While Oregon, Texas, and Oklahoma hash out their policies on
open-source software procurement, the City of New York is quietly
progressing on its own fact-finding mission on the advantages and
disadvantages of open source.
Yesterday morning, the Select Committee on Technology in
Government for the New York City Council led a meeting on
"Oversight - An Examination of Municipal Policies on Open Source
Software Procurement." The meeting, chaired by New York City
Councilwoman Gale Brewer, sought to address the question on what,
if any, legislation might be needed regarding the purchase of
open-source software by the city.
No legislation has yet to come up regarding this issue, and
Council staff members were quick to point out that "there is still
a lot of fact finding to do." But the meeting did fall into a
mirror of the debates currently going on in the Oregon State House
regarding that state's proposed open-source legislation. The NYC
debates, however, were described as "polarizing" by participants,
but not rancorous.
The proposed legislation in Oregon would, if passed, stipulate
that any software procurement process in that state would also have
to include bids from open-source software projects. Brewer's
committee is taking the first steps towards exploring whether such
an option would be feasible for New York City.
If the goal of the meeting was fact finding, that goal was
certainly reached, according one of the private citizens who helped
the Committee organize the event. Bruce Bernstein, President of the
New York Software Industry Association, said that the debate in the
meeting drew down to the two sides that are present within his own
organization. NYSIA, Bernstein said, considers itself netral in
this debate, becuse among its membership there are pro-open source
and pro-proprietary camps.
NYSIA assisted the Committee in gathering particpiants for
Tuesday's meeting. "We thought it was good that all of these issues
were aired," Bernstein said.
According to Bernstein, there were witnesses at the meeting who
testified both for and against open source software legislation,
and many of the presenters were very articulate and very persuasive
regarding their views.
Among the participants at the meeting was Aron Trauring, CEO of
Zoteca, a Manhattan-based IT business. Trauring said that he wanted
to make three points to the Committee during his testimony.
First, he wanted to address the TCO arguments that are currently
being presented by Microsoft that indicate that total cost of
ownership for Microsoft products might be lower than using Linux
products. In his opinion, TCO differencesmay indeed tilt in that
direction sometimes, but only because of the lack of knowledge on
the part of a company's IT staff on open-source products. If their
knowledge of open source is up to date, then such concerns are
Secondly, Trauring pointed out the advantages of using
open-source software from a jobs persepctive. Currently, large
consultant firms are being squeezed between customer demand and the
rising costs of licenses. Often times, this may force the firm to
seek labor in lower-cost overseas arenas.
While Trauring emphasized that there is nothing inherently wrong
with using overseas contractors, any time a project is managed
remotely there is a greater danger of slippage in overall product
quality. By using open-source software, licensing fees are removed
or greatly reduced, allowing firms to channel resources into local
Finally, Trauring argued against vendor lock-in, using a recent
example of an IT administrator of a New York City hospital who
needed to extract data from an existing database. Unfortunately,
due to the conditions of the procurement contract, the
administrator could only get to the data by using the original
vendor that created and sold the hospital the software.
This anecdote relates, Trauring emphasized, the growing problem
of increasing vendor lock-in that could burden the city with even
more costs down the road.
And there is a lot of money at stake here. The city's IT budget
is around $750 million, a big pie for any software vendor to want a
But some opponents to these ideas are resistant to let
any form of software, open, closed, or otherwise have a
leg up on the rest of the software field.
Such was the case made by Andrew Brust, President of Progressive
System Consulting, Inc, also in Manhattan. In his view, Brust does
not believe that there should be any added legislation to the
Progressive, Brust pointed out in the interests of disclosure,
is a consultancy that uses Microsoft tools and products to get its
projects done. But in his testimony before the committee, Brust was
emphatically not anti-open source.
Brust emphasized "IT professionals should have a free hand in
getting the software they need." Additional legislation is simply
not needed. IT professionals' knowledge and market forces should be
what drives procurement decisions, he believes.
Brust, who has worked in the city's IT department before, knows
full well that the procurement process is already a cumbersome
effort, and he doubts that very little has changed in the 15 years
since he left the city for the private sector.
"There are unintended consequences to any well-meaning
legislation," Brust said. An attitude shared by the representative
of the city's Department of Information Technology and
Roy Bergman, a Deputy Commissioner of DoITT, testifed to the
comittee that New York does not need more legislation in this area.
Already, Bergman told the Committee, the department has already
decided to standardize on open-source software for some projects,
so further legislation was simply not needed.
Brust agreed with this assessment, adding that there are no
restrictions on procuring open-source software now in New York, nor
should there ever be.
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