Tuesday, 30 September 2008

The Open Software Debate

Saskboy points to the Green Party policy on Free/Libre Open Source Software for Government and Educational use.

I'm sorry, but this is a noble attempt rooted in complete bullshit. The people that promote this crap have no understanding of the software needs of government and or business.

Business and Government use of computers extends way beyond Microsoft Office and E-mail. (The two most cited applications with free alternatives).

I'll give you the most glaring example of why this won't work. The BlackBerry. Large organizations that wish to effectively use Blackberries install a BlackBerry Enterprise Server.

How many open source e-mail platforms are supported? That's right, zero, nil, nada, none. That's why most organizations use Microsoft Exchange. And the best e-mail client for Exchange? Microsoft Outlook, hands down. Evolution (the Open Source alternative) doesn't even come close.

Now I'll get into software most people don't know about. How many Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) products support open source platforms? Trick question, same answer.

ERP, CRM, Accounting, Engineering, Drafting, Document Management, Data Archiving, Process Workflow and the myriad of other software packages a company or government uses are only available on Microsoft Windows.

If any organization dictated a mandatory move to open source, they'd be handicapping themselves. Sure, some of the software is free, but then they limit themselves to only one option (usually there is only one open source option in comparison) and for many other needs, there are simply no options available. As an IT person this would be great. If we ran all on Linux, I'd have one-tenth the applications to support. Because the ones we want to use just wouldn't be available on Linux.

And most organizations want these products to work with each other. Interoperability in other words. On the Microsoft platform, that happens. In the Open Source world? Good luck.

And the absolute kicker is this line:
Free software gives users the ability to work together enhancing and refining the programs they use.

You enhance and refine a program through coding. How many government and corporate employees know how to code software? Better yet, even if they could, would you want your employees writing test code compiling it and adding it to the main repository willy nilly during their work day? If you said yes, you're an idiot. A) its not why you pay them (most employees have a primary function after all, like I don't know, customer service) and B) any IT person will tell you that random code changes to running applications is a recipe for disaster.

Open Source has its place in an effective IT organization. But there is no chance in hell it can ever be the only solution, and any attempt to force Open Source is doomed to failure.

1 comment:

M@ said...

You enhance and refine a program through coding. How many government and corporate employees know how to code software?

This is a key point. At all levels of government, maintenance is stressed and the actual creation of code is outsourced. I'm not complaining about the model -- I've done quite well by it, thanks -- but it means that there is typically no one in government who is able to play the role that's needed to make open source work.

Upshot: yeah, you're right. Open source just can't work in the present governmental approach.