04 February 2009

Canadian Government Considers Open Source

The Canadian Government has put out a "Request For Information" (RFI) - essentially, a formal invitation for feedback on the topic.

Rather amusingly, the RFI speaks of "No-Charge Licensed Software":

Canada has a Request for Information (RFI) related to No-Charge Licensed Software (typically referred to as Free and Open Source Software or FOSS and also applicable to freeware). For the purpose of the RFI, No Charge Licensed Software means Licensed Software that is available at no charge for the Licensed Software and is typically made available as a free download from the Internet. No Charge Licensed Software may also have No Charge Software Support Services (NCSSS) available at no charge from the Internet.

The general aim of the request is as follows:

The purpose of the RFI is to help the Government of Canada (GC) put together guidelines related to the planning, acquisition, use and disposal of No Charge Licensed Software (NCLS). While there is already significant interest for No Charge Licensed Software within the Government of Canada there are many questions being asked, see below. There exists operationally a requirement to produce common guidelines that are fair, open and transparent and can be applied consistently across departments.

The objective of the RFI is to provide an opportunity for those interested to provide information they feel Canada should be aware of when developing internal guidelines related to the planning, usage and disposal of No Charge Licensed Software. Information that would be relevant to the development of guidelines will be appreciated. The information provided will be reviewed by Canada, as part of a process of producing No Charge Licensed Software Guidelines for Government of Canada End-Users.

There are also a series of specific questions the Canadian Government would like answered, which give a better idea of what its thinking about:

Q1. In the Overview, the Crown provided a definition for No Charge Licensed Software. Is this an appropriate definition?

Q2. What are reasonable criteria that the Crown should consider in a decision process for acquiring No Charge Licensed Software? Are there circumstances in which the acquisition of No Charge Licensed Software would not be advisable?

Q3. What factors other than price should be considered as part of an evaluation guideline for No Charge Licensed Software? Are there other factors beyond those outlined in Appendix A & B that the Crown should consider?

Q4. How should existing Government Furnished Equipment, Services, Service Level Agreements and internal resources be considered when evaluating the usage of No Charge Licensed Software?

Q5. How practical is No Charge Licensed Software? Are there hidden costs that need to be considered as part of the process of evaluating the alternatives available?

Q6. What are the general financial, technical and security risks associated with acquiring and using No Charge Licensed Software?

Q7. How do Open Standards and interoperability factor into evaluation considerations?

Q8. How does the technology factor into the evaluation consideration, such as ability to maintain and evergreen?

Q9. How does the Crown evaluate the flexibility of the licensing models for No Charge Licensed Software?

Q10. What impact will No Charge Licensed Software have on Government Licensed End-User Networks?

Obviously the Canadians are taking a rather cautious approach here, but it seems that they are seriously considering using more free software. You can submit your comments (in English or French) until the 19 February.


Anonymous said...

Weird and a bit funny,
1) as if they have no IT department to first ask _them_ those questions.
2) as if they haven't heard of Linux and FOSS and can't goolge and never heard of wikipedia.
3) they seem completely helpless and seem to know nothing unless that's the good old strategy to win better prices from Microsoft.

Glyn Moody said...

I imagine there are statuory requirements for this kind of thing. Though I agree that your 3) will be interesting to watch out for.

Unknown said...

Only a bureaucrat could have written such convoluted nonsense!
How does one "dispose of" FOSS?

Glyn Moody said...

Perhaps it's a trick question. Zen?

Anonymous said...

They have asked _them_ those questions but the politicians (and just about everyone else) doesn't believe _they_ are competent. That's why the spend millions on consultants all the time.... at least here they aren't wasting a whole lot of money getting the answers.

Anonymous said...

The Government of Canada has to ask for public info before posting RFQ, RFT or RFP. It may be weird to us but it's important for transparency. The government just can't go out and buy (or use) what it "feels" is right; what happens if it gets ripped off or screwed on support costs, or worse it cost more to retrain current employees ... that's tax payer's money at risk.

Anonymous said...

As a Canadian I get a huge kick out of this.
But as a FOSS user for the past two years, I have noticed that we (members of the FOSS community) tend to forget that the vast majority of the population, including government officials, have a hard time grasping that anyone would ever give away something that other people sell...

or they buy into the sad idea "well if they give it away for free, how good could it possibly be?"

Anonymous said...

Bravo to the Canadian Government. I think it's brilliant that they are considering open source as it's a viable option to the traditional(horribly expensive) software solutions available, especially for middleware application servers and web servers. I'm happy to provide "no charge" consulting on the subject.

Brill Pappin said...

A a Canadian, they are doing exactly what I expect them to do.

There are several factors, primary among them are:
a) Transparency. They need to show that they are doing their due diligence.
b) It's politics. Their support staff are mostly going to be Windows people as well as their users. An any IT department can tell you how much users whine when things change on them. By making sure that everyone has an opportunity to speak up, they reduce the power of non-arguments later.
c) Asking for information from the public is a great thing IMO. How may of you are capable of thinking up *all* the answers and viewpoints all on your own?

Whoever has brought this up knows that there will be opposition, so at worst is ass covering (which I don't blame one bit). Its a way to put the idea into the minds of people without risking too much.

It's hard to tell from this is the people responsible for it are pro or con OSS. On one hand it could be a delaying tactic to try and undermine an effort.. or it could be a minority trying to gain support for the idea.

Personally, I'd support it... I've had my non-techi family on Ubuntu for a year or two now.

Now, if only we could clean up the OS's and get some decent support from the hardware vendors. I'd love to see a user friendly project that turned BSD for instance into something good, like Apple did with OSX (despite its oddities, its clean and it works well).

However, I am *not* a fan of the GPL which Linux uses... I think it's an unfortunate obstacle to may solutions.

Delenda Est GPL.

Glyn Moody said...

@Brill: well, the GPL has served free software well so far. Which licence would you prefer?

Anonymous said...

I think Canada wants to do like Obama: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7841486.stm

Fizz LeChat said...

As a Canadian taxpayer who only uses FOSS software on all our computers, I'd like to know, just for the sake of fairness, if it is possible to consult the equivalent study that was done for commercially licensed software??? Obviously our bureaucrats did this exercise before accepting to use commercial products also??? This seems to demonstrate just how our government can take something simple and make it into something very complex and expensive... You'd think that nobody else on the planet were using FOSS!

Glyn Moody said...

@Fizz: good point. Open source *still* competes on an uneven playing field.

Fizz LeChat said...

As a Canadian taxpayer who only uses FOSS software on all our family and business computers (Ubuntu), I'd like to know, just for the sake of fairness, if it is possible to consult the equivalent study that was done for commercially licensed software???

Obviously our bureaucrats also did this exercise before accepting to use commercial products???

This seems to demonstrate just how our government can take something simple and make it into something very complex and expensive... You'd think that this is a big secret and that nobody else on the planet were using FOSS! I've distributed the "merx" link to several OSS service companies/consultants and I suggest you all make sure everyone in the open source arena is aware of this opportunity.


Anonymous said...

RFI = "We don't have the money or resources to do the research on our own. So could you do it for us and send us the answers? K thx bye."

Glyn Moody said...

A little cynical, perhaps. As others have noted, it's probably a statutory requirement.

Anonymous said...

Fizz LeChat, I work in a very large Canadian company that has much the same kind of policy. No open source is allowed. Period. The lawyers don't care what it does or how it does it, they see it as a threat and refuse to allow it. They do NOT do the same thing with non-open source software. For example, I can download and install Windows SHAREWARE to my desktop PC (license allowing), but I am forbidden from downloading and installing anything open source.

Glyn Moody said...

Scandalous. But things will change.

Anonymous said...

People seem to be missing a key factor: It's not about open source software. It's about No Fee Licensed Software. While Open Source could be included in this category (though not always, as Open Source Software is available for a fee in some cases, ie: redhat linux and Sun Staroffice)

The Term No Charge licensed software would point towards any software, wether proprietary or open, that doesn't have a cost. so this would include. Adobe flash browser plugin, Adobe Acorbat, microsoft word OOXML viewer (runs on windows only), the google toolbar, AOL Instant Messenger, IE7...

Past that, Bill Pappin hit the nail on the head.

Glyn Moody said...

Interesting point.

Anonymous said...

Q1. In the Overview, the Crown provided a definition for No
Charge Licensed Software. Is this an appropriate definition?

From the RFI itself.

Glynn, as you can see, the Canadian Government is asking if the definiftion it used is appropriate.

Maybe we should cut the Canadian Government a little slack, and stop treating it like a noobie. Respect is a two way street.

Glyn Moody said...

You're absolutely right.

Robert Pogson said...

Readers may be interested in my information that I sent in response to the RFI

see rfi_floss_gc.html

My thesis is basically that they should look at the universe in terms of Free and non-Free (as defined by FSF/GNU) because non-free software costs more, has more bugs, is a security risk and may be produced for anti-competitive reasons all not in the best interest of Canadians, those whom the Government serves.

Glyn Moody said...

@robert: congratulations on your excellent response - thanks for sharing it.

gelisam said...

Regarding the very first comment, who wondered why the government didn't ask its IT department:

Well I'm part of that department, and I really wish the decision makers had consulted us first. I mean, our servers are _already_ running on open source software. Didn't they know?

To be fair, I should mention that the government is subdivided into many organizations, each of which has its own IT department. So I suspect that the other parts of the government must still be lagging behind.

Unknown said...

I am late to this conversation, but after reading the your response and the governments, I think they will feel that the response is not-responsive, i.e. it does not address the issue.

Not that I favour commercial software, but the response does not look at the questions from the governments viewpoint. For example:

There is a big difference between a large organization and a smaller one. The difference is amplified when the organization is public. Imagine if the government was use poor joe's software for some critical function while poor joe is collecting UI or welfare. The government would be branded as evil.

Similarly, governments are more sensitive about layoffs, so they are more like to use contractors, this helps to explains the necessity for the RFI. It also explains why the government would be worried about deploying software without a clear support channel.

Consider also the comment on Answer #2. You do not mention anything about evaluation of the software vendor's track record, ability to remain viable into the future, knowledge base, ability for self-help, etc, etc. All factors where non-licensed software might differ from commercial software.

In Q4 the government is advised to replace non compatible software and hardware. But, with 100,000 + users (?) the desirable answer is that non-license software is often more flexible, allowing to to gracefully co exist.

Q5 asks about hidden costs. All software has hidden costs. non-licensed software, free software, open source, and commercial, these costs are different. Early there is a mention about open-office for which there is at least one-hidden cost. There is differences between that software and MS Office (2007 can handle more that 120,000 rows, superior charting capabilities, formulas can reference other sheets and other workbooks, meta data functions). While most used users do not needed these advanced capabilities, there will be some users. And so each software replacement will necessarily imply some changes in application mix and perhaps the need to source more than one product.

The answer to Q6 address main stream open source software but not free closed source software. Also, open source software implies extra responsible to a government entity. If a flaw is found, the population would expect the government to fix the software because it can. If closed source software, no such expectation would exist.

(Just my opinion)