HB 2892, Oregon making sense

Tom tomwhore at slack.net
Wed Apr 9 18:45:11 PDT 2003

Sure we also try to make protesing a terrorist offense (and thus under the
patriot act could get your citzenship yanked) but we  also do this...

A group of open-source advocates and critics will meet behind closed doors
Wednesday afternoon, in the first of at least two meetings in search of a
compromise on what could be the first bill in the United States to
encourage the use of open-source software by a state government.

The bill, introduced by Oregon Rep. Phil Barnhart, D-Eugene, last month,
would require the state to consider using open-source software when buying
new programs. Although the bill does not specifically mandate open-source
software over proprietary software, the bill does say it cannot be
excluded from the selection process. The bill, HB 2892, also says
open-source options can "significantly reduce the state's costs of
obtaining and maintaining software."

Although the bill is in a nascent stage, it's quickly drawn the ire of
companies, including Microsoft and the Initiative for Software Choice
(ISC), a group that's popped up in the wake of similar legislative efforts
in other countries. Opponents of the bill say governments can already
choose open-source software, and they worry that the legislation could set
a dangerous precedent of a government mandating certain types of software
over others.

"It's classic preference legislation that isn't needed," Mike Wendy,
policy counsel for the ISC, said.

Similar battles over open-source software legislation are playing out
across the globe as legislatures in places from Austin, Texas, to
Brussels, Belgium, are considering measures that would carve out
considerations for open source when a government buys new software.

These days, the conflict is especially heated in Oregon, where open-source
advocates are working hard to pass the bill amid anti-Microsoft feelings
sparked in part by an antipiracy crackdown that targeted the state's
education system. Last year, Microsoft sent letters to some Oregon schools
suggesting that they pay up for new licensing agreements or risk becoming
the target of software piracy audits.

At a hearing last week before Oregon's House General Government Committee
in Salem, supporters and critics of Barnhart's measure squared off in an
effort to convince legislators to either adopt or abandon the legislation.
The event was a microcosm of the larger debate over open-source
legislation in governments around the world, especially as open-source
advocates--who promote their software as cheaper and more flexible than
proprietary versions--are starting to grab the attention of cash-crunched

Lined up behind the measure at last week's hearing were Linux user groups
and developers, along with school district representatives, some who
testified that they were able to save so much money using open-source
software that they could afford to hire additional teachers. Eric
Harrison, with the Multnomah Education Service District, said the district
has saved $200,000 a year since it began using open-source programs. "We
have found that open-source software is often the best-performing,
most-reliable, least-expensive solution," he told the committee.

On the other side were representatives of proprietary software makers,
including the Business Software Alliance (BSA) and the ISC, who worried
that legislators were being misled by claims that open-source software is
free of costs.

In testimony prepared for the hearing, Mario Correa, the BSA's software
policy director, said the bill would place the state government "squarely
in the position of picking technological winners and losers and seeking to
influence technological development by fiat, rather than through market
forces. We believe that such efforts would ultimately fail, and in the
process, prove harmful both to the state and to those Oregonians who make
their living in the high-tech industry."

Now, those same supporters and opponents of the bill will conduct a series
of closed-door meetings in an effort to hammer out their differences over
the legislation. The committee chairman has given the working group until
April 15 to come up with a compromise--a task that won't be easy, given
the polarized views.

"We would prefer not to see a bill," the ISC's Wendy said. "I don't know
if there's some way to tone the language down. Hopefully something can be
worked out."

In search of fair play?
Cooper Stevenson, one of the bill's main backers and a member of the
Mid-Willamette Valley Linux Users Group, said the legislation isn't
designed to give open-source an advantage over proprietary software, but
merely to level the playing field. In the past, he said, governments were
afraid to adopt open-source software because it wasn't necessarily ready
for prime time in terms of user-friendliness and tech support. Now that it
is, Stevenson and others want legislation that would require governments
to include the software in their decision-making process--and to justify
their decision if they don't.

"We've been watching the proprietary software vendors a long time, and we
know what they're up to," Stevenson said. "It certainly doesn't seem
they're interested in saving Oregon money or in Oregonians' privacy

The suggestions of the working group meeting on Wednesday are not binding,
meaning that the committee can incorporate some or all of them
into the bill or just ignore them if it wants to. If the bill makes it out
of this committee, it would then move onto a Ways and Means Committee
before both houses of the state legislature would get a chance to vote on

Proponents are hoping that a success in Oregon could ignite similar
movements across the country. Right now, legislatures in Texas and
Oklahoma are also considering bills with open-source code components;
Rhode Island also appears poised to do so. A movement to convince
California lawmakers to adopt a similar bill never gained steam, partly
because it mandated choosing open-source over proprietary software.

Opponents of the movement to carve out open-source protections said
they're not as worried about the Texas and Oklahoma efforts, which they
expect will not survive. Instead, the groups are focusing their fire on
the Oregon bill and on an open-source measure pending in a regional body
in Belgium. "We're concerned about the precedential value of this," the
ISC's Wendy said. "Other countries and (European Union) members might look
to this as a model."

The ISC also is trying to shape the implementation of a presidential
decree in Andalusia, Spain, which not only encourages the adoption of
open-source technology in education and government centers but also urges
promotion among the general population.

There's one thing upon which both sides can agree when it comes to
open-source legislation: There's sure to be more of it. Already, regional
governments in Pakistan and Brazil have adopted software favorable to open
source. And similar measures are percolating worldwide.

Backers of the Oregon bill say some well-known software companies have
indicated interest in their movement, but so far are not ready to go
public. Watching who sides with whom could be one of the most interesting
sideshows of the debate.

Although the bill-bashing ISC includes tech giants Intel and Cisco among
its more than 220 members, some software bigwigs are noticeably absent
from the list, including Oracle and IBM. Both companies are in a tricky
political position in this case, because they have embraced both
open-source and proprietary software.

Meanwhile, the fight is sure to heat up. Michael Tiemann--the chief
technology officer of Linux vendor Red Hat who marched up San Francisco's
Market Street last year in an ill-fated attempt to convince California
lawmakers to sponsor an open-source bill--said he'd like to see all 50
states adopt a bill that would let open source in the government's door.

"Open source has often been disparaged by traditional proprietary software
companies," said Tiemann, who added that his company is not funding any of
the current efforts. "There's probably been some prejudice against
open-source software that has to be remedied."

He thinks the open-source bills could be as important for citizens as the
voting-right bills passed as a result of pressure from the civil rights
movement. "There are very few Americans who are not affected by software
in some way, shape or form," he said.

More information about the FoRK mailing list