CompTIA 'respects' S'pore ministry's OpenOffice initiative

An official from the industry group calls for procurement policies that do not exclude proprietary or open-source vendors alike.

SINGAPORE--A senior official from industry group CompTIA which counts Microsoft and Novell as members, says he "respects" the Singapore Defense Ministry's (Mindef) decision to use OpenOffice.

Michael Mudd, Asia-Pacific director of public policy at CompTIA (Computing Technology Industry Association), said it was "interesting" to hear Mindef's director of CIO office Cheok Beng Teck, articulate his choice of OpenOffice based on cost.

"He made his choice, and we don't argue against that," said Mudd, who was in Singapore for a seminar on government IT procurement policy, which was attended by government officials from the region.

Cheok, speaking at the seminar, said he did the sums and found that OpenOffice suited Mindef's IT requirements. He made a decision last year to install OpenOffice on some 20,000 desktop PCs within his ministry.

Mudd said: "That is his choice and (it) has to be respected."

It was important that Mindef was not mandated to adopt open-source software by the Singapore government, he said, and policies should not lean toward a preference for one software development model over another.

"Let people have the option to buy whatever they like," he noted. "If someone removes that option, it's not necessarily good for anyone in the market."

Mudd explained that any preference policy in software procurement would mean higher prices because governments would then have fewer price choices in the tender process.

Pointing to Malaysia's recent open-source policy, Mudd said smaller industry players with proprietary technology in the country would be disadvantaged.

"If the government mandates that (these players) have to hand over their source codes, they wouldn't be able to compete," he said. Although the open-source policy only applies to Malaysian government IT contracts, governments provide significant revenues to IT companies, he added. "A government contributes between 30 to 40 percent of the total IT expenditures of any given economy," he said.

Mudd also noted that open standards that facilitate interoperability between different software are far more important than the software development model. Governments he spoke with understand this, he said, and want to create systems that outlast any business model.

"Libraries, for example, are looking at archiving systems that literally last forever," he added. "It's important that library systems are built on open standards that are widely recognized by organizations."

But open standards are not enough, according to Mudd. Referring to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' decision to adopt the Open Document Format (ODF), he said: "There is the question of interoperability, because that (ODF) standard is not widely adopted."

He added: "They've prejudiced the business models of some of our members who are now excluded from the government tendering process, unless they rewrite their codes to comply."

"I've no doubt they will do it, but it’s a transfer of cost back to them, which could have been avoided," he said.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has stated that the adoption of the ODF creates no preference to a particular product or vendor, according to a FAQ posted on its Web site.

"Because the ODF is an open format, available to all, it can be adopted by any vendor who seeks to create desktop software," it said.

In addition, the "adoption of the ODF will enable the Commonwealth’s current software vendors to continue to do business with the Commonwealth, and will enable other vendors to provide software on a level playing field."