Open-source efforts derailed by 'loud minority'

An open-source advocacy group says a minority within the community is hampering efforts to increase adoption by making personal attacks on CIOs
Written by Brett Winterford, Contributor on

Efforts to increase the adoption of open-source software are being derailed by the efforts of a "loud minority" within the community who have made personal attacks on individuals who have expressed doubts about the software, according to one of the open-source movement's main advocates.

Jeff Waugh of open-source advocacy group Waugh Partners was disheartened after a series of personal attacks directed at the heads of Australian government agencies. These included comments directed at Australian Taxation Office chief information officer Bill Gibson, after he told ZDNet.com.au that his agency's adoption of open-source software had been stalled by security concerns.

Some of the public responses to the article labelled Gibson a "bureaucratic parasite" and his concerns "short-sighted".

While Waugh believes the open-source model holds better security outcomes than its proprietary equivalent, he describes the vitriolic reaction to Gibson's comments as being "disgraceful" and says they achieve nothing for the industry.

"Bill Gibson's comments simply reflect the concerns that chief information officers have," he said. "It is precisely in his job description to ask those questions."

"This kind of language makes it extremely hard for the open-source industry to get the appropriate level of consideration in government departments," Waugh continued. "It pushes all the other chief information officers the wrong way. None of them will talk about open source because none of them want to get their head bitten off."

"I can tell you that at the very highest levels of government, there is interest and opportunities that exist for open source," Waugh said. "This doesn't help."

Waugh was also disheartened when personal attacks were levelled at Standards Australia's Alistair Tegart over Microsoft's push to have its OOXML format accepted as an ISO standard. "I suspect that as a result, [Teggart] is becoming deeply cynical about open source," Waugh said. "I'm not saying it would affect his professional judgement, but his job has been made uncomfortable."

Waugh said government IT agencies such as AGIMO (Australian Government Information Management Office) have also been critisised for not taking enough interest in open source. Waugh insists that AGIMO has "done plenty" with regards to symposiums and open-source surveys within government.

"These [comments] are the loudest voices, but they are a minority view in the community," Waugh said. "Very rarely are these people practitioners — they are not part of what's going on. We feel its important that people know that from a practitioner's standpoint, we don't think this is a reasonable form of discussion."

Waugh said the open-source movement needs to recognise that those with differing opinions or points of view are not enemies but merely people with whom the industry needs a better dialogue.

A better response to Gibson's dilemma, he said, would be to promote open source as "the best process we have for creating code in a transparent and scientific environment that benefits from incredible exposure".

"Security through obscurity, of which hiding your source code from the world is one form, only makes you 'feel' safe — but it also slows down the process of finding and rectifying issues," he said.

"In the open-source world, you benefit from the shared resources and enlightened self-interest of a global community. When an issue is found and fixed, everyone benefits."

Editorial standards