Waiting for the open source impact

Waiting for open source to give Microsoft a much-needed kick up the jacksie has seemed like waiting for Godot. We wait, we wait and we are still waiting.

Waiting for open source to give Microsoft a much-needed kick up the jacksie has seemed like waiting for Godot. We wait, we wait and we are still waiting.

I remember people getting all excited about it in my Computerworld days at the turn of the century. And nothing much seems to have changed. I wouldn't describe it as vapourware, but open source seems to over promise and under deliver. I guess you can say it is like some proprietary products as well.

Last week, the open-source movement held a major conference in Wellington and reported significant wins, with claims of major impact in the technology world.

More than 700 attended the week-long event, which finished at the weekend, and promised and delivered some "rich and varied fare".

We heard open source is "alive and thriving" despite recession; that tens of thousands of open source developers have kept their jobs, and to some extent, open source is becoming mainstream.

Far from being bearded anarchists, three quarters of open-source developers earn a pay packet just like anyone else. I guess capitalism has caught up with something seemingly so communitarian or even, I've been told, something so communist. Perhaps we must all face economic reality one day.

Challenges include the ever-present Microsoft and legal threats over copyright, particularly concerning the Linux kernel, which Microsoft says violates 235 of its patents.

There is also the threat of "grey" intellectual property and copyright laws making it unclear as to what coding is legal.

Even so, open source is making some headway in government, despite the regular talks and licensing deals involving Microsoft and the New Zealand Government.

We heard how a school on Auckland's North Shore has ditched Microsoft for open source.

The story attracted worldwide attention, with the school "standing up" to the New Zealand Government and Microsoft being another angle.

Local government is also adopting local source, with Horizons Regional Council serving the area around Palmerston North in the central North Island, using open-source software on desktop PCs.

Central government is to follow with New Zealand Post and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet among 14 public sector agencies also trialling the software. The Inland Revenue Department says it is likely to follow next year.

The conference also heard that the concept of open source has fostered sharing and collaboration in other technological areas.

However, Microsoft still remains dominant, in New Zealand as in Australia, where it has just signed a major deal with the Queensland Government — a state that has previously investigated open source capability. Perhaps it was found wanting.

Whatever the reasons, at the very least we can hope that governments will use the possibility of open source to barter down Microsoft into offering taxpayers a better deal — Queensland government said it had saved $10 million in its latest deal.

Thus something so "communist" can help bring about competition and help capitalism work better in the IT sector, delivering better services, products and prices for all.