April 22, 2004

Plenary 6: Open Source, Open Society

Here I'll keep running notes of the Plenary 6 "Open Source, Open Society".

The Panelists are: Jennifer Urban co-moderator, Boalt Hall, Kenneth Neil Cukier co-moderator, Fellow, Harvard's Kennedy School of Government; Tony Stanco, E-Government; Bernard Benhamou, Director of Forecasting and Internet governance, E-Government Development Agency, Office of the Prime Minister, France; Jason Matusow, Microsoft; Tom Kalil, Special Assistant to the Chancellor for Science and Technology for UC Berkeley)

Running Notes:

(Tony Stanco could not attend)

Bernard Benhamou

e-Government and open software in French government.

When public authorities use open software it is used as a "main tool" for software diversity.

Previously, all French government software was produced by one vendor.

This poses problems financially and for interoperability with citizens.

When IBM made mainframes, they could only compete there... when people can create their own software, they can compete in many different arenas (operating systems, etc.)

Why is it important to have an action that balances all of this? Technology is the main link between the government, citizens and industry. Need a climate of trust... if there is no trust, we create a danger of mistrust which is not acceptable for business processes.

It is very important to create this atmosphere of trust in government computing. What was said yesterday about electronic voting is especially important to have transparency; to know what the systems are doing. These activities need to be controlled by democratic activity: open source software is a movement in that direction.

We are beginning to create a large movement in Europe to migrate operating software and desktop systems to many different options. (Mr. Matusow frowned here).

We want systems to be based on open software. It will not ban proprietary software. The co-existence of the two types of software is crucial for not only economical reasons but for democratic reasons. This is becoming a political issue... these are not just technological issues. It is international and intranational.

Jason Matusow

Shared source (talk title)

It is comforting to see that Ken drove as far to the right as possible.

Microsoft is understanding open source as a development model and a business model.

First, there is a difference between product competition and the role of software in standardization.

Windows and Linux compete... so does Linux and BSD.

Software production itself has a very complicated history. There is no correct method for producing software. Interaction of multiple models is best for good quality software.

As the role of linux has grown... the models of non-commercial and commercial-ization of open source software has changed.

Vendors are especially good at testing and verifying software quality and usability.

Most Shared Source programs are released under BSD-style licenses.

At the end of the day, the primary driver is value. Is the software going to deliver the value that is wanted by the user.

Tom Kalil

"And now for something completely different!"

Not going to be talking about what usually gets talked about.

A few premises:

  1. There are some applications that have high social return on investment and low private return on investment.

    Either not provided at all;
    or the cost to provide is very high.

  2. We should experiment with promoting creation.

  3. (damn... missed a few here)

Example: reading software. Software that helps young students learn how to read. Why isn't this happening? This market is not attractive... lots of schools, not much money spent.

What would be the social ROI?

  • 38% 4th graders can't read and understand a basic paragraph.
  • 75% of high-school drop-outs can't read.

There are fewer age-appropriate books per household in inner-city neighborhoods as compared to affluent neighborhoods. Reading software won't solve all these problems... but will move us in the right direction.

Other examples: software for human rights organizations, software the thwarts state-sponsored surveilance, K-12 math and science education, software for adult literacy and GED education.

How to support? Traditional: grants for development. Could be more active: awards for certain deliverables, guaranteed purchase for software that meets the specs. (could be tied to open source license)

Public investment would not be stranded. High-quality, low-cost promotes public policy.

Panel Discussion

Q (Ken): To Eric, explain what the FOSS Africa is and what we're missing?

The FOS Foundation for Africa founded two years. We noticed that there was a lot of development in Africa. Our strategy is to try and create a demand on the supply-side of the equation. There are many Africa-specifc problems. The other side of the question is to try and create a pool of developers.

There is an OS in swahili. We cannot pay for large costs of software. Can we create a feasible solution.

Q (Ken to Tom): From government, working on tech. policy under the rubric of economic policy. You had many interests. I'm wondering, if you were to advise the next president on whether or not the US government should adopt OS software? What would you say?

There ought to be a broad consensus that their should be the possibility to compete. The more interesting question is are there situations in which there needs to be OS software. Voting seems to be a obvious example.

The second part is, does the government have an obligation to request communication in one, open format?

Third, if there is a division of the government that has needs that can't be fulfilled by vendors should they look to OS?

Finally, researchers have a mandate to communicate their results... should there be encouragement to license OS to increase the diffusion of their results?

Bernard: Also, we have to prepare for the next evolution that will not only be open software, but open hardware. We will have open hardware development communities. There will be many more chip producers with open platforms. We need to prepare for a wider experience in technology hardware.

Jason M.: A couple clarifications: Transparency doesn't equate to modification rights. We wouldn't want to see republican and democratic development squabbles. Government, indiviiduals and industry is seeking transparency.

There is a role of open standards is to create a mechanism to increase accesibility to communication. That doesn't dictate the use of systems that write these formats.

On research maximization... very often, when governments produce research, absolutely an open source license would be appropriate.

Q (Jennifer): Could you follow up on this and comment on Shared Source?

There is no one way to release software. Governments need to understand what they mean by open source.

Straw poll: Should we require that Government use open source software? (It was not a majority saying yes)

Q (Peter Swire): Dept. of Commerce has a unique perspective. There is a tempation there to assume that the US is an exporter of software. If there was a push in negotiations to require proprietary software to increase revenue what would you say?

(I'm going to have to stop here... my hands hurt.)

Posted by joehall at April 22, 2004 11:07 AM | TrackBack
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