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Re: [Fsfe-uk] OSS Pol.v2 redraft response redraft

From: Alex Hudson
Subject: Re: [Fsfe-uk] OSS Pol.v2 redraft response redraft
Date: Tue, 14 Sep 2004 20:08:34 +0100

On Tue, 2004-09-14 at 19:38 +0100, Lee Braiden wrote:
> Sorry to come up with these so late.  I should have taken more time on this 
> before :(

Hey, no problem - that fact that you're spending time helping us is
totally cool. I really appreciate your efforts!

> Hopefully you guys will disagree and think these points aren't a problem :)  

I think we tend to sing from the same hymnsheet on this list... ;)

> Small typo: the last paragraph, just before the bullet points, reads: "both 
> of 
> which mistake are repeated in this draft policy".

Ah, cheers. I should add that this thing will be spelchucked and
everything before we send it - obviously, we'd make a letter out of it
rather than attempt to point them at my wiki or something :o)

> > The cost equation is very different for free software, and while it is 
> > admirable that the Government should look for the best value
> > solution, free software solutions must not be compared to
> > proprietary using unfair cost evaluations.
> Would it not be wise to build on the fact that free software is often cheap 
> by 
> mentioning other features *as well*?  The above may read as if we've just 
> discovered that proprietary software is cheaper, and we're moving the goal 
> posts, rather than enlarging the pitch ;)

Well, in a way that's exactly what it's saying. GNU/Linux systems aren't
always going to be cheaper - sometimes proprietary software will be.
This could be for a variety of reasons - the proprietary vendor may be
tendering on the basis of it being a loss leader, for example. And, at
this stage, the "better value" solution will always win - UKGov has no
preference for free software. So, what I'm trying to say in the above is
that when you're working out what "best value" is in the context of your
procurement, you need to see all the other value free software gives
you, not just look at the cost.

The text from the OGC supports that kind of decision making:
        "VFM can be defined as ‘the optimum combination of whole-life 
        cost and quality (or fitness for purpose) to meet the user’s 
        requirement’. This is rarely synonymous with lowest price."

.. so the recommendation in this instance is that they should be
developing a good set of guidelines about free software value, so that
they recognise the value of the solution. That "better value" isn't
going to come from things like "has more features"/"runs faster" or that
kind of thing, but other things which affect the cost (or, related costs
- e.g., interoperability projects).

I apologise if I've gassed a lot and missed your point ;)

> Also: to me, the other evaluation points besides value for money are a little 
> lost in the text.  Could/should they be emphasised a little more, so that 
> they aren't missed/forgotten by the end of the thing?

Oh, for sure. The formatting is rudimentary at best - when it gets
wordprocessed it would be much more readable. I definitely believe in
using presentation to aid the reader.

> Again, I would like to see the ethical side of things emphasised more.  It 
> would be nice to see our government policy actually require JUSTIFICATION 
> when projects choose NOT to use free software -- an explanation of how the 
> considerations such as ethics and openness etc. are outweighed by other 
> factors offered by proprietary solutions.  It seems to me like that this 
> do-it-or-justify-it approach would be the logical one, if indeed their 
> default mode (not to mention the directives of eEurope's) is to promote the 
> use of free software.  But maybe that would be pushing our luck? ;)

Yeah. This is a difficult line to push. Being a hard-nosed git; I
strongly suspect that any kind of "you should prefer free software"
policy would be indefensible (for reasons of competitiveness at least),
and generally Gov. steers away from prescriptivism (or, at least, tries
to ;). 

However, this is a good point - and the reason why I think their "OSS
will be considered alongside proprietary solutions" is so much crap. On
what basis could it *not* be considered? On the other hand, if it is
possible that free software wouldn't be considered for some reason, then
it follows that it is logically possible for proprietary software not to
be considered, and it's a matter of constructing the argument correctly
(assuming it can be made). 

Secondarily, it is permissible to use procurement to facilitate policy
objectives: an example of this might be the eGIF "joined up Government"
stuff. If we can define things such as "open standards" in terms of
whether or not a reference free software implementation is available/
possible, then that obviously makes the environment easier for free
software solutions to compete. This is something that we allude to in
our response - maybe there are other suggestions along this line? Stuff
like "being able to view & modify source is better for national
security" (which is probably another winner, esp. since UKGov has access
to MS source - that means they kind of buy that argument already). We
can work in things like this in areas where free software obviously
excels, and that gets us part of the way you're talking about.



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