When should excluding open source be illegal?

A Canadian court ruled Quebec broke the law in 2006 when it upgraded Windows on 800 workstations and excluded open source from the bid. So what happens now?

Last week Laurent Bounin of Savoir Faire Linux in Quebec wrote in with good news.

A Canadian court ruled the provincial government broke the law in 2006 when it upgraded Windows on 800 workstations and excluded open source from the bid.

It wasn't a complete victory. The decision was not reversed. But Savoir Faire got its court costs, and the government is on notice.

(Savoir Faire Linux is conveniently located a block from Park Jarry, original home of the late Montreal Expos. Good times.)

Quebec officials were non-apologetic to the CBC. "We are pleased that the contract is upheld and that the courts found Microsoft acted in good faith," was the spin. Other than that how did you enjoy the election, Mrs. Campbell?

Personally I'm not breaking out the poutine just yet. There are more ways to rig a bid than there are to leave your lover. This is especially true when we are talking about IT.

Suing may be your only recourse when there is an apples-to-apples comparison to be made and the buyer decides to specify Red Delicious when you're selling Fujis. But that's not always going to be the case going forward.

Fact is that Linux and open source remain, for big enterprises like governments, a make-or-buy decision. Getting the most from open source requires that you have staff that can join your software vendors' community and even contribute back to it.

Once you go FOSS you can never re-voss (bad poetry for reverse). Getting value from open source, on an enterprise level, takes commitment. It's a choice not between programs, but between ways of doing business.

While this decision is welcome as a sign of fairness, I wonder whether the way forward should perhaps include SaaS. When you're getting software on the Internet no one knows it's a dog. No one knows its heritage, no one cares about the operating system.

With virtualization the way forward for open source becomes even clearer. Do they want the look and feel of rich Windows desktops? You can give them that, virtualizing a front end for a Linux server farm and offering competitive prices.

Which means government buyers have three choices. They can commit to open source. They can continue to buy from Windows vendors. Or they could ditch everything and buy the service.

It seems to me you can write your requirements, and legally push your decision, in either of these directions. Are open source advocates ready to engage in that political debate?