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Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt as Profit Retention Mechanisms

I think my vitriol filter is securely in place, but just in case, have your safety goggles on. Federal Computer Week is a periodical focused on government agency information technology in the United States. The magazine had a considerable portion of the April 2005 issue covering increasing adoption of Open Source applications in government, Linux migration, and the Firefox browser; I read several of the articles and found them surprisingly close to being balanced.

Apparently that open-mindedness needed to be countered with a dose of good old Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD).

Where the buck stops: Accountability and risk in considering open source is an article that attempts to scare IT decision-makers in the U.S. government IT arena with the by-now-altogether-tired question of “who is going to support open source?” From the article:

In the case of open-source vendors, there is limited or no indemnification protection. CIOs must determine whether the low-cost solution they are considering might later become costly. If anything, indemnification and ongoing technical support for open-source solutions should be an important part of any discussion about risk assessment or licensing.

Brilliant! What keen-minded editor of this periodical has penned this fine work? Surely one of the balanced, fair-minded technology pundits has been hired to provide an insightful, unbiased take on assessing the risks assumed in using Open Source software?

Hm. Stuart McKee. Doesn’t ring a bell? Yeah, me neither. Stuart is Microsoft’s “National Technology Officer”, and formerly served as the CIO for the state of Washington. So, the person writing an article on assessing the use of Open Source software immediately following an issue of this magazine largely focused on Open Source usage is the individual who heads “National Technology” for Microsoft, headquartered in the state where he formerly held the position of CIO? This scant, one-page article gets mentioned on the cover?

Who will support Open Source? The people who write it and use it, that’s who. The free support offered on forums, mailing lists, and IRC outshines every experience I have had with scripted, ass-covering, mind-numbing support experiences I have had with any and all levels of support contracts. I cannot even number the times I have been in meetings where I have heard “[insert corporation here] has confirmed that this is an issue”, sometimes followed by the equally-anemic “but it should be addressed in the next version”. I have written about this before.

The article also attempts to distinguish Open Source from open standards:

Open standards should not be confused with open-source standards. And the movement toward open standards has led government interoperability efforts. For CIOs, the result has helped save increasingly scarce resources taking advantage of industry’s investment in creating uniform technical specifications.

OK, right. Open Source standards are not the same thing as open standards. But, since Microsoft has had little to do with either of these things, this is kind on non-sequitur, is it not? If anything, Microsoft has an embarrassing track record of attempting to muck up open standards and ensure lock-in. Perhaps the open standards reference implies contributions by IBM in recent years.

The last paragraph is the clencher:

The market ultimately will determine a particular model’s success or failure. If that model, however, fails to offer customers an integrated approach to innovation while ensuring that liability resides with the software maker, additional strains will be placed on government resources in the long run, increasing life cycle cost and impeding the interoperability agencies are demanding.

I agree, I think the market will decide; in fact, I think it is deciding. And one verdict is that closed software and standards have had more than enough time to squelch alternatives. But, apparently, there are a number of individuals and organizations who see open source as a quite desirable alternative.

Shame on you, Federal Computer Week, and shame on you, Stuart.