Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part I

A new series about the state of open source in government—where it's happening, what it's used for, who's for it and who's against it.

People believe that governments have embraced Linux and open-source software. You might see headlines saying that Linux advocates have made serious inroads in government. Logic dictates that Linux works well and the price is right, so why not?

This year, Oregon and Texas legislators introduced house and senate bills respectively supporting open-source software. Both legislative bills made their way to committee hearings, but the results differed significantly. Oregon's HB 2892 died. In Texas, SB 1579 found favor in the Committee and remains pending due to a walkout by approximately 50 members of the House.

California and Oklahoma also made attempts do some legislative mandating to use open-source software that died quietly. Rhode Island didn't see legislative action, but it did build a Linux portal for the state's rules and regulations database, which received good reviews.

Other states, such as Alabama, attempted grass roots efforts from their Information Service Departments to implement open-source initiatives. Grass roots efforts exist in Iowa, Utah, Hawaii and Louisiana.

We discovered open-source initiatives in city and county government units across the country. Similar to commercial users of Linux, the various local efforts have started at the bottom. One city in a far northwestern state secretly deployed Linux to avoid an entanglement with a local software company. In Texas, Houston looks like a pioneer and has already seen reduced costs and saved taxpayer money.

Depending on your worldview, we could say the Open Source community made important strides or failed miserably in the past year. Regardless, we gained extensive knowledge of our situation in state and local government. This discussion covers specifics of our overall findings.

The Issues

The main thing a government unit considering open-source software wants to know is how it can save money. The people who answer to their constituents need to show cost cutting and a balanced budget.

A level below the legislators and government officials lays a large, permanent bureaucracy. The managers spend time working on technical issues such as reliability, continuity, security and interoperability. At lower levels, people maintain the existing systems with little funding for development. They need solutions they can deploy with little effort that fit seamlessly into their infrastructures.

Interested parties make up the final group with issues. These include advocates and the opposition. Here, I depict the opposition as well funded and organized. The advocates have little organization, financial resources and/or participants.

Saving Money

During the Texas hearing, Senate sponsor John Carona summed up the money situation nicely during the hearing before the Administrative Committee. He addressed the lobbyists making up the opposition and said:

Again, I don't understand why you all are so threatened by this, but from a careful look at the lobbyists in this room that are representing Microsoft, and all of you here representing proprietary software companies which—let's face it, that's where the big money is; it's not in open source, it's in proprietary—it's rather transparent as to why you all feel so threatened by this language. And I'll tell you, this [bill] is innocuous, but next session I'll be on a crusade.

Elected officials and state bureaucracies have little agility in the area of information technology budgets. Meanwhile, lobbyists and the popular press continue to say that open-source software provides little, if any cost savings. Analysts, such as Andrew Binstock of Pacific Data Works LLC, say governments are conservative when it comes to new technology.

Rhode Island became the first state government to implement open-source technology in view of the public. Jim Willis, the special project consultant for the Secretary of State, chose open-source software to implement an on-line rules and regulations database. The implementation used LAMP, which stands for the Linux operating system, Apache Web server, MySQL database and any of three development languages—PHP, Perl or Python.

The state developed the database-driven portal for $40,000. Hardware costs amounted to $6,000. Deployment cost $3,000, and the remaining funds went for overhead and one consultant working only two days a week for four months. The portal runs under Red Hat Linux 7.2 and sits on a Dell PowerEdge server that came with a MySQL database pre-installed. Ninety-five agencies use the portal to submit PDF files with information on rules and regulations to the Secretary of State's office. The database currently holds approximately 1,700 regulations.



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LifeNet's picture

great jop

Re: Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part I

Anonymous's picture

I am a state employee and put the following question to my manager. He sent it to the head IT man for our bureau and got the following response.

"Just a follow up on my thought on saving costs on constant computer upgrades. i remember the picture in the newspaper 10 years ago of the governor and bill gates shaking hands and i thought, uh oh......and, of course, since then, the state has been hit year after year with upgrade
costs from its Microsoft purchased software, not to mention the staff time necessary to protect the damage from viruses specific to Microsoft.

here's a link to an article in which several states are going to open source software such as Linux to save themselves from this gouging and MS glitches. Since the governor had considered joining the antitrust action against MS, perhaps a suggestion that we at least explore the option would be favorably received."

From IT:

I would reply that

"The state standards do not embrace the use of Linux and other open source software to replace MS Windows or anything else at this point. The use of some Linux/Unix derivatives such as AIX is actively being used, as is UNIX in the state, but this is a DET issue, and as of now there is no
indication that any open source software is going to be used as a state standard.

The state is trying to standardize what we use as there is too much variety now, and it causes all types of support, training and other hidden costs to escalate. Until something dramatic changes in the IT industry, most organizations are doing this to reduce costs and complexity. We learned
in the 80s that when you start cherry picking individual "best of breed" products you inevitably run into all types of integration and compatibility problems. If that weren't true we might all be using Macintosh computers on our desk. It's best of breed but it is a support nightmare.

Also, Open Source software is not the panacea it is held out to be, and over time vendors have no reason to really be "Open" as it reduces their competitiveness to a financial basis only, and then they get into cutthroat competition and start losing margins. Every vendor who supports Open
Source software has a "hook" to keep you paying them forever, and they don't make it easy to change to someone else over time. If you buy Red Hat's version of Linux they want to keep you forever and make it hard for you to go elsewhere. Furthermore, who decides what Open Source software is used? In an integrated environment everyone using their own preferences on software will obviously cause
problems in the end. Its like asking for the right to buy a Chevrolet with a Ford engine and a Chrysler transmission. Don't work too well and maintenance and support is a nightmare.

Much as no one likes the way MS does business, and the complexity of their environment, they are still the biggest game in town, and there is some value in going that route. Besides, taking the state from what is has to something totally new would probably wipe out any possible savings for
decades to come." End of Response.

Take it from an old timer, all these silver bullets that are going to free the world from MS, IBM, Mainframes, etc. rarely work. Remember when Client/Server was going to eliminate the mainframe in a few years? Remember DEC? Well Mainframes are stronger than ever, and C/S machines now emulate mainframes (I know that because we now have LPARS on servers - I had them on Mainframes 30 years
ago, and C/S was never going to have that as that was a mainframe concept that didn't work in the C/S world.)

Situation in "old Europe" i.e. Germany

Anonymous's picture

Hi there,

some words of the situation in Germany: my company was on a trade show for governments in germany ( in june presenting cms-systems and some open source products.

The reuslt was overwhelming: two local authorithies want to mograte from MS-Exchange 5.0 to an CYRUS/IMAP (cause nobody there uses Groupware), with about 5.000 Users; the good CIO sayed to me that ce han save about 1.000.000

Re: Situation in

Anonymous's picture

I'm at a loss wondering why you would think we care about what's happening in your region. Perhaps you do not understand how sad and angry we have become.

I suppose you think that you have gained sympathy on our streets by demonstrating against us. That's like the Palestinians trying to start a peace process by blowing up Israeli citizens.

I hope we get to read about how Linux is being deployed in the military here. Imagine, the military in the US uses Linux for weapon systems, communications and advanced deployment and coordination.

Someone should tell Intel?

Anonymous's picture

What makes you think Intel executives don't know they were represented in the opposition? I'm not at all convinced of Intel's support. They continue to drag their heels when it comes to releasing Linux drivers for chipsets and cards. Microsoft and Intel are tight, too tight.

Re: Someone should tell Intel?

Anonymous's picture

I think that was a joke.

Give me reasons why I should considder open source!

Anonymous's picture


I am the guy who started the thread "AGAINST" open source. Sorry that the title was a little misleading, but as someone who makes the choices as to what software is used in a large government branch, many of the things that have been said I find very bias'd, and ignorant of how government works.

I do use open source software, many of our vendors use open source software as part of their solutions, these vendors also provide full coverage for support, maintenance, and accountability.

What I would like is some good arguments why everyday open source software should be considdered to replace commercially available software. I am an advocate of open source software when it is applicable. I use Linux, BSD, Star Office, and dozens of other open source software at home. As a developer I have produced more open source software than commercial or custom software.

I am not sleeping with Bill Gates nor would I want to. I use Sun, IBM, HP, and hundreds of other softwares that have nothing to do with Microsoft within the government. Please do not compare anything directly to Microsoft, if its relevant than go ahead but please compare to commercial software in general. I will try to explain from my stand within the government why you may or may not be right in your assumption of open source in regards to government use of it.

I was told I put too many points in one topic, so to keep things clean please post points that are very different aside from each other, such as desktop applications vs. server or backend, etc..


Re: Give me reasons why I should considder open source!

Anonymous's picture

One of the possible escenarios is when you are developping software for internal use (no to sell it as a commercial product).

You might be better of forming some sort of alliance with other people working on similar software, thus diluting the costs.

See Compiere, ERP5, Apache, OpenBSD...

In all those cases people aren't or weren't interested as much in selling a software package than in having good stable software in order to sell other products (consulting, web hosting...)

I believe that is a major incentive in using open source: the choices aren't anymore just in house developping, buying a SW package or outsourcing the developing process... you can start with open source software that already satisfies most of your requirements and enhance it for your own use.

Distributing your enhancements as open source software can help with debugging:

A develops a SW package.
B discovers a bug.
C debugs the package.
A had a debugging task solved before he even was aware of the bug.

Of course this is an ideal scenario and I don't think all software has to be Open Source software: your software could involve algorithms that imply certain business know how your not willing to share, but I think it's an issue worth considering.

Regarding the State use of software: I believe the use of open data exchage standards is a must (why should the State force me to use .doc or .xls?).

I think forcing the State to use Open Source SW is not a good idea.

I think forcing the State not to use Open Source SW isn't a good idea either.

how do i learn to develop a program at home

clinton's picture

if any one could send me some info on programing, so i could learn how to start. eg step by step would be great.

Re: some info on programing

Anonymous's picture

Dawson, M. “Python Programming for the absolute beginner” Latest edition. ISBN 1-59863-112-8

Just get it and work through the examples.

Disclaimer: I have nothing to do with the author or the publisher; just a happy customer

Re: Give me reasons why I should considder open source!

Anonymous's picture

I emphasize with your situation and really understand it fully. I understand how government works both from the inside and as an M&O contractor. I've been in this game since 1974.

While I appreciate your request for reasons, I don't consider that a fair request.

I've run large build outs for DOE for example, and I was stuck with a cluster of VAX machines running Oracle Government Financials and everyone had an Apple Workstation with Appletalk as the network protocol.

I considered the resources stupid and ridiculous. But, I made it work. We ran that lab with what we had.

I've done this long enough to know that sometimes all I had available to me were parts and pieces and I turned those into a shunkwerks project. We got the job done.

I pay lots of money in taxes every year and I want to know if I'm getting my money's worth.

I don't mean any disrespect, but as a constituent, I want you to break your butt making sure you save me money. And as rough as it might seem, I don't give a hoot if you're comfortable or not.

Professionally and personally, I want you to be uncomfortable and committed to my well being.

So, I don't owe you an explanation, you owe me one. Why in the hell aren't you figuring out how to cut costs and save money?

I know that may not seem kind and considerate, but again, you work for me and I expect you to figure out why you should use open source software. Otherwise, go to work somewhere else where you answer to shareholders instead of the citizens.


Re: Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part I

Anonymous's picture

The use of ethically licensed open source code by government is a good thing. However, the use of so-called "open source" code which is licensed under unethical licenses (such as the GPL), and/or licenses whose purpose is to destroy businesses and/or deprive people of reasonable rewards for their work (an explicit goal of the GPL), is not appropriate for government. In short, government should insist on licensing such as that of Python, X, and the BSDs, and should shun viral, anti-business licenses such as the GPL.

Re: Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part I

Anonymous's picture

The phrase "ethically licensed" is an interesting spin. By such reasoning, not charging for Internet Explorer and Outlook Express is also unethical (How much can I charge for my browser and emailer? Nothing? My business is ruined!).

Your twisted interpretation of the purpose of the GPL is both wrong and unappreciated. If you really believe what you wrote, please read the license again (but I don't really believe that).

Re: Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part I

Anonymous's picture

Who are you -- Bill Gates?

This is misinformation. What is the referential index of ethically?

What specifically makes a thing good? What criteria are you using?

What empirical evidence do you have that the explicit goal of GPL is to deprive people of rewards? Destroy businesses?

Shout: "There's a bomb in here" in a crowded theater and someone gets trampled to death: You're guilty of murder.

Free speech doesn't mean you're free from the consequences of your behavior including what you say and how people react to it.

The issue is NOT the cost

Anonymous's picture

I thought the major impetus for open source in government was not cost, but rather data openness and security assurance.

That is, by using open source software (and, by extension, open data formats), a government will have much more freedom to use and reuse its data as it pleases (interoperability at the data level, which -- when you think about it -- saves a LOT of money; how much would it cost to re-collect data because you can't read the format anymore? Certainly it can be a lot more than any piddly software maintenance and/or training costs), and can be much more assured that there aren't any security issues with the software which might lead to privacy issues -- after all, they can read (and fix) the source.

Re: The issue is NOT the cost

Anonymous's picture

Unfortunately, reality keeps popping up. Linux in government or enterprises or in an Abrams Tank is about saving money.

The other stuff makes for nice conversation, but unfortunately, the government wants to lower the cost of computing.

Re: Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part I

Anonymous's picture

As the security administrator for a county, I don't think that we really NEED any legislation on this subject anyway. A few months back I prohibited access from the Internet to any machine without stack protection, and was happy to receive a lot of support for the policy, and no opposition whatsoever. We're keeping an eye on Lindows, Mandrake, Ximian and Open Office, planning on thoroughly piloting all of them before our current MS licensing agreement expires, and are fully prepared to make the switchover.

Oh, and as long as I'm at it: As someone who actually DOES work for government, I'd like to disagree totally with the guy who says he's a consultant for some government body. I think that open source is perfect for government! We need the security, and we can (and do) train our own people, not ship them overseas (!!!) for training as suggested. Support is a non-issue because we can read the source code, understand it, and change whatever we don't like. Not to mention our budget, since we're currently laying off dozens of employees. Eliminating our MS-related costs could have saved at least a quarter of those peoples' jobs.

Re: Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part I

Anonymous's picture

Just one comment. We do need legislation. Maybe you don't need it where you work, but in my county you can get fired for saying "Linux". We're a Windows shop. We still have a server running with NT 3.51. Imagine being a UNIX guy and having to work with a system you consider a toy. I downloaded Cygwin to my computer and got my head taken off.

So, I would personally benefit from legislation. I won't leave here since I have a family to support and the job market is terrible.

Oh yeah, I have to pay for my own certs and tests and I have to be current ;( So, think about me when you say that you don't see why we need legislation.


Re: Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part I

Anonymous's picture

I think that an overlooked issue with regards to open source and goverment is that of software development itself. Many government agencies, large and small, Federal, State, and local, develop software solutions. Many States have e-government initatives. It seems to me that more could be done with less by embracing the bazaar method of development over the cathedral. And by the same token, the software solutions are being built for their use value and not their market value, so there is really no harm in making them available with an open source license.

A case to examine is Washington State DOT's bridge engineering software ( Though developed for the Microsoft platform, the software is shared with the bridge engineering community by means of an open source model.

Re: Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part I

Anonymous's picture

Any state or local law that inhibits a citizen's right to sell one legal product to the government in favor of another citizen's equivalent product is totally unconsitutional. Period. At best, lawmakers can enact a law that requires "price" to be the overriding factor in comparing all products. But since it is not legally possible to "sell" or "license" a product for $0.00, none of the GPLed items would even qualify as products and would immediately become excluded from the price comparison. Sorry, but we are a capitalistic society with equal protection under the Law --when we were done shedding our blood for WW-II, we setup some nice little amusement parks for people live in if they don't like it over here.Kids, it is okay to be a fan of Linux and Gnome and like Linus Torvalds or Miguel de Icazza for "giving" you something nice, but it is not okay to wash your brain with their fiscally unsound foreign socialism nor the ravings of our own academic intellectuals like MIT's Richard Stallman or George Washington University's Bruce Perens. Those socialist people have simply catered to a sense of despair that swept our business when Gates & Co. foreclosed on the ability for software startups to come forth and achieve massive success, much as the communist prayed on Americans during the immediate aftermath of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Find another way to achieve success than wasting your time trying to catch up to Bill Gates by converting the U.S. to socialism. Your heart will run out of beats long before the U.S. government requires that it be run on "free software".

Price would be bizarre

Anonymous's picture

I can sell copies of Mandrake Linux for $2. Next time someone would undercut me for $1.90, and rapidly on down to everyone bidding 0.01 and hoping to make money on the support.

It would at least choke off Microsoft products when their slush fund empties, but the hardest hit would be conventional software companies who don't have Microsoft's depth of pocket and intensity of death-wish (on others' behalf, of course).

Re: Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part I

Anonymous's picture

Disinformation usually begins with an generalization which has no references or empirical back-up.

Your first statement about the constituionality of one product over another is false.

I sugeest you do your own research on this matter and research Federal case law.

Re: Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part I

Anonymous's picture

Free Enterprise and Capitalism have become the haunt of every evil spirit lately. Mind you none of these "sprites" has any relationship to either Free Enterprise or Capitalism.
Capitalism is the process where an investor gives money to a business and gets returns either as dividends or as Interest payments. Naturally there is risk.
Recently Bill Gates and Steve Balmer (AKA MicroSoft) have been held up as icons of both Free Enterprise and Capitalism. The facts are that up until recently MS hadn't even paid a dividend. To Date these remain at joke levels. What has happened here is a profoundly deep fraud. "Selling the Blue Sky"by law.
The issue here is the States spending of money and by definition that can never be "Free Enterprise". It always is Government Regulation.
More to the point, Open Source software such as Linux is not Free, but rather open for alteration. Many companies sell the services associated with it. As a programmer who sells his services, I also note that MS has been the single largest destroyer of the business. They use all manner of unethical, possibly illegal and other devices to destroy any profitable software businesses.
Historically MS developed as a company out of strong US Defense Department Support. There was nothing Free or Enterprise or Capitalist about it. It was a partner of the US Department of Defense and rewarded as a special partner in the process with all manner of Unfree market help.
If you want programming to be in the "Free Market" then support Linux as it is the only real remaining such development.

Re: Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part I

Anonymous's picture

Labeling Linux as "Socialist" or "Communist" is the most damned inane thing I've ever heard. It would be much more accurate to label Billy (the Kid) Gates a Facist, which I don't believe either (though at times, he gets close). Try pulling your head out of your ass and think for a moment. The open software movement is by-God here to stay. I wouldn't suggest that it be a government mandated way of managing any government's business, but it's a damned sight less buggy and much more secure than the MS offerrings. You are, sir (or madam), full of, in a word, *****.

Re: Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part I

Anonymous's picture

Just an aside. Sometimes I think Gates is so annal retentive that he wants to control everybody and everything. He has his own army (BSA) and he influences almost everyone's daily life. He should change his first name to either adoff or sadaam.

Re: Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part I

Anonymous's picture

This is just another brand of FUD.

Free Software is all about capitalism for me.

It is about keeping capital in my local area, instead of sending
it off to faraway cities, states and countries.

When I (or my local goverment) purchase proprietary software,
we send our money to another place. That money is used in
those places to pay for education of the people there.

When we use Free Software, we are free to spend our money
locally. Do we need better trained people to use the Free
Software? Sometimes. The thing is, those better trained people
are revenue producers for our local area. They produce new
things, they get paid and spend their money locally. They
increase the value of my home town. We are stronger for
using Free Software.

Capitalism is not just about money. It is about production.

True wealth is not the gathering of money, but the production
of valuable things.

Re: Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part I

Anonymous's picture

Elected governments (should, at least,) have a duty to spend public monies in the best interests of the public. Commercial software may or may not be part of that, but certainly vendor-lock-in is not. One way that lock-in is achieved is by encoding public information in proprietary formats, where the public must pay a particular vendor in order to access its own data. The vendor ends up having undue power over the governments - do you think a 300% mark-up is fair for MS products? How many people in government own shares in companies from which they purchase using our money? Microsoft is sucking hard out of the public gravey train.

This effort has nothing to do with political ideology. Get real.

Re: Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part I

Anonymous's picture

I think your post had good intentions, that is, I believe you are well intended. Like many of the posts under this topic, you lack the information necessary to postulate a serious opinion. So, you write about what you think makes some sense. There's nothing wrong with that.

I ususally read the posts with some interest on this site and must admit, I am amused by what people will state. My amusement comes as a result of watching people spout off without the least idea what's taking place.

You provide a convenient forum.

First, the writer of the article obviously has a background of journalistic experience. He also appears to have a grasp of writing as a craft. His grammer and use of active voice tells me he's at least a student of literary form.

Also, the article was written with a degree of journalistic impartiality. He made no claims as to the viability of either open source or proprietary software. He stated mostly empirical information about the subject in the context of the audience he addressed. That is, he apparently knows his audience.

He also interjected a degree of humor. When I see that, I can usually tell the writer has a degree of separation from the subject matter.

As an editor, I would say he did a fair journalistic job. It's not great or bad. He wrote a lite investigative piece.

What has my interest up and has since the mid 1980's is the attributes ascribed to the writer and the commentary that follows.

In the article, the Texas senator asks what the lobbyists feel threatened about. In the same sense, I wonder what seems to threaten this religious adherents amongst Microsoft and Open Souce advocates.

I think that few of the people who commented actually read the article with an open mind.

My two cents. Good day.

Re: Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part I

Anonymous's picture

Shut up, you pretentious fool.

Re: Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part I

Anonymous's picture

Come on. Quit insulting our intelligence!

Your assertion is that Redhat isn't a capitalist effort. I think this readship deserves better than that.

Open source has nothing to do with socialism. It has everything to do with freedom and innovation. And it uses IP law to enforce those freedoms and abilities. The same freedoms and abilities that the companies require to exist. Where would Microsoft be without the open source nature of winsock? Where would the internet be if the government didn't open ARPANet? They would all be at least an order of magnitude smaller.

Capitalism has a well deserved reputation of exploiting the "public commons" and then controlling its innovation and use with IP law. The GPL and other versions of open source licenses are enlightened enough to know this and to control the exploitation of useful technologies.

Preston, Gates, & Ellis

Anonymous's picture

For those of you who aren't familiar with this firm, it is the former firm of Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates' father.

There are some other major Seattle-area power brokers associated with PG&E, but the family connection to Microsoft explains why they are involved with Microsoft and BSA lobbying issues.

Re: Preston, Gates, & Ellis

Anonymous's picture

I read several posts here and on other sites from PG&E proponents basically saying that PG&E has nothing to do with Bill Gates.

I even saw a whole biography of Mr. Gates, who appears as this independent fellow. Obviously, they have a hard time just saying that PG&E is Bill Gates' father's firm.

They have seriously insulted our intelligence, which isn't that difficult to do. I'm simply surprised no one has opened this can of worms before.

That's right, PG&E is Gates' father's firm, they seem to staff the BSA and they lobby for Microsoft.

What are they embarrassed about?

It seems they've done a good job.

Siding AGAINST open source for government

Anonymous's picture

Sorry I have to be one of the lone voices in favor of not switching to open source for government. As an IT advisor for a government organization there are just too many factors that go against using open source.

1. Although the initial cost of open source is much better, the long term cost can quickly out grow the ongoing cost of a commercial software. For instance, training for Linux is much more expensive, hard to find, and is not as well implemented as say training for Sun or Microsoft. Many companies have to send staff over seas, or to other cities to get training for Linux, but can have local training for a fraction of the cost. Plane tickets, hotel, etc can add up quickly and can dwarf the cost of the software. There are less people trained for open source software and thus demands that many companies out source IT staff to handle implementation and maintenance of these systems.

2. When you buy a commercial software generally you get much better support. Granted companies like Red Hat provide a paid support service, which is comparable to many other companies, but not all open source is that good for support.

3. Compatibility. Do you have any idea how many companies have compatibility issues with open source software. Large health care software vendors only support old versions of Linux for their software because the changes made to the Core OS and other aspects of the system make it hard to quickly move their software to newer versions. Many vendors still use 6.x of redhat. There is also the issue of multiple flavors of the same open source software... some people will have software that runs on say Debian, and other software that will only run on RedHat because of these issues they are forced to use multiple servers or boxes to handle something that could have easilly been done on one server. This not only increases the cost of hardware, but support.

If you sit down and work out the long term costs of support, and maintenance, a linux based system can become very costly. Do you want your governments computer systems run poorly because you want them to save money? How about healthcare that is government run, do you want your medical applications which dispense life saving drugs or monitor equipment to be run without proper support, etc..

Many software vendors who do not produce open source software are very likely to listen to their customers and work with them directly to ensure that their needs are met quicker than an open source software which has little to no incentive to provide the customization needed by specific area's. To get the requirements from your software may not be timely enough in open source communities...

Take all this into account, the time, effort, physical costs, out sourcing, training, maintenance, etc... as many government agencies have done and you will see that you will end up spending more money and getting less out of your software. Just because the initial costs are free does not mean you save money. Microsoft trained people are a dime a dozen, I know I am one of them and if one leaves you are sure to get another who can quickly and easilly move into the position to maintain a system, you can not do that with most open source software.

Do not get me wrong I am for open source software, but when you break things down it isn't ready for government. Everyone here is missing the point by miles... initial up front cost is not the end all be all of costing for software... sit down like I have for literally months going over costs, getting quotes, talking to vendors and support companies and you will learn how expensive open source is to us. Open source projects have also been known to be dropped without word or warning making large investments worthless.. This is just a drop in the barrel... hundreds and thousands of pages of documentation goes into deciding what software will be used and why. Every single project I participate in open source is an option, and 98% of the time the total cost is too high.

And this is just crazy!

Anonymous's picture

Open source projects have also been known to be dropped without word or warning making large investments worthless.

Hey, what? They're called Open Source projects for a reason! If you missed d-day, try the Wayback machine or any other mirrors (get filenames from Google's cache of their pages if naught else, and search on those). If you're making that big an "investment" in them, invest 10% more and support the project yourself. Everybody wins!
And what happens if Microsoft drop a product? MultiPlan? Xenix? Ever hear of those? Shall I start listing competitors thay've crushed and those software products too? Blink and you're dead! At least with Open Source there is an avenue of escape! Wake up and smell the coffee!
And if you're a troll... "mene, mene, tekel, upharsin". So there.

If you're such an expert, why not fly IN and train them?

Anonymous's picture

Transport and accomodation for one person to train twenty ain't a fraction of the reverse cost. And you might get in a few holidays, broaden your mind, relax, that kind of thing.

Re: Siding AGAINST open source for government

Anonymous's picture

I don't find the cost of learning linux any more expensive than of learning MS.
If I compare the costs of local providers for Linux Administration or Developping Skills, books, etc. and for MS all I see are similar prices.
Implementing Linux and MS based systems in our business runs about the same until you take into account maintenance and licencing.
Both seem to be higher for MS. If I add up CAL's , servers, developping software and client software for MS against a single Linux distro for all of this we are talking about thousands of dollars against a cost of under 80 bucks or less.
When it comes to maintenance I'm sorry but my Linux servers run like the energizer bunny but my MS servers do give me some work from time to time.
I also find most of the litterature regarding Linux more in depth but the books and courses I have taken regarding MS always give me the feeling that they didn't give me much for what I paid.

Re: Siding AGAINST open source for government

Anonymous's picture

All studies show that Fee Software/Open Source is far more cheaper in the long run. I think you just have a preconception about this, unsupported by the experience of large institutions who actually made the switch.

"For instance, training for Linux is much more expensive"
How about education that currently is Windows-only?

"Many companies have to send staff overseas"
Maybe if you live in Madagascar or the Maledives.

"but not all open source is that good for support."
From the moment a program is used on a large scale, support companies pop up. Mention some programs that you want support of.

"Do you have any idea how many companies have compatibility issues with open source software."
Haha! Do you know any companies that do *not* have compatibility problems with closed software?

"some people will have software that runs on say Debian, and other software that will only run on RedHat"
I don't know any examples of this. Two: it's free software, adapt it or pay someone to adapt it.

"How about healthcare that is government run, do you want your medical applications which dispense life saving drugs or monitor equipment to be run without proper support, etc.."

Maybe you should do some reading:
"This study describes the implementation of open source software in a large Irish public sector organization, Beaumont Hospital. The findings reveal a radical shift in open source deployment from invisible horizontal infrastructure systems to highly visible vertical applications. The case study describes the implementation of these systems, the difficulties encountered, and also the benefits in terms of astonishing cost savings of $13m over 5 years."

"Many software vendors who do not produce open source software are very likely to listen to their customers and work with them directly to ensure "
You are saying: A company that sells licenses of a software-program (Like MS, Oracle, Adobe,...)
are more likely to listen to their customers than open source/free software companies where the main revenue comes from of whom customizing and support? Does this sound logical to you?

"Just because the initial costs are free"
IBM, Redhat and Suse are going to do these massive rollouts for nothing?

"Open source projects have also been known to be dropped without word or warning making large investments worthless"
I firmly get the impression that you don't "get" the ideas behind free software. In general I understand the concern, but basically all your arguments are refutable or have been refuted.

Re: Siding AGAINST open source for government

Anonymous's picture

To make it simple...

Here are some examples...
- Data Mining, would you use mySQL or Oracle?
if you said mySQL you either have no concept of data mining, or your simply afraid of commercially viable software. I am not going to implement software that is not mature enough to handle my departments needs. I am not going to implement a software that has less support. And I am not going to implement a software that is not proven to be able to handle the requirements.

- Data security... yes I know Microsoft and Security do not go well together. But there are other options. Sun, HP, Novell, Oracle, Sybase, ... these are proven technologies, there are trained people with 10+ years experience and the software is more mature and proven. Would you want your personal data held on a system that is not long term proven? There is also the problem of accountability. Who is accountable when an open source solution does not make the grade yet you implemented it?

- Training (again).. Linux ... sure there is training, I dare you to find as much training as its competition however. But that is only 1 open source software... There are thousands of others that compete against commercial software... with NO training or little training... or specialized costly training. Who has been to a star office training course? I just checked, there are none in my part of the country I can tell you that much... Just because the most socially accepted open source project has training does not mean you can use that as a source for arguement... so I use Linux... most of the software for it that I would need in my department I can only get as open source on Linux.. yay, cheap right? wrong, there is no training for any of that software. There are no guarentee's, warrenty's or maintenance packages I can get... what happens if that open source project goes under, another comes around that is better? You know the cost and time required to move between software?

The government in Canada is very open to open formats, in some cases. Many times politics force other problems. MS Office is dominant, but not the defacto standard used. There are area's using Star Office, Wordperfect Suite, etc... I personally hate office, I use RTF as my format of choice for documents...

Look at the big picture... Linux is just 1 cog in the open source works... Many of the technologies we require in the government do not exist to run on Linux... and the alternatives that are out there are not up to the standards that the people demand from the government. Just because a hand full of technical people understand that an open source solution may be technically viable and even cost effective sometimes does not mean that the majority of the people will see that. They want accountability, they want security, even if its a false sense of security, they hear Microsoft and Sun and they go... big business, millions and billions of dollars... someone to hold accountable, they hear open source and now they only have the government to hold accountable for the problems which may arise.

COST is an issue to those who say it is not... it was mentioned in the article.. everyone is saying "its my tax money paying for that" so quit saying its not the money, it is... and sit down with your government IT decission makers and PROVE that the cost savings are there... They can show you a hundred actual real life scenario's where open source has ended up costing more in a 5 year term than a commercial software in the same time frame... support and people are more abundant for commercial software than for open source... and quit throwing Linux around as the end all be all word for open source, thats such a minor piece its not even funny. Think of all the software you need to run on it.

Use your heads... sit down and do the math... I don't go to Microsoft to justify buying Microsoft products. I go to other companies, 3rd party analysts, and I search the market for all the resources and potential risks and cost management that I can possibly think of.. and 95% of the time a commercial product will have a high initial cost and a low maintenance long term running cost in comparison to the open source equivilant. There are people who just sit and do the math day in and day out, taking reports from other departments, analysts and auditors daily working on the money issues... these people have cold hard numbers from real life.. not some guesses or estimates... and yet we continue to use commercial products in government, why is that? Cost, time, effort, resources, accountability, ... it all adds up.

Sit in our shoes for a year.. it will take you that long to do the math and research to realize that open source is not free, its not cheap... if you do not know the hows and whys of the government then you have no place to comment on it. You are not the one who is held accountable for the numbers, and the data. This is not an ISP or a small software company running out of some high rise, who has those luxuries ... government is far more accountable than any of those..

Re: Siding AGAINST open source for government

Anonymous's picture

mySQL or Oracle?
How about PostGreSQL, or the SAP Database, or the open source databse of Sybase.

Data security
Remember the backdoor in the then-closed Sybase?

"They can show you a hundred actual real life scenario's where open source has ended up costing more in a 5 year term than a commercial software in the same time frame"
Show us the links, and I show you mine.

"Just because a hand full of technical people understand that an open source solution may be technically viable and even cost effective sometimes does not mean that the majority of the people will see that."
Exactly, the why such laws can be an eye-opener.

"Government is far more accountable than any of those."
I agree 100%. Goverment is far too important to run on software
that you are not allowed to study.

Re: Siding AGAINST open source for government

Anonymous's picture

Everyone else has touched upon the general points of your post more than adequately, but i'd like to mention one great big gaping fallacy in your post.

With compatibility, you specifically mention large health care software vendors and their lacking support for Linux. While this is accurate, you're failing to note the big reasons *why* this occurs.

First, if we're talking compatibility, this is also an issue with Windows. Hell, it's an issue regardless of what OS you're running! The vast majority of hospitals, big or small, have a veritable grab-bag of operating systems running at any given time, ranging from Windows 95 to 98 to 2000 to even XP. I know for a *fact* that this creates compatibility issues for software vendors. The only viable solution is to create a web-based application that can be accessed regardless of platform. Failing that route, you'll find that most of these vendors are butting their heads against the wall in frustration, because most hospitals either lack the budget or aren't organized enough to keep their installations balanced and on track.

When most of these hopsitals, nursing homes, whatever, are paying upwards of $200,000 for software (and yes, that is a common cost), I fail to see how Windows can be even remotely viable for them. You site things like training costs, compatibility, etc..but think about it. Say a hospital finally does decide to go doing so, they don't have to change much hardware at all, they cut the costs of upgrading potentially hundreds or thousands of workstations, each requiring paid licenses from MS.

I don't know where you work, man, but something tells me that you either need to do more research or they need to fire you for incompetence.

Re: Siding AGAINST open source for government

Anonymous's picture

First, why is not a concern when you have to make a choice. The choice is determined by what is currently there. It is not my place to find out why and fix the why, I need cold hard facts to get an infrastructure in place. When the why is fixed we are more than happy to move over. We have.. lots of Linux running... just not nearly as much as its competition.

Second... why does everyone compare it only to MS... Sun is huge, Sybase, Oracle, etc... MS is just another piece.. AIX, HPUX, you name it, ... there is a lot of diversification amung the commercial softwares used. When I look for a solution, I look at hundreds of factors, deciding which software to use can take months of research before a choice can be made. The numbers of people involved sometimes is staggering. MS wins sometimes because its the only choice, sometimes it has the better software or solution, but MS is not the only contender. Government is a far cry from being an MS only shop, if you think that you are mistaken.. Not just you but the majority of people who are comparing here...

I am not anti-open source.. I worked for a start up, I was the first to suggest BSD and Linux as possible solutions. MS was a huge contender because our clients were mainly MS but for the backend I ran a lot of open source. In the government it is different. I am not answering to some clients... I am answering to the entire province... millions of people who rely on us and depend on us. I can't pick favorites because I run Linux at home on all my machines... I have to do what is best overall... if that means open source then its open source, but right now that is rarely the best option..

Many vendors give me free trials of their software to test, learn, and determine cost and any other items I need to know. I do also ALWAYS install any open source solution that is comparable... I have open source in production, I will continue to have it. Lots of our commercial applications are based on open source also... they run on Linux or BSD, use open source databases. However when this is the case the vendor supports the open source software at the same level they support the commercial applications.. we do not have to have internal staff trained etc... tried and true, tested and supported.

Re: Siding AGAINST open source for government

Anonymous's picture

I believe you are operating under false presumptions.
1. The ongoing costs are negligible for open source, the initial setup costs are almost all you have. I have managed hundreds of Linux and FreeBSD boxes, and hundreds of Windows boxes. My experience is you setup a Linux box, configure it, and forget about it. Everything continues to run as it should. I know this is a difficult concept for Microsoft users to grasp since they're used to Rebooting and ongoing maintainance, hotfixes and service packs that break other programs. You do need to upgrade server software if there is a vulnerability, but upgrades are generally seamless and rarely require a reboot. For example, I had apache and openssh on dozens of my boxes. In the last year there were a couple of critical bugs in Apache and Openssh (compared to the bi-weekly critical remote root vulns on the Windows servers). I ssh into each server, upload the source for openssh and apache, untar, configure, make, make install, restart sshd. Then do the same for Apache. Not one of my servers or Linux/FreeBSD desktops had a problem with it. Compare this to my wife's home PC. She does almost nothing but email, web, and chat. Using Mozilla for web/email and Trillian for chat. About 2 weeks ago Microsoft decided to install a "Critical patch" for DRM in Windows Media Player. Her auto-update is set to download the patches then ask to have them installed. For some reason this one was auto-installed at 2am Sunday night. Now her computer blue screens if she tries to do any of her normal activities. Of course it was due to my laziness that she was still on Windows, which will be fixed with this reinstall. In my experience with Open Source software the opposite of what you claim is too true. There is too little to do after the initial setup, IT guys could get bored and start looking for more interesting things to do.

2. Commercial software hasn't yet figured out how to make programs work for Linux. I'll agree this is largely true. But it's their lack of understanding that makes their products only work on RedHat 6.2. I've had several "commercial" products for Linux that claim to only work on RedHat or Mandrake. For example, Cold Fusion server claimed to only run on Red Hat. Well, after installing it on a Red Hat box, looking at what it did and where, I easily installed it on Slackware and even on FreeBSD running Linux emulation. Also, IBM's DB2 requirs rpm to install. I currently run Gentoo on most of my Linux boxes. It took an entire 45 minutes to get IBM DB2 7.2 running on Gentoo.

On point #2 also, my experience with "enterprise" support is again the opposite of what you're claiming. We have IBM DB2 EEE with full support licenses. In the last year I have opened exactly 13 PMR (trouble tickets) with IBM. 12 of which I found solutions for while waiting for a call back or on hold. 1 of which IBM declared a bug in either the Linux kernel or DB2. All 13 tickets were opened with "production down" status. Our experience with "enterprise" support was poor. On the other hand I had weird kernel error, posted my first ever email to the linux kernel mailing list. Within an hour I got a reply from Alan Cox (in case you don't know but he's pretty much #2 in Linux Kernel development.) explaining the error. IBM failed in my opinion and as a result we didn't renew our annual contract saving us over $50K. We're also ditching DB2 and going BACK to a database that doesn't crash. Before DB2 we ran PostgreSQL and it crashed exactly 0 times in 11 months. DB2 crashes approximately 2-3 times a week.

Try getting support from Microsoft, for anything. $$$ and time wasted on hold. Now jump on IRC or various linux forums and ask some questions, people are ready and willing to help. I know, I'm one of them.

3. Compatibility. Define this? Works with Windows? Ha. How about all the compatibility issues with NT4 to 2000 to XP? The difference you and many people fail to see is that if it doesn't work on 2000 or XP you're screwed waiting for Microsoft to fix it. How many times has Microsoft changed their system calls specifically to break products?
I would say most Open Source software is way more compatible than almost any closed source software. Most programs I've used on Windows only run on Windows, and usually newer programs only run on newer versions. Not to mention my old DOS based games don't work on anything later than 2000.

Well I've trolled enough, time to go watch the blinking lights on the servers.
Contact me at
Oh, and I don't mind spam, since my popfile filter gets 99.7% and always needs food.
My HP laptop runs Linux (only)

Re: Siding AGAINST open source for government

Anonymous's picture

Whoa, looks like someone is....uhm.....maybe a bit uninformed shall we say?

The whole idea is that the current playing field is NOT uniform - Hello?! Did we miss the part summarizing representation?? Who was in attendance? ...and WHO is spending all the money lobbying to keep their precious places of existence? It's not the "open source" groups. We all know that government is run and based around the "perceived" public need. Lets face it, most lobby groups are formed or in place because a company (or multiple companies) have decided to spend money to influence government. .....Who has that kind of money except the companies that extort their profits from those who are less fortunate (or less informed).


1) Good, we've established start up costs are much less expensive. Now that we're agreed on that, onto training. "training for Linux is much more expensive"
Hmmm.....seems like we're missing something.....we've been trained by MS, haven't we? Training and resources for almost every open source project can be found.....ta-da right on the web - FREE ....have we forgotten what that is by now or are we just programmed such that we always believe this is just wrong - or it must be a copyright protection infringement?

There are less people trained for open source software

Uhm....let me think...check out your local high school or college - chances are greater that your kids are more well trained than your employees - but only on open software since they don't have the resources for the proprietary software. Training is available for open source software through many various locations - books, forums, etc - or do you really need someone on the phone to hold your hand while you fix the MS security whole?

I propose that to effectively employ open source solutions, the initial "cost" is actually greater - but will, over the duration of its life, SAVE tremendously. The inial argument is over cost of the software - with open-source solutions, the software (many times) must be created - Your upfront cost is the cost of an employee(s) who write the code which you will maintain. Provided your organization can manage to make distinct decisions your one-time setup cost may appear more expensive.....except that - the installation, setup, and costs of a customized off-the-shelf piece of software (read proprietary) can be excessively increased....not to mention the difference in interpretation of "what you wanted," the addition of "extra features" (for instance, excel crashing while you were working on that 450M file that really only holds 34M of actual data).

The scarry part about this is that MS and proprietary software is moving to a non-uniform, non-transferrable, non-interoperable standard that is subscription based. This means that without paying the monthly fee for your software (this is over and above your initial purchase) YOUR COMPUTER and YOUR DATA are nothing more than a power-consuming paper-weight.

Re: Siding AGAINST open source for government

Anonymous's picture

You are making assumptions that are not true.

1. Training for Linux is available and no more expensive than any other training. Training companies have picked up on Linux so the costs there are the same. The number of trained people is more than large enough and growing.

2. Not all commercial companies provide support either. Many have found support to be a source of income and many have found that providing consulting/support services for any software works equally for open or closed source applications. If you want to use a little used application it will cost you regardless of whether it is open or closed source.

3. Do you actually work with these applications? Compatibility between versions of applications can be as bad as compatiblity between different applications. Just try to give an Office XP .doc to an Office 97 user (latest formats). The trick is to agree on a common compatible format like an RTF or Word 97 .doc file. Guess what. Now you have an exchange that will work with more than 90% of the apps out there, open source or not.

Unfortunately you are trying to mix too many things together in your discussion. Open or closed source does not guaranteee much when it comes to long term support or availablity. The only thing you can count on is the availability of what you can keep. With open source, it is the program (binary) and the source code. With closed source, it is the program only. The latter requires maintaining a platform that runs the program. How many Windows 3.1 applications will run on XP?

you are wrong

Anonymous's picture

1) training costs - who says you have to train your internal people? why not outsource that part also? who will be MORE competitive: a single source vendor using a proprietary solution no one else (or youselft for that matter) has access too OR 5-10 smaller companies (more likely than not locally owned) all with access to the same informaiton (source code) trying to differential themselves on actual service not a 'i have you over a barrel now' attitude? if you want to talk about hidden costs let's talk about microsoft's force migration to newer versions of bloated software or maybe we should talk about how many MORE systems can be managed by a single administrator under an open source solution versus the multiple administrators required to keep a similar sized microsoft network free of exploits and viruii - training costs PALE in comparison to HIRING additional people.

2) better support - what will be cheaper in the long run: a single source proprietary solution vendor who knows you can't go anywhere else for support without ripping out and replacing your entire software solution OR a vendor who knows that a competitor can be hired at anytime and review the source code and put in a bid to provide better service/support?

3) compatibilty - hire competent people who can compile a program and this is not an issue. if it does become an issue YOU HAVE THE FREAKING SOURCE CODE TO FIX IT. if anything compatibilty issues arrise MORE frequently in the closed source world due to products that work fine but thanks to next quarters fiscal needs are made obsolete to force users to purchase the next version with more 'features' that are of no use which leads to bloat which leads to steeper hardware requirements (more hidden proprietary costs we have not discussed) which leads to less money at the end of the day.

my friend you have been fooled into thinking we have an actual free market - it's not true.

Re: Siding AGAINST open source for government

Anonymous's picture

Strange, you read like a Gartner correspondent (anything Microsoft Says must be true, anything they buy must be said) not an independent adviser.

Generally, the discovery has been that whilst one Linux adminstrator may cost more (it's now actually less, but up till now the cost per administrator has been higher), the Linux administrator can handle far more machines. Generally this is through practical remote administration. Something which just doesn't work on Windows (witness the huge departments working in many banks trying to work out what software has actually been automatically deployed or not :-)

This means for large institutions, one central adminstration site which actually does the job is practical under Linux where many local sites which don't do the jub are normal under Windows.

Overall that means
- cost savings on administration
- cost savings on people working instead of playing with systems

Add that to
- cost savings on multi sourced support.
- it's impossible to discontinue an open source product*

* your message reads like the products were discontinued.. I think you meant that the projects to use the products were discontinued, not the products. If it's open source, there's nothing to make you discontinue just because the guy who originated it does, so I assume that's not what you were talking about.

Re: Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part I

Anonymous's picture

Perhaps another angle to explore is the proprietary file format issue. By requiring all participants to provide open or the same formats the playing field becomes instantly leveled for all including Microsoft.
Basically the current situation is as follows.
My office uses MS Office, I send you a ".doc" or ".xls" file you then HAVE to use something that handles it perfectly to make it useful to you. You send it to someone else and the same scenario happens once again. On and on further embedding Microsoft in all public agencys.
Pass laws that REQUIRE open file formats.
Of course Microsoft will fight tooth and nail against this but this is the core of the problem.

Just use the forthcoming EU standard

Anonymous's picture

Re: Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part I

Anonymous's picture

I agree. anyone on that project, feel free to inform me, and i will try to help.

Re: Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part I

Anonymous's picture

I totally agree, if we can get this, then I think Linux, may stand a chance..

But what we do not want is, the situation where MS release Office 11 using XML (which they claim is a standard, originally, before they got hold of it), and completely nuke it so only MS Office can read it correctly, and then again we will be in the same boat..