OSS: Europe vs. The United States

Neelie Kroes is IT Chief for Europe and a staunch proponent of Open Source Software. A previous Linux Journal article made mention of her recent
comments on OSS vs. proprietary software:

She blasted proprietary software, saying that choosing it over Open Source alternatives can leave nations "unintentionally locked into proprietary technology for decades", and went on to note that even if Open Source options are later implemented, they "risk being systematically ignored."

Reading this prompted me to wonder if the United States had an equivalently highly-placed official with sufficient power to influence the US Government's decision process regarding OSS solutions. The closest I could find was Howard A. Schmidt, our current US DHS "Cybersecurity Czar". It didn't take much digging to begin to understand where Schmidt's priorities are likely to fall regarding OSS. From WhoRunsGov.com, we discover that Schmidt went to work for Microsoft in 1997 as their chief security officer. He remained in that position for 5 years, and in 1999 he donated $250 to the Microsoft Political Action Committee.

It comes as no great surprise to me that Microsoft's deep pockets have helped ensure that One Of Their Own is deeply embedded within US Government software decision making bureaucracy. It appears that the software industry in the United States is following the path laid out by the (formerly) Big 3 of the US automotive industry: attempting to eliminate competition by influencing the political process to adopt policies favorable to their industry. US government protectionist policies tailored to support Microsoft will invariably have the same net result of earlier US auto industry protectionist policies. Ultimately the inferior, but protected US product will be displaced in the global marketplace by superior product. In the meantime however, US productivity will suffer due the government's continued support of upgrade after expensive upgrade of the insecure Microsoft product that is in use throughout our national infrastructure.

As a footnote, let us not forget our newest Number One Ruthless Evil Empire. You guessed it: different company, same business model.



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microsoft and the military

Anonymous's picture

this reminds me of an incident a few years back. where a nuclear sub was running a special version of windows 2000. while out doing maneuvers it blue screened. i think it was a british sub.

Haha. Awesome.

Jim Benson's picture

Shipping Scales

Hahahaha.. That is hilarious. Windows 2k crash?? No! Never!


Well now...

JShuford's picture

Windows for Submarines™ : http://blogs.msdn.com/b/ukgovernment/archive/tags/windows+for+submarines/

...I'm not just a "troll", but also a subscriber!

Hell, I wouldn't even use

Dr Loser's picture

Hell, I wouldn't even use Linux for submarines. What's wrong with QNX or some other hard RTOS?

I'd love to know how a broken procurement process in the UK, featuring those well-known bribe-free chaps from BAE, has any relevance whatsoever to the sinister, or otherwise, procurement policies practised, or not, by the IT security head of Homeland Security in his unofficial role as the Evil Microsoft Wizard of every single desktop ever owned by the US Government.

I mean, don't you realise how totally paranoid this sounds?

Even the idea that a massive Microsoft takeover of US Government desktops will undermine US productivity (as suggested in the OP) is batshit insane.

I'm not for Microsoft. I'm against unsubstantiated illogical cult-ridden nonsense.

Well now...

JShuford's picture

"Democracy for the masses works best when controlled by the few."

A "free-thinker" is considered a serious concern to any government and those that keep information.

Linux users and OSS suppliers are considered purveyors of open-thought ("free-thinkers")!

There are two ways to consider information control and dissemination.

1. Sheep are led from the rear.
2. Goats are directed from the front.

If you understand the above mentioned examples then you understand information security.

Mr. Roberts is correct in considering conspiracy..."the maintenance of the herd!" The U.S. Government tries to emulate the U.S. Corporate model due to it's own misgivings and misdeeds. Imagine if all of what could be known by the masses WAS known by the masses!

It is my thinking that "Dr. Loser" is a "free-dreamer". A "free-dreamer" is the most dangerous type of person because his type thinks "dreamily" about the world and the realities of existence!

Remember: There are "madmen" working in the server farms of society; not crazy people!

...I'm not just a "troll", but also a subscriber!

First time I've ever been

Dr Loser's picture

First time I've ever been called a "free-dreamer," but that's a very nice compliment -- thanks!

I'm not sure how it applies in this case, since I'm simply pointing out (with my customary obnoxiousness) that the entire article is based on a false premise and offers no subsequent evidence (discounting the $250 thing, which is risible) for its conclusions. If that means I dream in logic and attempt (with variable, possibly feeble, success) to analyse the realities of existence through logic, then I plead guilty as charged.

On a different topic, I like the sheep and goats analogy. I was always taught that the difference between the Greek and Latin verbs for leadership (which are agein and agere, respectively) represent precisely this dichotomy. Apparently the ancient Greeks were more familiar with goats (leading from the front) than with sheep (driving from the rear). This is also a good analogy for the difference between education (Greek, goats) and training (Latin, sheep).

Entirely irrelevant, I know, but what's a little pointless diversion between friends?

You got that right

Anonymous's picture

You certainly got the "obnoxious" part right.

Are you sure you read the same article as the rest of us? The only "premise" that the article made was that a formerly high-level Microsoft guy is now a high-level DHS guy who is in a position to set DHS computing policy. That's not a "premise", dude, that's a fact.

That's it. There was no need to get your ass up around your ears.

Are you sure you read the

Dr Loser's picture

Are you sure you read the same article as I did? In fact, are you sure you read the same response I made to the same article? Here's a recap.

The premise of the article is that Neelie Kroes is somehow equivalent to the IT Security Director of HS. This is an unlikely assumption, and, in fact, easily falsifiable, because he isn't. An unstated premise is that, because the IT Security Director of HS is a Microsoft veteran and has contributed $250 to a political campaign, he is therefore heavily biased in favour of Microsoft software. This is a possible premise (although, I would have thought, slightly hysterical), but it is not backed up by any sort of evidence whatsoever.

The rest of the article is heavily dependent upon these two premises.

Hey, your world is not my world. (And incidentally in my world I hate Microsoft too, and would rather use OSX or FreeBSD or, if it was viable, OpenSolaris.) It's not my place to judge you, nor yours me. But feel free to keep backing someone who's preaching to the choir, because the sooner you lunatics are laughed off the stage, the sooner we all get back to a rational and non-subjective analysis of cost-benefit in the IT world.


Anonymous's picture

Ok, now you're just trying to be a pain in the ass. The article states plain as day "the closest I could find" in reference to Neely Kroes was the DHS Cybersecurity Czar ex-Microsoft guy. Quit being such a prick.

So you're telling me the Dept

ian's picture

So you're telling me the Dept of Homeland Security has security only as good as MS Windows?
I guess it'd give a whole new meaning to the Blue Scream of Death if they're running modern day warships on an operating system now approaching "classic" (read antique) status.


JShuford's picture


...I'm not just a "troll", but also a subscriber!

Secretary of Commerce

Anonymous's picture

I think you didn't try very hard to find information on how the US government sets information processing standards. I suggest you look at the following link on FIPS standards: http://www.itl.nist.gov/fipspubs/geninfo.htm


David Lane's picture

Depending on which FIPS standard you are referencing, the adherence is, as mentioned, rather scatter shot.

For example, a famous one is FIPS 140-2. It is referenced by ISOs and Security people as being the hard standard for security. Yet when you read the standard, it does not actually specify any sort of...well...specification. No standards, no recommendations, nothing. It says if you use encryption, it has to secure the data. Lovely...um...what sort of algorithm are you supposed to use to secure the data?

FIPS is a lovely set of documents that are probably worth less than the vaunted C level "security" from the Rainbow books that were being touted in the 1990s.

David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack


Doug.Roberts's picture

Yes, I'm quite familiar with FIPS. I'm also aware that the degree of compliance to FIPS across the various government agencies (and some of their contractors) that I regularly work with is all over the map.

Having a standard is one issue, but the point of my article was to discuss how corporations like Microsoft influence what goes into the standard.

I'm guessing

sfuller's picture

I'm guessing that nowhere in the official FIPS standards documentation will you find any description of exactly what Microsoft's contributions were in producing the standard. :-)


JShuford's picture

Microsoft WAS consulted in the development of the current FIPS Standards. Mr. Gates submitted the guidelines that we follow to this day!

...I'm not just a "troll", but also a subscriber!

Paranoia run riot

Dr Loser's picture

I think if 'the closest [you] could find was Howard A. Schmidt, our current US DHS "Cybersecurity Czar",' then the answer to your first question is no, you don't have an equivalent to Neelie Kroess. This slightly derails your entire argument, not that you have one in the first place.

"It comes as no great surprise ... it appears that ..." are opinions and singularly lack evidence.

"Ultimately the inferior, but protected US product will be displaced in the global marketplace by superior product" is a non-falsifiable proposition. If MS products are somehow displaced, they are definitionally "inferior" by this measure. If they are not, then there is presumably no "superior product."

As of 2010, it's hard to argue that the Linux desktop is a superior product.

Linux has found, and will find, niches within the US Government, and these niches may well continue to grow; but to suggest that the sole, or even major, reason why the Linux desktop has not triumphed is because of political bribery and chicanery suggests that you are living in a world of tin-foil hats.


Doug.Roberts's picture

I went looking for my tinfoil hat immediately after reading your missive above, but it has gone missing.


As to my having suggested that large corporations use their economic power to influence the US political process to their benefit: Heavens to Betsy! Whatever could I have been thinking?

You are absolutely correct, such a thing could never happen in the United States of America!

I stand corrected.


No tinfoil necessary...

JShuford's picture

Mr. Roberts, The best way for you to keep your "head" is to leave it at home when you go out into the world!

...I'm not just a "troll", but also a subscriber!

Still bonkers after all these years

Dr Loser's picture

To be sarcastic, you have to represent the POV of your opponent more or less correctly. You fail.

At no point did I suggest that large corporations do not use their economic power to influence the US political process to their benefit. It's deplorable, and I'd love to see the political process reformed in general. But large corporations would be mad not to do so, and Microsoft is no better or worse in that regard.

I merely pointed out that your article begins with a ludicrous comparison between a (known) EU IT supremo and your (presumed) equivalent US counterpart. Presumably, if the head of IT Security for HS was, say, a long-term IBM employee (and I'm quite surprised this didn't happen. Country clubs around the States must be losing their magic touch), then you'd have picked some other Microsoft-besmirched head of department instead.

Fine, so that isn't important -- except that the entirety of the rest of your post (barring the weird free shot at Apple which concludes it) is based upon some all-powerful being at the top of US Government IT procurement.

Which means that your argument is, frankly, nothing more than a tissue of personal prejudice held together by unsubstantiated conspiracy theory.

Tin foil is quite cheap, you know. You can make your own hat. No need to buy one from Homeland Security.


Anonymous's picture

The author of the blog post is trying to be nice, and Dr Loser is trying (and succeeding) at being an asshole. I know whose arguments carry more weight with me, no contest.

Good name you picked out for yourself btw, Dr L.


JShuford's picture

He "said" "a-hole"...hahaha!

...I'm not just a "troll", but also a subscriber!

Slowly and surely

David Lane's picture

One of the biggest "holdups" to the US Federal Government's adoption of Open Source code is the Federal Acquisition Rules that have a huge hole in them, regarding Commercial, Off the Shelf (COTS) software. Depending on the agency and in some cases, the individual Contract Officers, Open Source code may or may not be considered COTS, and as a result, may have different "acquisition" and implementation issues. And this is not a trivial issue.

For more than ten years, the Department of Defense has been struggling to get a memo of acceptance signed, allowing the implementation of Open Source code. While individual units, as high up as the Navy CIO, have had a patchwork of policies, there has not been one at the DoD level until only recently that the memo was signed. Similar memos are being signed in some agencies, while others are just doing it and risking the wrath of their security officials.

And this affects not just the expected use of Open Source code (servers, desktops etc) but in embedded systems and other less obvious places that I cannot really talk about.

David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack

A step in the right direction

Doug.Roberts's picture

Hi, David.

I agree: the official Secretary of Defense recognition of Open Source software as Commodity, Off the Shelf (COTS) software is a step in the right direction, even if it took 10 years to come about. However, I still expect to see Microsoft to continue to successfully lobby for their platform to continue to remain the US government "standard".

I work under contract to various government agencies, all of which require 100% Microsoft-compliant software for conducting all aspects of business engagement. MS Word, ppt, spreadsheet documents; IE-compatible web interfaces, MS-compliant web conferencing tools, etc.

While I admire the success of the M$ business model, I intensely dislike the monopolistic hold that Redmond has on the US Government.


David Lane's picture

As a (now former) government contractor myself, I know how difficult it is to convince IT shops to implement Open Source software as matter of course. You might get it slipped in on a specialty project, but for routine file, print, database and operational servers, it is anathema.

I tell the story about being interviewed by a contractor (and I think I blogged this) to do a complete review of desktops at a sub-agency. My second question was, to what degree were the back-end systems changing. The answer I received was, they were not. Now while you can connect Linux-based desktops to Microsoft based servers, you run into serious integration issues that most government IT shops are not even close to being ready to absorb. Long and short of the story - it was a rubber stamp contract to justify the cost of migrating to Vista from XP.

There is a long way to go, and the US Federal Government is probably going to be one of the last bastions to fall, at least in terms of routine, day-to-day operations.

David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack

I'm still trying to figure

Anonymous's picture

I'm still trying to figure out why we even have a "Cybersecurity Czar". It seems to me that cybersecurity is much larger than a one man job. Silly government spending.

The answer for the US is definitely not going to come from the top down. It will come from the bottom up, starting with the budget strapped school districts.

U.S. will lag behind Europe

apexwm's picture

The U.S. is so concerned with protecting companies like Microsoft, that it will fail to keep up with Europe, which is much more level headed. Thankfully some of us know the benefits of open source software and won't be victims of proprietary software.


sfuller's picture

America is increasingly directed by large corporations which, through lobbyists and the skillful funneling of large amounts of money to their pet politicians, control doctrine in the US. Microsoft has bought its way into the political system, fair and square. The US Government will never embrace Open Source; it will help Microsoft perpetuate its monopoly until that day when M$ no longer contributes to the political process. Which of course will never happen.

As my grandma (who lived to

Anonymous's picture

As my grandma (who lived to be 100 and 6 months) used to say, "Never is a very long time." :-)

and this protectionism is why

turn_self_off's picture

and this protectionism is why USA is a strong backer of ACTA and similar.

Brazil supports Free Software

Anonymous's picture

Brazil is the 8th economy of the world -- 1/10 of the US in GDP, it's true, but still significant -- and is a strong proponent of Free / Open Source Software.


Anonymous's picture

Which is why Brazil was put on the special 301 Report list. They and India + others decided that open source software was more efficient than buying proprietary software. Can someone please answer me "Why do private industry groups (the BSA) get to add people to the 301 Report list? I never voted for the BSA....