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Have something convincing to say about FOSS? I need your help.
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ShabbyX 22 Apr


I'm working on a document (very early stage) with the hopes of it turning into a very thorough and convincing argument as to why government entities should switch to FOSS. I need help because:

- I have small kids, so I have little time :(
- There is a lot I probably don't know about
- Open source!

Currently, the document is not public because:

- I don't want to see preemptive action against it by you know who
- I don't want to see certain journalists picking up something bad someone might have temporarily added and turn it into this whole thing against the FOSS community

My plan for this document is:

- Collaborate on Google doc until it reaches a decent state
- Port to LaTeX and put it up on Gitlab
- Once completed in English, do the following in parallel:
* Announce it and invite FOSS enthusiasts to forward it to their MPs (Member of Parliament as they call them in Canada)
* Add build toggles and relevant arguments to adapt the document to other entities such as "large companies", "small businesses", "municipalities", etc.
* Have it translated to other languages. I'm hoping this could be done professionally as it would be hard to verify the translations and avoid a malicious contributor to sabotage the translation.

What I'm looking for is collaborators who:

- are level-headed. This is not going to be a hate filled rant.
- have a lot to say / know a lot of stories. I intend to rely on many examples of FOSS success and closed-source software failures.

Good writers are welcome to improve the writing. Good-with-maths are welcome to help with cost models, graphs and all the fancy attractive stuff.

Please send me a private message in GoL with your email and a bit about what you know, and what you would like to say and I'll share the doc with you.


P.S. Why target governments first?

- They are technically public servants, so in-the-public's-interest arguments can probably go a longer way. Companies are probably going to be harder to convince given that switch to FOSS is long term and they don't like risks.
- Governments are more likely to have secrets they don't want NSA to pry about.
- Governments have a large number of employees, so the exposure of non-tech people to FOSS would be higher.

Salvatos 22 Apr

I’m no good for the sort of information you need currently, but I might be able to translate it later on (especially if you’re looking to hire, since it sounds like you’re aiming at a rather large document). Canadian French translator for a dozen years :)

One government-specific argument I liked, mostly for countries outside the US, is that using FOSS means you can hire local talent to improve and fix your software instead of relying on foreign companies. So in addition to avoiding licensing costs, you create local jobs, foster those skills in your population, and keep much tighter control over the features you need (you can always fork and choose whether or not to share upstream if the community edition doesn’t align with your use case). In other words, using FOSS is not truly costless (for a government), but the spending is done internally. And if you do share upstream, your contributions also benefit other users of that software in the population (and internationally).

vv221 22 Apr

I would be willing to help after it has been made available under a Free license, but not for the part happening behind closed doors

I have been a Free Software developer since the mid-2010ʼs, and quit my daily job a couple months ago to focus exclusively on Free Software development for the next couple years (unpaid work for now sadly).

In my previous jobs, I had an active part in the adoption of Open Source solutions instead of the proprietary ones already in use. I actually even made them publish their first works under Free licenses.

mirv 23 Apr

I'll join the "can't help with the document, but can give my experiences" crowd. I used to work at a rather large company (won't say which), and there were often discussions about which software to use, and not to use. Brief overview of a few considerations for _using_ :
* Licensing. Commercial licensing terms were often unfavourable, and often meant no source code access - linking against a lib instead. Completely unsuitable to the work. Equally, the end product from the company was commercial, and so GPL code could never be used, even for unit testing, even if a binary for that was never released outside the company, as an easy blanket removal of possible legal troubles. BSD code could be (and in some cases indeed was) used. Even BSD however isn't a convenient catch-all; crypto libs are particularly annoying when it comes to legal distribution.
* Support. Unsupported, less well known software carries risk. Well supported software carries less risk, and support contract costs are often of lesser concern to very large corporations and governments. Support also means additional features required later on might be requested instead of in-house investment. Support is critical, so any discussion of why FOSS is beneficial should cover support.
* Support (addendum): custom development. It's much easier to find people who can develop custom extensions to Eclipse, or poke around with gcc, or delve into an Apache web server, if those people are already experienced in the software. FOSS allows that to happen; short-term contract workers will be more efficient if they don't have to learn the ins & outs of a proprietary solution they haven't seen before.
* Interoperability: especially true of governments. Moving data to a new system, or ensuring that everyone can open a particular file, can be very important. Although this again isn't directly related to the license, working on a GNU/Linux box for development, but being forced to write documentation in Word, is inefficient (not to mention bloody annoying). Simple text was a better solution, and TeX generates nice pdfs that everyone can view. FOSS has this peculiar habit of generally being more cross-platform, and uses more open data formats. Worth a discussion at least.
* End user familiarity. Most are familiar with Word. Fewer are familiar with LibreOffice, even if it's very similar for basic usage. Switching to FOSS should take that into consideration.

There are other aspects for _investing_ in FOSS, as opposed to _using_ it. Why should a company make its product FOSS, or why should it invest in a FOSS project?
* FOSS can be a lower support burden, especially if it's not core to the main product of a company. ARM (or arm as it is now) use gcc for a reason.
* Quality. Strangely enough, yes, particularly for code. If people know it's going to be open to the public, then magically documentation gets better, coding standards are more strictly adhered to, some of the testing gets a little more robust.
* Investing in a project means you can actually gain a level of control over the direction of development. Look no further than Valve to see a good example of that.

...and I've written quite a lot for something "brief", but indeed brief it is. I could write a lot more. Hopefully it's helpful though.

ShabbyX 24 Apr

@vv221, I understand. The reason I'm not immediately making this public is that I have mentions of stories I recall by memory, but I don't have a reference for yet. I have a footnote with TODO for them. I wouldn't want to make the document public before I make sure all those references are correct, otherwise there's the risk of some journalist quoting it against the FOSS community. If you are willing to at least take a look at the document and help resolve these TODOs, I'd appreciate the help. I'll make the doc open source as soon as I'm sure there's nothing there that has no basis, that's a promise.

mirv 24 Apr

So another thought that comes to mind is something I was involved in once on a contract basis. Company I worked at was contracted out to develop ... stuff ... and I struck upon the idea of a virtual machine to envelop the development environment. This was because the client might need to carry the work on themselves, and I wanted a selling point that they could do that easily: either replicate the setup themselves, or use the virtual machine and not worry about the right libraries, system updates, etc. Easy environment archival.

Point is in that handing that over, I also had to make sure that there were no licenses required to be transferred, or kept up to date to allow it to be used in future. FOSS was the only way to go, which in this case was simple because everything was already widely available on a GNU/Linux system - and so the virtual machine was essentially a popular and stable distro with everything necessary installed and ready to go.

Julius 24 Apr

An apparently reasonably successful campaign by the FSFE.

DerpFox 26 Apr

I'd suggest you also look at the FOSS model weaknesses. To better know and sell your strength you also have to acknowledged where you fail.

Especially if its so sell FOSS to governmental representative. There will be people who will put every single FOSS weaknesses under a microscope and you need to be prepared for that so you can counter argument.

For example one of the major weakness of a lot of FOSS software are being a one man project. The day said "man" don't want to do that anymore, most of the time the project is as good as dead. And that is not very reassuring for a lot of people to contemplate the possibility that a software they like/need may disappear one day.

Another problem is the famous XKCD "standards" comic Even if forking is a strength it can also be a weakness. Each project doing its little own recipe of the same thing in its corner not looking at others. Completely exploding resources all over the place making things move more slowly than they could be.

Last edited by DerpFox on 27 April 2020 at 3:33 pm UTC

tuubi 26 Apr

Quoting: DerpFoxFor example one of the major weakness of a lot of FOSS sofwares are being a one man project.
None of the open source software likely to be even considered by a government or a large company are one-man projects. The fact that one-man projects exist isn't really an issue at all. I'm not even sure the proportion of one-man projects is any higher in open source anyway. Remember, there's lots of free or low-budget closed source software out there.

Quoting: DerpFoxAn other problem is the famous XKCD "standars" comic Even if forking is a strenght it can also be a weakness. Each project doing its little own recipe of the same thing in its corner not looking at others.
Traditionally this is more of a problem in the proprietary software world. We all know how much corporations like their lock-in schemes and proprietary file formats. That XKCD strip is not about open source, but about standards in general. Some notable problem cases are mentioned in the subtitle.

Don't get me wrong, there are several aspects of open source that governments and corporations will see as weaknesses. And some of them will be easier to refute than others.

ShabbyX 26 Apr

Good suggestion DerpFox, but I agree with tuubi that this is not going to be a problem. I do mention how open source starts with few and if it's interesting will attract more developers and become something substantial. As tuubi said, any project the government wants to use will definitely be pretty solid. Besides, I also emphasize that it works best if the government contributes back (so there won't be 0 devs left).

Also, it's all too common thay the government contracts someone for some proprietary software, then are left with it with zero support and all the bugs. Same could happen with open source in the worst case, so it cannot be worse than how they already work.

Quoting: tuubiDon't get me wrong, there are several aspects of open source that governments and corporations will see as weaknesses. And some of them will be easier to refute than others.

By all means please elaborate.

Last edited by ShabbyX on 26 April 2020 at 6:04 pm UTC

DerpFox 26 Apr

Quoting: tuubiNone of the open source software likely to be even considered by a government or a large company are one-man projects. The fact that one-man projects exist isn't really an issue at all. I'm not even sure the proportion of one-man projects is any higher in open source anyway. Remember, there's lots of free or low-budget closed source software out there.

I thinks you've misunderstood me. I'm sorry I should have been clearer. I know that this kind of project is not chosen by governments. I was saying that as a warning, people who will lobby against FOSS will do anything they can, even going as low as that. One just need to be prepared, because the majority of people are computer illiterate, if some people with charisma manage to convince them that this is the norm they will shut like a clam and push FOSS away for good. I've lived that a couple time and once people who are not tech savy are set on something its close to impossible to make them move.

I had that problem a couple of times "but I read in [a magazine article written by some one who has no clue about what they talk about] that [the thing] is bad", or you should see my country politician when they talk about anything computer related its really really bad, in 2006 I remember the "open office firewall". Even if things has gotten better in the past decade it is still bad

As much as we know and as little it can be compared to some *nix guru out there, we should expect other people to know a 1000 times less.

Same for the XKCD comic I only used it as an example. But I'm sorry FOSS even is not as bad as proprietary softwares in the general mater of creating a separate projects, a separate norm, standard ect. It can do it, and its a door open to attack. And again the average computer illiterate will take that literally.

In the case of pushing governments acceptance of FOSS we should not forget that we are against lobbies who won't hesitate to fight dirty. They will make non issue into issue.

For example in my country there is a law that force any governments related group to open a public market to choose a new software. Unfortunately the law is old and is written in a way that prevent people to present FOSS sofwares. These kind of public market are only open to buisnesses, so simple citizen would would just present a FOSS softwares are out. Then there is not much company that develop the kind of ultra specialised softwares that are needed by governement so most of the time there is no company that would make a FOSS software and try to sell a support plan for it. That let us with the usual couple same softwares since 30 years. And you can be sure there few companies are fighting hard to keep things as they are.

I'm not sure if I've been clear in that tho. We are fighting against companies that have governement contract that they live on for decades without doing any innovation. they won't let there money mine go away easely.

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