Notes Information Apocalypse

Ignorance of Open Source

Francis Till comes down full fist slinging on Governments & Open Source, which turns out to be little more than another thinly veiled attack on the Green Party. Beyond the hot air and self-righteousness, the biggest misconception that comes across in the article is the imagined adversarial conflict between Microsoft and Open Source technology.

I'm extremely wary of mainstream media using the term Open Source as an all encompassing noun. Such a broad generalization, as used in this NBR piece, is devoid of coherent meaning, jumping between OS as Linux, as a stack of applications, as OpenOffice, as what again? It's far more coherent to understand Open Source as a process, but this requires a shift in thinking towards mental models of social and community interaction; also a shift from understanding value as commodity, to value as social capital.

People who like "Small Government" might sympathise with Till's perspective of SSC as the "bully pulpit", but regardless of which ideological flags are flying, Till fails to grasp the point that factionalism is not a product of software choices, more that software choices are a product of the hierarchical and compartmentalized organizational structures themselves. It's all people.

The Microsoft Word .doc format is accepted throughout government and business as the default standard for documents, regardless of XML posturing from either side. So what if some people are generating these docs using OpenOffice or whatever alternatives are available? It's misleading - almost to the point of being malicious - to play to supposed incompatibilities in the software at this level. The reality is rather more complex and integrated. Is there really such a problem with departments being able to choose software packages to suit the requirements, experience, skills, and preferences of their staff?

Government, as an embodiment of democratic values and social collectivity, should be an ideal fit for open source software. Government, as an authoritarian, nepotistic regime of social control, should be an ideal fit for Microsoft software. Ultimately, Till's "this vs that" rhetoric is blind to the bigger picture, that elements of open source and proprietary software are already completely entangled together throughout the server and desktop market, and the existing State Services are no exception. If Apache stopped working tomorrow, a large proportion of the NZ Government's online services would immediately grind to a halt.