|FROM ||Ruben I Safir
|SUBJECT ||Subject: [hangout] Government Contracts
Wednesday April 02, 2003 - [ 08:34 AM GMT ] Print this Article
Topic - Government
- By Alexander Perry - Why is government procurement a challenge for
Open Source? Ironically, it is because the US government's acquisition
policy has been shaped over many decades to try to get the best value
for money. For-profit corporations with proprietary solutions are
expected to try to make as much money as they can from a limited amount
of development. Thoughtful tinkering and optimization, over many
decades, has built stacks of policies, guidance documents and
standardized clauses that use competition between such companies to try
to get the best value solution. Government employees, who must obey the
Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), generally understand the benefits
that Open Source offers but have trouble with the Open Source concept of
"contributing to the community" due to those regs.
One obvious approach is to start putting requests through Congress for
legislative changes that will generate amendments to the FAR so they can
better accommodate Open Source. This may take a long time. The other
approach is less aesthetically pleasing, but more practical. All open
source developers, contractors, distributors, administrators (etc)
should give the appearance of only caring about their sales revenue and
aim to sell Open Source Software products, each containing only a few
binary packages, for as much money as the purchasing budgets can afford.
The FAR was designed for that behavior pattern, and helps government
buyers efficiently talk to vendors who exhibit it.
Debian GNU/Linux Government Edition (DGL-GE) would fit on a single CDROM
and include all the source code for its binary packages. The retail
price -- around $100 -- would include up to 2 hours of telephone or
e-mail support (and/or software maintenance) for the registered user.
The support could be used any time in the twelve months following the
purchase date. DGL-GE would include the installer, the base packages and
very little else. To manage the productivity of government employees,
this should include X, icewm, solitaire, a media player, a web browser
and network printing. Like other vendors' competing products, it should
omit development tools and word processors.
Next to every commercial software product that is in the GSA schedule ,
there should be listings for each Open Source near-equivalent. It would
be difficult for the GSA to reject our individual requests since these
new listings would foster competition with a lower price, reasonable
support options and (of course) different feature sets.
For example, Open Office (Debian Government Edition) could be a single
CDROM with all the Debian packages needed to use just the office package
itself. That new OO-DGL-GE product, priced around $200, would include
one year of support, 4 hours maximum, with respect to a single specified
Software in the Public Interest (Debian's legal entity) might offer a
special bundle product SITE-DGL-GE (site license for Debian Government
Edition) at perhaps $9990 for site administrators. It would include all
Debian software in binary with unlimited access to Debian's bug tracking
system and package archive as well as mandatory attendance at a one week
training class. This class would teach its students how to use all
elements of the Debian distribution, including the skills needed to be a
package maintainer, so that a government administrator who took it would
become eligible for developer rights on the distribution. SITE-DGL-GE
would ship on seven CDs with a written statement that the source can be
provided, if a written request is made within three years, by purchasing
the new SHAREDSOURCE-DGL-GE product.
The SHAREDSOURCE-DGL-GE product would ship on about seven CDs and
contain all the source packages for the distribution. Its price --
around $14,900 -- would only pay for the materials and the premium
shipment (as required by the GPL). The product would be offered under
the Debian Shared Source license agreement, indicating that the
recipient may not make changes to the source files on the CDROM and can
only inspect and critique the files on the CDROM. The shipping media
would not be CD-RW, so it would be necessary to copy files from the
CDROM to a hard drive before making any desired changes.
For the premium shipment, the seller would travel in person to the
customer's site and spend a maximum of one week reviewing the source
code (as directed by their QA specialists) with the customer's
engineering team. This review is necessary to ensure that the engineers
fully understand the limited rights they receive in conjunction with
these CDROMs and know how to avoid violating the licenses on the source
Lest you think I'm joking ... I'm not. If this approach is taken, the
government would be able to purchase the software they need using the
usual channels, and have developers with relevant expertise competing
for who would accept the cheapest possible busman's holiday to the
Washington DC area.
The rules in the FAR will look at this as healthy commercial retail
The people doing the purchasing, unlike the rules, will see that their
purchase is gaining one week of dedicated training for their software
engineering team, training that is delivered by their chosen national
expert on a specific software package.
No one would have to fix all the problems that might occur under one of
these contracts on their own, since the money and work could be
The GSA schedule of approved purchasing sources is already long. There
is plenty of room to add every open source developer who can comply with
the generic rules and constraints for the GSA schedule list. Each sells
a product with a slightly different combination of packages on a CDROM
that represents whatever software he/she is willing to personally
support. Imagine 200 people all selling OpenOffice, 50 people selling
AbiWord, 100 people selling LaTeX bundles, plus others selling all the
other open source word processing packages. Each of these individuals
would be an equal competitor with companies that have proprietary,
closed source near-equivalents.
I'm only using Debian as an example, not suggesting that we all start
using Debian. Diversity is good.
Every distribution with a U.S. legal presence could offer equivalent
And, yes, so could individual developers.
Brooklyn Linux Solutions
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