Mass. Open Source Vs. Proprietary Software Battle Heats Up

The Massachusetts state government's attempt to push open source software is being challenged by one state lawmaker who is questioning the state IT leadership's actions.

January 9, 2004

5 Min Read
Network Computing logo

The Massachusetts state government's attempt to push open source software is being challenged by one state lawmaker who is questioning the state IT leadership's actions.

"We want to know what their authority is," said Senator Marc Pacheco, who has formally asked the head of the state's Office of Administration and Finance (OAF) to provide him with the legislative authority for its relatively new policy of advocating open source software.

In a letter to Secretary Eric Kriss of the OAF, Senator Pacheco asked: "1. Under what legal authority is the Administration purporting to act in implementing its Open Source/Open Standards Policy; and 2. Please explain how the policy, which appears to be a preferential policy, does not run afoul of the Massachusetts General Laws..."

The state lawmaker's letter was responding to a memo sent by Kriss to the state's Chief Information Officer Peter Quinn last fall that set off alarms within some the state's business software community. It said: "We can no longer afford a disjointed and proprietary approach that locks up legacy systems, generates excessive use of outside consultants, and creates long, often misguided project plans...Effective immediately, we will adopt...a comprehensive Open Standards, Open Source policy for all future IT investments and operating expenditures."

Pacheco, a Democrat, said the new policy is "perceived to be an exclusionary policy that excludes proprietary software." He is chairman of the Post Audit and Oversight Committee and said he has received "lots of calls" from software companies whose business revolves around proprietary software, many of whom are concerned that they will be locked out of Massachusetts' $80 million IT budget.Pacheco said he is worried that a business expert in proprietary software "that has a lower cost ownership proposal would be thrown out" of competition by open source interests.

Kriss, a former software entrepreneur now at the state's Republican administration , did not appear at Pacheco's recent hearing -- nor did he "make time for an office interview" according to the legislator -- that examined the issue. Pacheco then sent the letter to Kriss asking the secretary to reply. Pacheco has noted that his committee has subpoena power.

Various computer industry figures have rallied around the issue. In particular advocates of proprietary software have argued that most of the state's existing software revolves around proprietary software. Grant Mydland of CompTIA, a 16,000-member industry organization, has presented testimony arguing that few state employees have even been trained in open standards and that there has been no full peer review of the Kriss policy. Mydland, who is director of Comp/TIA's State Government Relations & Grassroots Programs, also said that the Massachusetts state government currently operates just one OSS server.

"We believe that the new Open Standards/Open Source policy -- as proposed -- could create an institutional 'preference' for open source software over hybrid or proprietary software -- that could incalculably harm Massachusetts' economy, public administration, its citizens, and its information technology industry by severely restricting software choice presently available to the Commonwealth," Mydland said.

"Further, we believe that no new laws or regulations are needed in order to accomplish what the Commonwealth can already do today -- that is, go into the working software market, and acquire the best solution for the given need in every instance. The state can and should buy open source software when it represents the best value based on total cost of ownership; and the state can and should buy proprietary software when it represents the best value based on total cost of ownership," Mydland said.Mydland further claimed the policy could lead to Draconian penalties with the state's IT business losing $28 million in the first year and $70 million by 2014.

Another opponent of the Kriss policy, Jonathan Zuck, president of the Association for Competitive Technology, also presented arguments to the Senate Committee against the policy. While there has been scant mention throughout the brouhaha of specific companies, the major firms with proprietary products include Microsoft, Oracle and IBM. Each of those, in turn, is surrounded by a universe of hundreds of independent companies that work with proprietary products.

As for Secretary Kriss, he has complained that his comments have been misinterpreted causing a misunderstanding. Late last year, he met with members of the Massachusetts Software Council to explain his IT policies. Members attending the meeting said Kriss allayed their fears on the issue. The Software Council has not taken a public stance on the issue.

Kriss' memo, though, has been seized upon by his critics as evidence that he plans to force open source standards and software on the state's IT installations. The memo also stated: "Implementing a full Open Standards, Open Source policy will take time, energy, and money. We have a large installed base of systems, many using obsolete technology, which cannot be quickly converted or replaced. We will follow two possible development paths: 1) new applications must follow Open Standards, Open Source, while 2) existing applications will be evaluated for 'encapsulation' or migration to Open Standards, Open Source.

"One impact of this policy is that many FY04 IT capital projects, some with preliminary vendor discussions (RFI, RFR, RFP) and/or prior project work, will be reviewed for Open Standards, Open Source compliance. While this may delay projects initially, the improved speed of Open Standards, Open Source will likely shorten overall IT implementations."In the meantime, Senator Pacheco is waiting to hear from Secretary Kriss to determine how his IT plan squares with the state's procurement laws.

Stay informed! Sign up to get expert advice and insight delivered direct to your inbox

You May Also Like

More Insights