Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 15th Sep 2017 21:20 UTC
GNU, GPL, Open Source

Digital services offered and used by public administrations are the critical infrastructure of 21st-century democratic nations. To establish trustworthy systems, government agencies must ensure they have full control over systems at the core of our digital infrastructure. This is rarely the case today due to restrictive software licences.

Today, 31 organisations are publishing an open letter in which they call for lawmakers to advance legislation requiring publicly financed software developed for the public sector be made available under a Free and Open Source Software licence.

Good initiative, and a complete and utter no-brainer. Public money, public code.

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This old chestnut again
by rom508 on Sat 16th Sep 2017 21:55 UTC
rom508
Member since:
2007-04-20

OK so from the article, this is the future Armageddon that open source is supposed to prevent:

By aligning public funding with a Free Software requirement -- "Free" referring to public code availability, not cost -- we can find and fix flaws before they are used to turn the lights out in the next hospital."

And they want governments to legislate on this.

Personally, I'm not against open source, but I'd like to pose a few questions:

Software development of complex systems is difficult and expensive. If there is no open source alternative for software that controls air traffic at a new airport, for example, then you have a choice, either spend 1 million euros on commercial closed software, or spend 100 million on developing your own custom software and then open source it. Good use of public money would be to go with cheaper commercial software (assuming you are not planning on building 100 new airports in the near future).

Open source quite often means "you can take it free of charge and not pay anything". There are companies out there that make money out of such software, but that's because they are so big, it is difficult to compete with them. They like open source, because they can take something for free, re-package it and sell it with their services/products. Yes they sometimes contribute something back, but they often take more than they give and they don't pay their taxes. The idea that tax payers should pay for new open source software development and then give it away to Google or Facebook to increase their profits, is rather grotesque.

It is a myth that open source software is better and more secure. If you have one million monkeys review open source code, this will not make it any more secure. There are software engineering techniques that ensure software is designed correctly and free of bugs, but quite often they are not used for the majority of software, because they are too expensive or time consuming, or require software developers to change their old habits, well good luck with that when somebody is coding for fun in their spare time.

Reply Score: 0

RE: This old chestnut again
by Z_God on Sun 17th Sep 2017 08:44 in reply to "This old chestnut again"
Z_God Member since:
2006-06-11

It seems you are not familiar with publicly funded software development. In practice this software is developed and used for specific purposes within a governmental organization. When I asked at me previous job "why don't we publish everything as free software?" the main response was "yes, actually why not?".

In the past there would sometimes be parties in between (like Cap Gemini) that would arrange contracts in such a way that only they would be able to improve the software which was developed (any paid for) by the government. At some point the government became smart enough to prevent this by law which puts the ownership of publicly funded software with the government. They might as well release this source for everybody to look at. In practice this will mainly enable different governmental organizations to share their development more easily with each other because the amount of infrastructure needed will be reduced.

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[2]: This old chestnut again
by Sidux on Sun 17th Sep 2017 09:35 in reply to "RE: This old chestnut again"
Sidux Member since:
2015-03-10

Bringing in external consultants to do the job for you is not the best idea either, and in some countries, mostly due to personal data access concerns, this tactic is no longer accepted by the regulatory organisations, requesting for companies to have in-house development and support for this kind of projects.
The idea of having public code inside government is to have a team of specialists paid by the government to maintain the developed code and for others that have proper qualification to see it and come up with solutions in case problems are detected.
This however triggers the fact that all projects have to be made public (i.e there will no longer be any special deal done by companies to take on development for themselves).
This is where the politics usually come in. For many it's a nice source of money that will have to go away for the good of the country.

Edited 2017-09-17 09:36 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 3

RE[2]: This old chestnut again
by rom508 on Sun 17th Sep 2017 10:26 in reply to "RE: This old chestnut again"
rom508 Member since:
2007-04-20

Why don't we publish everything as free software? Well for the same reason that you wouldn't pay a mortgage on your house for 25 years and then give the house away into public domain. It is about ownership and control.

So "publicly funded software" can imply different things:

1. Commercial "off the shelf" software packages are already available, no need to develop and debug anything, support is also available. Public money is used to purchase such software, which may be much cheaper and quicker than developing your own from scratch. Access to source code can also be available via NDAs, etc. so governments can use their own independent consultants to verify software is free of bugs and back doors.

2. Bespoke software is needed, so governments use public money to develop new software from scratch. They own the software and source code. Sharing code within the same government is not an issue. Instead of putting source code into public domain for everyone to use and abuse, government can commercialize it and sell various IP to private firms and foreign governments. So instead of giving away freebies to Google and Facebook, government compete with them and make a lot of money which goes back to public services.

So for example, if UK government spend billions of euros on developing AI algorithms and infrastructure for driverless cars and is 10 years ahead of everyone else, why give it all away to other rich countries like US? UK should patent and export this technology and make money which will be used for the benefit of British tax payers.

Reply Parent Score: 0

RE: This old chestnut again
by kwan_e on Sun 17th Sep 2017 09:30 in reply to "This old chestnut again"
kwan_e Member since:
2007-02-18

You have a bunch of criticisms that don't take into account the alternative that we already see is worse.

Open source quite often means "you can take it free of charge and not pay anything". There are companies out there that make money out of such software, but that's because they are so big, it is difficult to compete with them.


And yet startups keep popping up and use open source software. Open source software is just as much a way to decrease barriers to entry as it is for big companies to get free stuff. Tell us a way to decrease barriers to entry for startups without open source.

The idea that tax payers should pay for new open source software development and then give it away to Google or Facebook to increase their profits, is rather grotesque.


Uh, tax payers are already paying for software to be developed and basically "given away" to the company that is contracted to develop it to increase their profits.

It is a myth that open source software is better and more secure. If you have one million monkeys review open source code, this will not make it any more secure.


Yes, review on its own doesn't make anything better unless acted upon. But you can't even have a chance of acting on anything if review can't happen in the first place; and the action will be much slower.

Think about Heartbleed. Sure, it was a silly vulnerability to have let through. Was it really the end of the world? The problem was identified quickly, the bug located quickly, then the bug was fixed quickly. Trying getting that with closed source software. You can't even have the conversation and must hope the vendor will allocate resources to it.

There are software engineering techniques that ensure software is designed correctly and free of bugs, but quite often they are not used for the majority of software, because they are too expensive or time consuming, or require software developers to change their old habits, well good luck with that when somebody is coding for fun in their spare time.


How is software developed for public services "coding for fun in their spare time"? This is about source code developed under public contract. Now you're just having your bone to pick with open source instead of coming up with a relevant argument.

Reply Parent Score: 4

RE[2]: This old chestnut again
by rom508 on Sun 17th Sep 2017 10:51 in reply to "RE: This old chestnut again"
rom508 Member since:
2007-04-20

And yet startups keep popping up and use open source software. Open source software is just as much a way to decrease barriers to entry as it is for big companies to get free stuff. Tell us a way to decrease barriers to entry for startups without open source.


Same thing applies everything in life. Open source is good for some things, not so good for other. You get what you pay for, which is why people spend loads of money on new luxury cars, instead of getting old bangers for free.

Think about Heartbleed. Sure, it was a silly vulnerability to have let through. Was it really the end of the world? The problem was identified quickly, the bug located quickly, then the bug was fixed quickly. Trying getting that with closed source software. You can't even have the conversation and must hope the vendor will allocate resources to it.


You are talking about the quality of software, if you can guarantee software is free of bugs, the fact that something is open or closed is irrelevant. Also I'm pretty sure governments can obtain access to source code via NDAs, so it's not as closed as you imagine.

How is software developed for public services "coding for fun in their spare time"? This is about source code developed under public contract. Now you're just having your bone to pick with open source instead of coming up with a relevant argument.


Or replacing existing closed software with open source alternatives, some of which is developed by community for fun in their spare time, i.e. no dedicated test teams, or unit tests, etc.

Reply Parent Score: 0

RE: This old chestnut again
by ahferroin7 on Mon 18th Sep 2017 11:24 in reply to "This old chestnut again"
ahferroin7 Member since:
2015-10-30

From a practical perspective, there you have one of two cases for companies making money with open source software:

1. You're purchasing support for that software and other services from them. THis is the case with Red Hat, SUSE, and Oracle.

2. You're purchasing a complete system from them, and paying for hardware and proprietary software that uses the open source software. This is the case with many embedded systems, including smartphones that run Android.

In both cases, you often have totally free alternatives (CentOS for RHEL, openSUSE for SLES, AOSP for Android, etc), and there is absolutely nothing in any widely used open source license that prohibits such usage.

Reply Parent Score: 3