3. Copyright violations -- I think you misunderstood what copyright means there. The only time copyright can be enforced in regards to software is when the violator misuses a copy of the copyrighted code. Using different software that is similar in functionality (or even identical) which is not derived from the original code does not constitute violation.

Or did you meant that you wish to sell this software? Again, there may be issues with the federal law here. Still, selling software that was developed for in-house use of the State of California is OK, as long as it does not concern the interaction of the public with the state. If it does, then it must be released under a suitable open source license, as otherwise California citizens and residents are at the mercy of the state.

Once again, congratulations on taking this bold move of switching the State of California to using open source software. Just please correct the harmful elements.

Sincerely yours,

Shlomi Fish

I hope that the governor had time to read this letter and made some changes before there will more critics about the plan.

When will this fenomena happen to Indonesia? Even though IGOS (Indonesia Goes Open Source) programs has been running, but still i haven't seen the boom effect from it :(

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