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Editor's Note: Law and Disorder

Oct 23, 2003, 23:30 (25 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

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Looking out of my hotel room in Washington, DC, I can see a soon-to-be demolished convention center and, if I look hard enough, the very top of the Washington Monument.

Not exactly inspiring.

But here I am, in my nation's capital, and it's hard not to start thinking about laws and lawmakers. Since I'm here at a Linux show, it's hard not to think of that, too.

A lot has been happening with laws regarding the use of free and open source software in governments all around the world.

In South Australia, Democrats are pushing a bill mandating the use of open-source software for that government. Brazil, Venezuela, and Peru have all announced their own public open-source initiatives. Massachusetts seems to be trying something, but the messages coming out of that state are a bit mixed right now, so we'll have to come back to them later.

The question I have, is this all good for Linux?

On the surface, it sure seems so. I mean, how cool will that be to have governments stick it to Microsoft and tell them to take a hike? I, for one, will likely cackle with glee the first two or three times it happens.

But what about the fourth time? The tenth? How will it be when Linux is mandated by a lot of governments? Will it become part of a state-run monopoly on operating systems?

Yes, I know, I should calm down and not be so extreme. I shave also noted the similar ends between this position and Bill Gates' position articulated in the article prior to this one. It should be noted that he wants best for Microsoft and he is knocking Linux to do it. I know Linux can fill the technological needs of many governments.

My problem is political in nature: should Linux be mandated as the solution?

In the darkest of nights I begin to wonder, since the GPL allows anyone to use and modify Linux any way they wish, who's to stop a not-too-nice government from forcing only Linux on their citizenry?

Some wags would argue that would be good medicine for those citizens--better than anything coming out of Redmond. And while I certainly want Linux to succeed, I am not so sanguine about it succeeding on anything but its own terms.

I will be the first to admit that I am very likely overreacting. But something about active government mandates of Linux and Open Source just rankles me. It seems counter to the very thing that Linux users value above all else.

Choice.

[Program Note: I will be taking a brief vacation while I am on the East Coast, so LT will be shifting into weekend mode for Friday-Sunday this week. Thank you for your patience and patronage, and please ignore any odd diplomatic incidents you may hear of this weekend. -BKP]