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Open source and government

by Scott7477 (Chaplain)
on Apr 04, 2006 at 17:51 UTC ( #541202=perlmeditation: print w/ replies, xml ) Need Help??

An article by Tom Edelstein titled Why I Stopped Promoting Linux in Government was posted at LXer.com the other day. You may ask why this would be relevant to Perl folks? To me, Edelstein's discussion gives a good feel for the obstacles that people working to promote Perl may face.

One nugget of a quote from the article:

"I started three open source efforts. They included governmentforge.org, the Open Government Interoperability Project and a LAMP project called Leopard. The players in the government arena essentially took those ideas and put them in their own projects one of which is Core.gov and the other called Government Open Code Collaborative.

I would characterize the people involved in these type of organizations as nasty bureaucrats. I have never met one of them who cared about the people they serve. The ones I have met only care about their careers. They would cut the heart out of the person in the next office in a minute. I saw this as an intern at the Library of Congress, as an auditor in a DoD Management and Operations contractor, as a Oracle Financials documentation specialist at a DoE facility where I found misappropriations that ran about 50% and how they kept them off the books."

What kinds of experiences have some of you monks had?

Comment on Open source and government
Re: Open source and government
by Tanktalus (Canon) on Apr 04, 2006 at 18:54 UTC

    I worked for an 8-month co-op stint with a branch of the federal government of Canada, specifically, in the branch commonly known as "Environment Canada." This is the branch that does not only predictive weather forecasting, but also pulls together historical climatology to do research on. It was the latter group I was working with.

    What I saw was both enlightening and disillusioning for a student of only 20 who barely knew Fortran (the old language we were porting from) and C (the desired new language).

    My key points were:

    • My manager was keenly aware of and interested in those who worked for him. He was a huge bright spot in my employ there.
    • Fiefdoms seemed be be acutely apparent. I worked for climatology doing IT stuff, and the IT department was obviously miffed that they were cheaply hiring outside help that undermined their authority over all things technical. So miffed that they refused to help me until we had a pow-wow and my manager pulled rank on them. He was quite diplomatic about it, but even I was aware that everyone knew who just pulled rank on whom.
    • Our department seemed to be aware of those who we served: primarily businesses. So we actually started to produce output that ended up being sold to interested parties. That was brand new territory, and I was pretty happy that it was my code that produced the output that was being sold. (The data, of course, came from elsewhere, I just compiled it.) Happy as in proud of my work, and happy as in less of my taxes would be needed to pay for weather forecasting ;-)
    It was, however, a kick-start into the rest of my career. I had a heck of a time getting a job that co-op term. However, after that, my next co-op term was easy to get a job (one of the first 50 to get a job offer), and then, when I graduated, I was in the first 10 to get a job. So it's not all bad from my perspective :-)

    I met some really interesting people, including one of the senior IT folks with very very severe MS (the disease, not the company ;->) who was difficult to understand, but an absolute and utter delight to work with. I also met a number of people who couldn't be bothered to give anyone the time of day if it didn't further their career.

    Getting into private industry (both my next co-op job and my post-grad job I'm in now), I find similar people. Just that in the private industry, there is often a performance bonus that is tied to the corporation's business results - we do well, you do well type of thing. It helps blunt the pure aggression that some people naturally tend towards. But they're still there - just better hidden.

Re: Open source and government
by brian_d_foy (Abbot) on Apr 04, 2006 at 20:24 UTC

    I didn't think much of that post. To me, the undercurrent is that he is largely ineffective and is looking for faults in others to explain his lack of success.

    I know quite a few people actually in government (not outside advocates) using plenty of open source. When I was working under a government contract for DoE (one department about which he complains), we were using quite a bit of Perl and Tcl. Scientists, in the original spirit of open source, even passed around programs they had written in other languages that you might have to buy a compiler for.

    That he never met anyone who cared about the people they served simply shows he couldn't make friends or didn't meet enough people. He probably presented himself as a typical religous geek-freak, and that puts people off. If you want to convince people to do something, you have to win them over not necessarily by the merits of your argument but by taking care of any emotional or psychological blocks they might have. You don't do that with rational arguments, and you don't just flip a switch in someone to turn them into a beleiver.

    You can't treat people like idiots then wonder why they don't listen to you.

    But then, I agree with Mark Jason's Why I Hate Advocacy.

    Update: I knew I had written about this before. It's TPR 1.1: "How (not) to be a Perl Advocate", which I drew heavily from Mark Jason's article and Nat Torkington's Be an Advocate, Not an Asshole talk from YAPC::NA 2000.

    --
    brian d foy <brian@stonehenge.com>
    Subscribe to The Perl Review
Re: Open source and government
by Anonymous Monk on Apr 04, 2006 at 20:37 UTC
    I score this article -1, Troll. Unless Mr. Edelstein has actually seen a government official cut out the heart of a human being, his hyperbole is unwarranted. 1 --
    Ytrew

    1 Sadly, there are many governments worldwide where people are open killed for political gain. Personally, I prefer to reserve my outrage over people who actually do kill for political gain, rather than officials who are just sterotypical greedy politicians.

Re: Open source and government
by ptum (Priest) on Apr 04, 2006 at 20:45 UTC

    When I see this quote, I know to disregard the author:

    "I have never met one of them who cared about the people they serve."

    This is a hallmark of a person who is not able or willing to see the good in others. Sadly, such folks are rarely able to see the bad in themselves, and are infrequently worth listening to.

    I worked for the U.S. government in a number of roles over a number of years, and I knew and observed a large number of folks who were very passionate about serving their customers. Many of them were willing to quite literally die for the people they served, as was I when I served as a soldier. I judge this to be ill-informed stereotyping.


    No good deed goes unpunished. -- (attributed to) Oscar Wilde
Re: Open source and government
by zentara (Archbishop) on Apr 04, 2006 at 21:11 UTC
    I'm not directly involved, but I keep myself aware and "read between the lines" when it comes to Microsoft and government. (I say Microsoft, because for all intents and purposes, it's OpenSource vs. Microsoft).

    First there are 3 big factors which everybody likes to avoid talking about, but are the driving force behind this.

    1. Microsoft has alot of money for lobbyists.

    2. Many pension funds are heavily dependent on Microsoft stock, so it's "pyramid stock scheme" needs to be kept propped up.

    3. Microsoft makes it very easy to spy on workers.

    Put all those together, and you will not see OpenSource push Microsoft out, except in "MissionCritical" situations were the project managers refuse to use Microsoft, because of the crap it really is.

    Now if you go overseas, where the countries don't care if US pension funds tank, where they are leary of Microsoft backdoors spying on their systems, and the lobby money dosn't reach, etc. you will find OpenSource is becoming the first choice. There have been quite a number of newstories lately, where a country has decided to go with OpenSource and Microsoft was forced to go in and basically give itself away, to stem the tide. (Possibly nudged by US agencies who desparately want to spread their backdoor-capabilities overseas.)

    Now that is the reality, yet you will hardly ever hear those issues discussed in the press.....all you hear is the crapola about "Microsoft makes people more productive".... the US is a nation of sheep, and it won't be long before the hordes of poor (yet intelligent) hackers in third world countries, running OpenSource, will start to dominate the programming world.


    I'm not really a human, but I play one on earth. flash japh
Re: Open source and government
by derby (Abbot) on Apr 04, 2006 at 22:17 UTC

    Hyperbole aside, I have similar experiences. I once proposed to teach analysts perl (at the time they were doing shell, sed, awk data munging). I kid you not, the reason it was turned down was because, and I quote, "we don't want to teach them that ... they'll just leave for dot.coms."

    -derby
      "we don't want to teach them that ... they'll just leave for dot.coms."
      Hmmmm... I might have seen something of that.

      Have other people the experience that low-paying places doesn't seem to like the staff getting too saleable skills?

Re: Open source and government
by Scott7477 (Chaplain) on Apr 05, 2006 at 01:58 UTC
    As part of my job, I recently participated in some training on an app that the US Department of Defense is rolling out to streamline its procurement processes. I was impressed with both the user-friendliness of the app and the professionalism of the DoD people I worked with.

    On the other hand, I discovered the article in question at Phil Windley's Technometria and Dr. Windley tended to agree with Edelstein, although he wasn't as pessimistic. Dr. Windley had been the CIO for the State of Utah for several years.

    I got a kick out of the subtitle for Windley's blog: "Organizations Get the IT They Deserve"

    Scott
Re: Open source and government
by rinceWind (Monsignor) on Apr 05, 2006 at 09:57 UTC

    Reading the article and this thread, I see that the argument is about Central Government and the USA. For people living outside the US, your mileage may vary - mine certainly does.

    Living in a country whose prime minister by his own admission, "struggles to do more than switch on a computer"[1], Government tends to have the reputation of being overly bureaucratic and clueless, rather than directly hostile towards Open Source. What counterbalances this is the large lobby of technically savvy individuals, who do understand Open Source, and have not taken the Gates' shilling.

    There are several cases where Open Source has won, due to the argument of saving money; after all it's hard to undercut something that's free. What works against this is the FUD from the major software vendors about lack of support. My experiences are that most open source software is better supported, because people care about it - Perlmonks being a case in point.

    Currently, there is an anti-trust case worth following of Microsoft V the EU, see The Register. Although not directly about Open Source, it says much about attitudes of many EU countries to Microsoft. In most cases, there is more take up of Linux in Local Government than Central Government.

    I'm also fascinated by what's going on in Brazil. Could any Brazilian monks enlighten me as to how the Government's procurement policies which favour Open Source, are working out.

    [1] Metro 60 Second Interview with Tony Blair, 5th April 2006.

    --

    Oh Lord, won’t you burn me a Knoppix CD ?
    My friends all rate Windows, I must disagree.
    Your powers of persuasion will set them all free,
    So oh Lord, won’t you burn me a Knoppix CD ?
    (Missquoting Janis Joplin)

      First of all the initiative - to use OSS - itself was a giant step the government took, since our country always had a huge influence of the major players, specially Microsoft.

      Being a third world country this influence started to be seen as a bad thing, since the government costs with commercial software licensing were quite absurd.

      I've gathered some news from our government's site that shows that things are looking very promising, but of course this should be taken with a grain of salt.

      One of them specially - too bad I couldn't find a translated version - tells about how our government is using OSS to clean the "social previdence"(1) data bases, using a tool that includes phonetic comparison of names and, quoting the article, "Another difference between this tool and the programs that we use today is that it can analyze more elements than just the name of the beneficiary.", meaning that the OSS solution that is being adopted is more powerful than the commercial one.

      Another nice part on the same article mentions that another good thing is that the government can alter the way the software works, which is clearly seen as a positive feature.

      I know some people who work on government companies, so I'll try to bring some "inside view" for you.

      (1) This is how we call here - "Previdência Social". I believe an analogy with the USA could be done by comparing this with your Social Security Service, but I'm not entirely sure.

      Hope I've helped a little and please bare with me since my written english is a little rusty.

      Regards,
Re: Open source and government
by Mutant (Priest) on Apr 05, 2006 at 14:02 UTC

    I'm also skeptical about the article. One part I especially disagree with is this:

    One of the champions of Linux and free software in a major state agency chose to purchase Windows XP desktops for everyone in the agency. I've heard that man speaking at National Conventions for Government CIOs exalting the benefits of free software.
    There are hundreds of reasons why you might choose WinXP over Linux on the desktop, and it doesn't have to include one OS being better than another (whether it's just in the decision-makers opinion or not).

    The whole "only a moron would use Windows" type of attitude wears pretty thin, and often hurts the cause of Open Source. Even advocates of one particular OS (or language, or app) may have to choose an alternative, because that was the best choice at the time. When money and jobs (including your own) are on the line, you have to choose whatever works best, even if it's only better because a certain company holds an illegal monopoly. Yeah it might suck, but can't always be fixed, so you just have to work around it.

    To me the difference between a good techie and an excellent techie is that the latter understands the reality of business. While most good techies can see the "ideal" technical solution right away, someone with more understanding of how business works is able to compromise to fit in with the reality of the situation. I think this is why so many all-techie start-ups fail - they go for an amazingly brilliant, near-perfect technical solution or product, then find no one actually wants it, or can afford it.

    Ok, I'm rambling now, but hopefully you get the point :)

      Mutant++

      The whole "only a moron would use Windows" type of attitude wears pretty thin, and often hurts the cause of Open Source. Even advocates of one particular OS (or language, or app) may have to choose an alternative, because that was the best choice at the time. When money and jobs (including your own) are on the line, you have to choose whatever works best, even if it's only better because a certain company holds an illegal monopoly. Yeah it might suck, but can't always be fixed, so you just have to work around it.


      This is the kind of paragraph that makes me feel proud about our profession. It clearly shows wisdom when talking about software and takes away the horrible stereotype that OSS advocates are some kind of barbarian horde that trashes around anything that even looks like a commercial software.

      One personal experience I can share with you is about the International Free Software Forum (which it's 7th edition will take place here in Brazil in a couple of weeks, with YAPC::Brasil::2006 as a part of it - read more here).

      I first attended the Forum last year and before I went I've heard all sorts of stories about people being thrown out the meetings because they were advocating windows and such.

      The difference between what I've heard and what I've actually saw was huge. The feeling of this kind of meeting is extremely friendly and people share knowledge and simpathy all around (ouch, again excuse my rusty english).

      That's why I believe that taking away this kind of stereotypes - just as Mutant did - is vital for our survival as Open Source Developers.

      Regards,

Re: Open source and government
by samizdat (Vicar) on Apr 05, 2006 at 15:36 UTC
    I have to agree that the bitterness and the overly extreme reactions take a lot away from the validity of Edelstein's post. Coming from the BSD world, I'm less dismayed by the "took those ideas and put them in their own projects" issue. I'm happy that the Ferals have improved themselves based on his efforts. As a rabid Libertarian I know how rare that really is!

    Being inside the fence at SNL, which is a US DoE facility, my experience is that my open source (FreeBSD, Apache, MySQL, Perl and Ruby) solutions are welcomed with open arms, because I produce results. I've been teaching others how to do similar things. Others here have also had good results. Just a few examples among many: the entire router net for our portion of SNL is now running on FreeBSD (Doze scrapped!), and one of my coworkers is busily porting and integrating complex eCAD simulators to run on multiprocessor FreeBSD machines under Linux emulation (Solaris and RHE3 scrapped).

    I do spend a lot of time trying to solve problems of legacy systems. You think XP is a pain in the rear? We even still have two VAXen in daily use at the Fab. Shee-it! There are lots of places where it would be tempting to add some client-side processing, but I do not. Using Doze PCs as thin clients has enough challenges, given the stupidities built in to various IE variants.

    Some of what TE says is true. Security DOES like the snooper programming they can insert into Doze boxen, but they also came to us realizing that we knew more about the subject than they did when it came to implementing their new "Two Factor Authentication" policies. It is also true that SNL corporate management does have corporate policies that push for software buys from American manufacturers, but the mid-level managers I work for are extremely pleased that I can just d/l and compile new applications without any paperwork whatsoever.

    I don't at all agree with him that everybody in government is out for himself. Yes, there are turf battles, but that's far more prevalent at the upper levels and, most especially, the _political_ levels. There's also a huge amount of gross inefficiency, but my experience has been that that's also very prevalent in corporate bureaucracies. Just try to establish DSL service in a new city with out getting screwed and embittered, and you'll know what I mean!

    We are in a period where the Feral government is getting bigger, fatter, and grossly stinkier, and I don't see the other US political power bloc as being an answer, either. What I do see also, though, is that we in technology are creating new alternatives faster than the entrenched can tie them up or shoot them down, and open source is a huge part of that possibility explosion.

    Rather than being embittered like TE, I'm infused with hope. There are people in government who are embracing open source, in local municipalities, budget-screwed agencies, and outside the US, and they're seeing the benefits of cooperation without coercion. Micro$loth is publicly admitting that their Vista needs a stomach transplant, as well as being stretched on the rack by the EU. I myself will soon start a new job in private industry where open source and silicon will combine to put a new twist on the view out our window. I say, keep the faith, brothers and sisters, for this too, shall pass, and our efforts are a big part of why it shall do so.

    Don Wilde
    "There's more than one level to any answer."
Re: Open source and government
by Herkum (Parson) on Apr 05, 2006 at 18:44 UTC

    I worked for the DoD for a year, and for the most people are dedicated to their job and believe in it. That did not make them competent.

    One grand vision they had was using PCMCIA hard drives to identify the user; the user could plug in the drive and then they would be able to securely link to their email (or whatever) and not be tied to any specific desktop (this was 1996) BTW.

    They did not have any software for implementing this vision, and as far as I knew no one did; it was something that someone would wipe up in the future. To make sure that they were ready though, they required that every computer required a PCMCIA expansion slot adapter at $50/each. We went through thousands of PC's installing technology that no one was able take advantage of...

    Malicious, no; wasteful, hell yes!

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