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US group takes open source fight abroad

The Initiative for Software Choice is working against Australian legislation that would encourage government departments to choose open-source software

US-based lobby group the Initiative for Software Choice (ISC) is escalating its efforts to stymie the progress of legislation promoting the use of open-source software in government departments in Australia. According to ISC policy counsellor Mike Wendy, the lobby group's executive director, Bob Kramer, plans to seek a meeting with Democrat senator Brian Greig during a visit to Australia next month. Wendy indicated that the meeting would be sought in order to discuss the Senator's plan to introduce a private member's bill to the Senate that would promote the use of open-source software in Commonwealth departments and agencies. The ISC has vigorously lobbied against similar legislation introduced to the South Australian parliament. Democrat legislative council member Ian Gilfillan entered the State Supply (Procurement of Software) Amendment Bill 2003 into the upper house of the South Australian parliament in June. The legislation requires the state's public service to use open-source software in preference to proprietary products "where practicable". Greig is yet to release a draft of his federal bill, but gave early indications that it would require Commonwealth government departments to justify choosing proprietary software solutions over open-source alternatives. The ISC's Wendy said that any legislation giving preference to open source over proprietary software would limit the number of solutions available to government IT decision makers and not be in the best interest of the Australians. "We only urge (and respectfully at that) that they do not go the "preference" route. That is, [governments] already have all the tools they need to make the choices they need to make because the market is exceedingly competitive (by almost any measure) -- laws will not enhance that," said Wendy. However open-source proponents have accused the organisation of being a front for Microsoft and some say that the legislation is needed to counter an inherently pro-proprietary software stance in government procurement policies. Con Zymaris, the chief executive officer of open-source software solution developer Cybersource, said "the key issue here is that the status-quo is untenable; governments are already mandating proprietary protocols and document standards. This is wrong and needs to be changed." Local advocacy group Open Source Victoria also recently came out in support of moves to promote the use of open-source software in government. It said:
"That governments should mandate the use of open, documented and inter-operable file formats and data communication protocols, rather than specific products or suppliers. That it is in government departments' best interests to choose technologies which have implementations from more than one source, boosting the department's tactical leverage and hedging against any single supplier gaining lock-in and price-gouging mechanisms. Therefore this should be a formal requirement in departmental requisition policies. Preference should be given to technologies for which there is a case to be made that local industry can benefit, and that imports can be replaced, helping improve our woeful balance of trade in ICT."


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