• United States

Mass. official: “Open source” reports overstated

Oct 03, 20034 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsLinuxMicrosoft

A senior state official said Friday that reports about a planned shift to open source software platforms by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts were inaccurate and that the state has no “Freeware Initiative,” as stated by a number of software industry lobbying groups opposed to the plan.

Eric Kriss, the state’s secretary for administration and finance, said that statements released by groups like the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW), based in Washington, D.C., were “very inaccurate.” The state is simply considering ways to integrate disparate systems using open standards such as HTTP, XML and Java, he said.

Reports about a plan to favor open source platforms like Linux over proprietary software platforms surfaced in the media last week and claimed that state Chief Information Officer Peter Quinn was instituting a “Freeware Initiative” to invest in open source software such as Linux whenever possible. Those reports followed a leaked memo from Kriss to Quinn, Kriss said.

In that memo, Kriss mentioned Linux but did not say that the state should give any preference to that operating system over proprietary systems such as Windows. No mention of a Freeware Initiative was made in the memo, he said. “I never heard that term. I never said it. We’re not pursuing any kind of ‘Freeware Initiative’ and anyone who is saying that is making inaccurate statements,” he said.

“We’re seeking systems and components and software functionality that use open standards,” he said.

Going forward, the state will evaluate both proprietary and open source products to see how well they fit the Commonwealth’s needs, he said.

In evaluating software, the Commonwealth would look at a number of factors including whether it is open source or proprietary software. Among the other factors the Commonwealth will consider are each product’s functionality, robustness and cost, he said. When there were open source alternatives to proprietary software that also compare favorably in those other areas, the state would choose those, he said.

“If there are two equally good products and one is available for free, we’d be crazy not to choose that,” Kriss said.

However, the Commonwealth might just as easily pass over open source products when proprietary software was clearly superior to the open source alternative or better met the Commonwealth’s needs, he said. “The idea is : ‘Let the best, most cost-effective technology win,'” he said.

Web servers and e-mail systems might be candidates for migration to open source, he said. The Commonwealth is also keen to connect previously isolated systems in use across the state and give employees better access to information stored in older, legacy systems using Web based interfaces and XML adapters that link those systems to newer applications, Kriss said.

Kriss’ comments Friday followed strong reaction to the rumored “Freeware Initiative” from software industry groups, some with strong ties to Microsoft. In a statement released Tuesday, the group Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW) called the rumored initiative a “boondoggle” and likened the plan to a Soviet-style “socialistic procurement system.”

While not opposed to open source systems, the CCAGW does oppose federal or state procurement systems that shut out competition, Tom Schatz, CCAGW president said on Tuesday. Open source systems typically have higher maintenance, training and support costs than proprietary systems, raising the total cost of ownership, the CCAGW said Tuesday.

Schatz did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.

The CCAGW was joined by the Business Software Alliance and The Computer Technology Industry Association, which both issued warnings about the rumored initiative.

Both groups have strong ties to Microsoft and in the past were critical of the federal government’s antitrust suit against the company.

Speaking on Friday, Kriss said he wanted to clear the record. “Unfortunately, because the reports from lobbyists and industry groups were so inaccurate, we want to clarify what we’re doing,” he said.