Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Open Source versus Proprietary Software

Much ado has been made over the adoption of open-source software in government operations, and how that potentially impacts the adoption of proprietary software in the private sphere.

There are two primary issues that I see with this interpretation of events:
1. Government operations need to run with as much transparency as possible, so as to work in the citizens' interests.
2. Private sector businesses tend to follow the actions of larger, public sector businesses. The latter category includes the government.

Enough text has been typed - oftentimes half-baked, seldom fully-formed - on both sides of this issue to fill the libraries of the world many times over. The simple fact of the matter is that government should use the most open solution to any given problem possible to remain accountable to the public. If those solutions are polished enough to be adopted by the general public, then perhaps those are areas where proprietary solutions deserve to fail. The effective lifetimes of proprietary solutions should not be artificially kept afloat, lest public standards grow stagnant and obsolete. Many a government web site has fallen by the wayside simply because the administrators decided on a decades-old management model, then fell victim to proprietary lock-in that kept it from being developed into the ruthless model of efficiency that - as a government site - it should be.

I take issue with the notion that open source software costs proprietary software in the public sphere. Under any circumstance, source transparency must be maintained to provide governmental transparency. Despite all that I've implied, what happens in the private sector need not affect the public sector, nor vice-versa.


Phill said...

I agree that government should use open-source software whenever possible - especially in voter systems...

Orethrius said...

Right, but I consider Diebold a small subset of a more systemic problem. Governmental transparency is a battle for the ages, but the one thing all governments seem to have in common is a wanton disregard for accountability. Open-source in government would lay blame precisely where it belongs, and I can see a few bureaucrats taking issue with the loss of their six-figure cars over something as insignificant as a corruption scandal. If you want to work in public service - and take funding from public coffers to do so - I wholly believe that higher pay grades should be subject to civil forfeiture if they fail to do their jobs.