Slug: open-source-free-software-and Date: 2003-04-06 Title: Open Source, Free Software and $$$ layout: post

Scoble’s got a series of posts and replies relating to a bill in Oregon that would make it law that state agencies would have to consider using open-source software. The first post is this one.

I’m going to weigh in here a bit, b/c Robert keeps posting on it and he keeps making some pretty good points.

Some thoughts:

###No Money, No Crap

When I was in Germany, working for ArtLab Europe, we often did non-profit work at cost. These projects were print brochures and marketing pieces for certain non-profits that we knew could not afford our usual rates - but we believed in their work and so this was a way to contribute.

Our philosophy in dealing with these projects, however, was “No Money, No Crap”. We weren’t earning anything on the projects, so we told them up front that we would work with them but that we weren’t going to take a lot of huff in the process.

Now, that sounds imperious, but we turned out some of our best work in those projects because we were not constrained by some marketing weenie’s idea of how to communicate to their audience - we did the research and analysis ourselves, and in 90% of those projects the audience loved the work we had done and it was effective in getting results.

I think that there’s some of that attitude and thought behind the OSS philosophy. Sure we had other projects where we were getting paid and ultimately you do what the client wants. But we also had projects where we were not bound by the price on our work and we could do a little more, push the boundaries more, communicate more effectively.

###Use the Source

I’m not certain what the Oregon bill says: if it’s mandating that OSS simply be “considered” then I don’t have a problem with it. If it’s saying that OSS must be used if there’s no compelling reason to use “proprietary” software, then there are some problems with it.

I look at it this way: I think that there is a great benefit to having the source for the products the government uses. I don’t think those prpducts ought to be free-as-in-beer, since as Robert (and many others) says, the time that goes into that software is valuable. So I think that a fair price should be set for the software. (In this case - I’m not setting ground rules for all open-source software here, not yet.) But I think the products are more stable, they are less costly (CALs alone will kill a government budget) and having the source and a few knowledgeable people around to use it is extremely valuable.

###Large Chunks, Tightly Coupled

Lastly, and this goes back to this post, large proprietary software is often written in the “Large Chunks Tightly Coupled” theme - large integrated systems where every piece is related to or dependent on some other piece. You buy the servers, you have to buy the clients. And the client licenses. And the subscription service, and the…

The [open source, inspired by unix] philosophy is “Small Pieces Loosely Joined” - a solution can be built from smaller, more readily available parts, hopefully saving time and money, but guaranteeing greater flexibility.