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Bill Bennett


Where Open Source fits in New Zealand

Open Source software XfceNZ Open Source Society president Dave Lane is a frequent and articulate promoter of his cause. He can also be a scathing critic of proprietary software.

In keeping with the Open Source philosophy, his presentation from this year’s ITX conference is online.

You can read the slides, or hit the S key to see the slides and his speaker notes.

Lane’s presentation has a Creative Commons licence. You can copy, adapt and share the work to your heart’s content so long as you credit the author.

It’s well worth a read if you need a crash course in Open Source. It also works as a refresher.

Lane starts with a tidy definition of Open Standards (The original version of this post said this was a definition of Open Source, my error):

“Well-defined technical specs available at no cost online, created via a transparent process, by multiple parties, with no royalties, no discrimination, and extensible via a well-defined process.”

Later he says:

We don’t want to mandate open source software. That would be counter productive.

This is a good point. Other countries have mandated open source software in the past. It hasn’t always been successful. Better to create the right climate to let software flourish than to dictate what people use.

Also, once you start dictating software choices, the whole business becomes open to commerical capture from the team with the best lobbying.

When proprietary software is best

Not only that, there are times when proprietary software is the best tool for a specific job. It should be left in place.

More important, mandatory Open Source runs against the whole idea of openness. Instead of making user’s decisions for them, it is better to put rules in place so they can make their own choice, the best choice without being constrained.

All we want is a level playing field for software, based on mandated compliance with open standards, as you would expect in just about every other marketplace.

The commercial world often has a better understanding of this than government.

Open source software will succeed on its own merits, just as it has on the web — which is perhaps the aspect of the digital world most dominated by open standards, but it’s already dominated the mobile world, the cloud, the supercomputer and the emerging Internet of Things.



3 thoughts on “Where Open Source fits in New Zealand

  1. Yes I also agree that the best tool for the job should be chosen not matter it’s source, except for a few specific areas. Anything to do with government communication. This should be also chosen as to provide the least amount of barriers to the users, and that would mean not choosing any paid for solution. After all if the government says that all documentation has to be provided via a Microsoft Word document, then it automatically discriminates against anyone who can’t or won’t pay for the software, or who runs Linux as their desktop. So for the interfaces between the people and the government, it has to be as open as possible, which is why in some countries, it has been decided that using the open source LibraOffice, or OpenOffice was the best choice, even thou they had to spend time re-training the internal users.

    The other consideration for all software, is to figure out who owns the data that is entered in to it. If the software is open source, then you own your own data, but if it is not an open source application, you may not have access to your own data, if the software company fails, or removes access to their software due to lack of keeping up with annual fees. This is even more of an issue with any of the cloud systems, as then you may not even have access to the raw data files, to try and even reverse engineer the save file to retrieve your own data.


    1. I agree with your comment, Fran. I think “expedience is the enemy of principle”. In this case, the principle is egalitarian access to government services to all citizens and taxpayers… using anything but open standards (conforming to my definition above – various corporates have tried to undermine the term to suit their proprietary interests) works against this principle. The amazing thing about open source software is that if it isn’t as seen as comparable in capability to a proprietary alternative, the gov’t can look at investing the money it would’ve paid for licensing said proprietary software and get open source developers to improve the open source one. This has many benefits – it only takes one gov’t in the world to do this for every country in the world to benefit, given the global reach of the Internet… it makes the software conforming to open standards (because all open source has a strong in-built incentive to adhere to open standards, unlike most proprietary software) And having improved the software, there’s no need to pay for the proprietary option (and perpetual loss of egalitarian access) going into the future (which is, increasingly, the proprietary model).

  2. I disagree with the assertion that “…there are times when proprietary software is the best tool for a specific job and should be left in place”.

    There may well be (and are) times when proprietary software is the only viable option for a specific scenario or use case, for a variety of reasons: open alternatives may not yet have matured enough, or poor historic short-sighted technology purchasing decisions creating a complex migration hairball. However, I can’t think of a single scenario where – all things being equal – it could be successfully argued that closed, non-standardised technology is the “best tool” compared to open source and open standards.

    The “best tool for the job” argument is frequently trotted out by proprietary vendors, often to give their products the veneer of relevance in an increasingly open playing field.

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