Shouldn’t a Public Government Stay Out of The Software Market? 4/4

This is the last of four questions posed to me by a journalist about open source and the public sector. The original question was: If a government develops open source software, it becomes a vendor of that software. Shouldn’t a public government stay out of such business?

A public government that develops or sponsors the development of open source software does not automatically become a vendor of that software. Development or sponsorship only means that public funds are converted into software under an open source license. I would not advocate that a public government start providing services to a market for that software. It should leave the provision of such services to for-profit companies! If the open source software is any good and meets user needs, such businesses will spring up soon and there will not be a need by any government to provide commercial services.

What a public government can and should do is to investigate unserved needs and sponsor the initial development of software to meet those needs. Making such initial development open source means that any company can now build a business on top of the software and compete for customers. Using an open source license is an effective way of acting in the public interest without unfairly benefitting any one particular company. Sometimes such initial investment is necessary to get over the investment hump that keeps companies from servicing the unmet needs.

Start over with the first question: Should the public sector use open source software?

Should the Public Sector Consider Open Source Only For New Purchases? 3/4

This is the third of four questions posed to me by a journalist about open source and the public sector.

The economists have an answer for this. At any point in time should you evaluate the total life-time value of the various alternatives at hand and then chose the one that has the best value.

When making this calculation for a switch from proprietary to open source software, the switching costs have to be added to the cost of using an open source solution. It may well be the case that the open source solution, in itself, is much better than the proprietary solution, but with the switching costs added, becomes less desirable. Then, the rational choice is to stay with the proprietary solution.

This of course is maddening to open source enthusiasts, because a superior open source solution suddenly loses out to an inferior proprietary solution, because of the existing lock-in. However, this is simply economics.

Thus, the full answer is: It depends. In some cases, existing proprietary software should be replaced with open source software, and in other cases it should not.

It should be noted that switching costs are one-time costs, while cost savings through open source software are recurring. Thus, for a proprietary solution to keep winning over an open source solution, it must be significantly better and/or the switching costs quite high.

Next up: Shouldn’t a public government stay out of the software market?

Why Did Munich Drop Linux and LibreOffice for Microsoft Windows and Office? 2/4

This is the second of four questions posed to me by a journalist about open source and the public sector.

I was not involved with the Munich decision at all, so I can only speculate and provide the usual reasons that have been reported about why such failures happen.

First of all, it is nothing unusual if a company or a public government switches products. The particular Linux and LibreOffice implementation in Munich is somehow taken as a representative of all of open source, which is wrong. Munich bought into a particular Linux and LibreOffice and particular companies servicing it and maybe this, taken as a product, did not work as well for them as Microsoft Windows + Office.

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Should The Public Sector Use Open Source Software? 1/4

I was asked several questions by a journalist about open source and the public sector. I’m answering them here in sequence. This is the first of four blog posts and the first question was: Should the public sector use open source software?

The public sector and public governments should use the software that lets them provide the desired services best, long-term. How much open source software this involves is secondary, in my opinion.

That said: Like any industry, the public sector already uses substantial amounts of open source software by way of open source components built into commercial proprietary product. Estimates of the percentage of open source code in commercial products and services go as high as 80-90% of the total code. Open source is everywhere, including in Microsoft Windows and Office.

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Amazon’s Announcement About Corretto and Java’s Future

Ever since Oracle got their hands on Java (by way of acquiring Sun Microsystems), it has worked hard on making money of it. As far as I can tell, it has been as unsuccessful at this as the prior owner, Sun. Compared to Sun, Oracle upped the ante by way of suing Google over Dalvik, making it harder to get JDK certification, etc. The main lever Oracle has is the ownership of the Java trademark.

Like many I assumed that Java is dying a slow death now, eventually to be replaced by the next successful initiative. Scala, Go, and others are attempts at that, though (not yet) successful ones.

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Cargo Cult Startup Incubators

The continued creation of me-too startup incubators reminds me of the (South Seas’) cargo cult. Richard Feynman tells the story this way: The cargo cult people were natives of the South Seas who, during the world war, benefited from Western civilizations bringing cargo to their land. After the war ended, and the cargo stopped coming, the natives built wooden artifacts that looked like planes in an attempt to bring back the good old days of free supplies. Obviously, it didn’t work.

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Internal Component Marketplaces vs. Transfer Pricing of Inner Source

I was recently asked why I argue against company-internal marketplaces for software components yet emphasize the need for pricing components that cross company boundaries within the same holding company (also known as transfer pricing). The answer is simple: Setting up an internal marketplace is a managerial choice and pricing the movement of code (IP) across company boundaries is a taxable event that you need to deal with: It is not a choice.

Let me take it in steps.

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On The State of Using vs. Contributing to Open Source

Digital Ocean just published a survey of developers that indicates how companies are getting more comfortable with using open source, but remain much less comfortable with contributing to open source. Matt Asay and Chris Aniszczyk picked up on this, suggesting that open source will become more sustainable if we get those contribution numbers up. What is it that is keeping companies from letting their developers contribute?

Here is a representative experience from some recent consulting activity of mine. I asked:

So what about your open source policy?

The first manager answered:

Uh, I don’t think we have one.

The second manager:

Not true, our policy is not to do it.

The third one, somewhat puzzled:

Uhm, what about this Eclipse plug-in we are developing?

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