Linux in Government: Will Schwarzenegger Terminate Windows?
In a paper called "The Open Source Desktop Experience", Michael Cave--knowingly or not--assumes the role of a cleverly camouflaged comrade. Follow the argument made in that paper, and it will undermine Governor Schwarzenegger's budget saving open-source initiative in California.
Whereas other Californians have described real financial savings over a period of years in a paper called "SO10 Explore Open Source Alternatives", Cave presents a misleading view of open-source desktops. The savings discussed in the SO10 paper are available, and we discuss them below.
Having started an open-source initiative in Texas, I can identify many of the pitfalls appearing on the horizon for California. As a former resident of southern California, I understood the unfriendly business climate and the power of special interests in the state, as described by Governor Schwarzenegger during his campaign.
Special interests will attempt to undermine open-source efforts. Although many consider California to be a progressive state, fiscally conservative Republicans have had the most success in achieving open-source adoption. Consider, for example, Governor Mitt Romney, the Republican governor of Massachusetts. In January of this year, through the Executive Office for Administration and Finance, he issued a final policy on the use of open-source software and open standards. The policy requires commonwealth officials to consider all relevant factors, including the potential for excessive dependence on a single supplier, before they spend taxpayer money on information technology.
After failures in Oregon and Texas, Governor Romney's actions came as a breath of fresh air to groups advocating open-source software. Following the order, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Utah, Missouri, Kansas, Virginia and West Virginia joined Massachusetts in forming the Government Open Code Collaborative Repository, which any state and/or municipality can join and contribute open-source applications and technology for other governments units.
Aside from cutting existing costs in California, new technologies required under the Department of Homeland Security could burden taxpayers further. The President's SmartBuy program and its federally sponsored open-source repository, Core.gov, will help eliminate the costs of complying with new standards. Novell, an open-source vendor, describes SmartBuy as "an initiative of the federal government to support effective enterprise level software management through the aggregate buying of commercial software government-wide in an effort to achieve bulk savings". Novell also says that it has:
created a series of special SmartBuy software offerings and service levels, including special product SmartBuy bundles for infrastructure, Linux servers and desktops, web services, and, soon, secure identity management. These bundles will provide federal customers flexibility on both deployment and pricing, as well as significantly easing the contract negotiation and licensing process for individual agencies.
The SmartBuy program goes beyond aggregating IT purchases. On July 1, 2004, the Executive Office of the President of the United States issued a memorandum for Senior Procurement Executives and Chief Information Officers. The memorandum emphasizes the President's previous memorandum titled "Maximizing Use of SmartBuy and Avoiding Duplication of Agency Activities". In this latest memorandum, OMB 04-16, the President issued the following statements:
This reminder applies to acquisitions of all software, whether it is proprietary or Open Source Software. Open Source Software's source code is widely available so it may be used, copied, modified, and redistributed. It is licensed with certain common restrictions, which generally differ from proprietary software. Frequently, the licenses require users who distribute Open Source Software, whether in its original form or as modified, to make the source code widely available. Subsequent licenses usually include the terms of the original license, thereby requiring wide availability. These differences in licensing may affect the use, the security, and the total cost of ownership of the software and must be considered when an agency is planning a software acquisition.
Based on these memoranda, it would appear that the federal government as well as other states certainly will assist California implement its savings plans
The California state government will face two kinds of opposition in its effort to save taxpayers money and implement open-source initiatives--opposition from outside and opposition from inside. The opposition from outside already has formed. Many people believe that outside opposition operates as a front for Microsoft, a claim that California regulators should examine. Simply ask the lobbyists who they really represent.
An example of the already-formed outside opposition can be found in a recent story in the San Jose Mercury News, which reported the following statement from the American Electronics Association (AEA), a lobbying group that represented a client who stumped open-source legislation in Oregon two years ago. According to the News, AEA representative Roxanne Gould said, "We have serious concerns that by suggesting that state agencies broadly may benefit from using software developed under the open source method of development, the CPR report expresses a distinct preference and encourages decisions not based on objective criteria."
This is the same group Ken Barber wrote about when he said, "[the] AEA ultimately killed the Oregon bill and maintains a significant influence on the Oregon Speaker of the House." We also read that in the Oregon situation, the AEA represented only one of its members.
In a effort to find out what California has in mind, I started doing some research on the Web. I found some of the Governor's numbers. I found tracks in newsgroups on which some of the state's researchers asked questions while working on test projects. I found case studies. I also found the kind of backlash that could undermine the citizens of California. In addition to the AEA, more opposition has started forming among lobbyists, and it's the same group I encountered in Texas and wrote about in a Linux Journal article published on June 10, 2003.
With regard to the San Jose Mercury Times claiming that the actual savings may be less than what California anticipates, I disagree with the newspaper's specialists. The $32 billion figure quoted runs on the light side. Furthermore, papers such as Cave's could be used to make the potential savings look unreal. And that's where the inside opposition exists.
In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare makes a prophetic statement about treachery when he writes:
How many ages hence Shall this our lofty scene be acted o'er, In states unborn, and accents yet unknown!
Almost two years ago, I began a study of the Texas budget as a private citizen in an effort to help divert a financial calamity in my own state. I studied the Texas Comptroller's reports, budgets, financial statements and recommendations. I saw that the state was about to make major cuts, but they were aimed at the wrong places. Instead of reordering cuts in the Department of Information Resources, Carole Keeton Strayhorn was going after Social Services. Some believe she was fostering ambitions to run for governor. Not many political contributions are available from the poor children of Texas, but then one always has Microsoft.
At a political function in November of 2002, a fellow began chatting with me and discovered I was a CPA and knew something about software and government. He introduced himself as Senator John Corona, a Republican who represented my district. He invited me to Austin to discuss open-source software. Within a couple of months, I joined him in his office just north of the Santa Monica Freeway and Interstate 35. We began discussing what needed to be happen to make open-source software a reality in Texas.
During my analysis of state documents, I found savings hidden in failed projects, excessive licensing costs, procurement restrictions, sweet vendor deals, duplication of agency software and poor accounting practices. I also discovered something ugly and sinister--the vendor lobby.
The vendor lobby equates to special interest groups that have infiltrated the passageways of government institutions. Their constant and various forms of lobbying influence those closest to the decision makers. This is where an astute governor will look deeper into the information he receives.
That's why I quickly picked up on Michael Caves' paper.
When I read Cave's paper, it was deja vu. Here's another paper evaluating the Linux desktop and getting it wrong. My first concern was his choice of Fedora II. Here's what Red Hat says about Fedora:
The Fedora Project is a Red-Hat-sponsored and community-supported open source project. It is also a proving ground for new technology that may eventually make its way into Red Hat products. It is not a supported product of Red Hat, Inc.
The goal of The Fedora Project is to work with the Linux community to build a complete, general purpose operating system exclusively from free software. Development will be done in a public forum.
Fedora II is not an enterprise Linux desktop. For an in-depth discussion of the difference between popular Linux desktops and enterprise versions, see "Linux in Government: How to Misunderstand the Enterprise Linux Desktop".
Another section of Cave's paper that struck me was his description of support. He wrote:
Support for the free versions of Linux is pretty good. Most of the major distributions like Fedora, Mandrake, Debian and SuSE have their own sites with support forums as well as bug fixes. However, a great deal of support can be found by doing a Google search.
Fedora and Debian are free distributions of Linux and have only community support. But Mandrake and SuSE have enterprise desktops. Novell's SuSE is a commercial product and has varying levels of support.
Under a section Cave titled "Access to Novell File Servers (Shared Drives)" he wrote, "There is a Netware client available for Linux called Novel Client (spelled wrong intentionally). I may have configured it wrong to start out, but what I found is that it does not drill down to the location you need."
SuSE is integrated into the NetWare product line. It has not only a client as Cave pointed out in his article, but it's fully supported by Novell. Novell would have little problem configuring the client and shared folders for Cave.
Cave begins his paper by writing:
This document serves as a brief overview of my experience with using an Open Source desktop as my primary desktop. I outline some of the main features of Linux that I use, as well as the software packages that I've grown accustomed to using. It also serves as an honest opinion of Linux from a beginner's standpoint.
He finishes the paper by writing:
It takes time to get comfortable with Linux if you've never seen it before. The GUI has come a long way, but the real power can be tapped into from a terminal window. In order to be comfortable in the Linux world you have to know some basic terminal or shell commands. Not everything can be done easily from the desktop...yet.
He began with a positive evaluation, then started to add mixed views and ended up with veiled criticism.
Having recently finished an eight-month project working intensely on Linux desktops and have published my findings, I take exception to the misstatements in Cave's analysis. My associate, Sam Hiser, and I wound up discovering that everything a desktop is supposed to do can be done on the Linux desktop by inexperienced users. We even completed a book on the subject.
I say Cave's report is an injustice. We found no difference between training users on Windows and on Linux desktops from Sun Microsystems. The users could do everything on Linux that they could do on Windows, and they never used a terminal window. The savings garnered by using Sun's desktop and productivity tools, such as StarOffice, was more than 90% over Windows. In addition, Sun provides for free all the management tools needed to configure and lock down the desktops from a central remote administrative console. Sun's tools eliminate time-consuming help-desk visits by allowing the administrator to take control of a user's desktop and fix it as if the administrator was right there. Sun provides clients that work with Microsoft application terminal servers. So, any Microsoft application, such as Windows Media Content, can be provided to Linux desktops at a considerable savings. Sun Microsystems provides Linux desktops to governments around the world and currently has millions of users.
On August 31, I watched a speech given by Governor Schwarzenegger at the RNC on C-SPAN. The Governor made it clear that he wants to cut unnecessary costs. He has the chance. As a Republican governor, he need check only with Mitt Romney and other members of the government's Open Code Collaborative. He also can check with the administration of the US, which has made a strong commitment to open-source software.
In his RNC speech, the Governor said, "And what about the extraordinary men and women who have volunteered to fight for the United States of America! I have such great respect for them and their heroic families." Some of us do not have the good fortune to join the military for various reasons. Instead, we contribute as we can and how we can. The open-source software world has many volunteers, some paid and some simply contributing. The community has developed through the formation of foundations, labs at institutions of higher education and commercial companies headquartered in California.
The time is right for California to use open-source to save money and provide a superior technology infrastructure for its citizens. Or, as Shakespeare said in Julius Caesar:
We must take the current when it serves, Or lose our ventures.
Tom Adelstein lives in Dallas, Texas, with his wife, Yvonne, and works as a Linux and open-source software consultant locally and nationally. He's the co-author of the upcoming book Exploring the JDS Linux Desktop, published by O'Reilly and Associates. Tom has written numerous articles on Linux technical and marketing issues as a guest editor for a variety of publications. His latest venture has him working as the webmaster of JDSHelp.org.