Commercial vs. Non-Commercial Software

Interesting to see that Chris Sells was testifying against the “Open Source Software for Oregon Act (HB 2892)” in Salem on Thursday. Not surprisingly, the response on the blogs I read has been are pro-Chris Sells and anti HB 2892. I have my own take on this, but it the interest of full disclosure:

  • I am an Architecture Evangelist for Microsoft, which officially makes me an extremely technical salesman.
  • I work for Microsoft’s Industry Solutions Group, which focuses on vertical markets including Government.
  • I cover the Pacific Northwest, so the Oregon State Government is one of my customers.
  • I was in Salem on Thursday, speaking to a state agency that would be required to “provide justification whenever a proprietary software product is acquired rather than open source software” if HB 2892 passes.
  • Employees of said Oregon State agency asked me my opinion of HB 2892.

I’ll post here what I told them: I am completely willing take the Microsoft Platform (Windows + Office + Enterprise Servers + Visual Studio) and do an apples-to-apples head-to-head comparison with any other technology in the industry. The Microsoft platform is easier, faster and cheaper than anything else out there. I say “cheaper” knowing full well that there OSS alternatives that have no cost to acquire. Note that I didn’t say “free”. “Free” software costs money to run. Hardware isn’t free. IT Operations staff aren’t free. Developers aren’t free. Information workers aren’t free. Vendor support isn’t free. Consulting services aren’t free. Migrating isn’t free. Add up all those non-free pieces, and the cost of the initial software purchase is lost in the noise.

The problem with HB 2892 is not that in encourages agencies to look at Open Source Software. There’s no need for a law to do that – every state agency I speak to has budget problems. As millions are slashed from budgets, government IT departments need no additional encouragement to investigate alternatives that might save them money. The problem with HB 2892 is the “justify” statement. That’s not about fair head-to-head comparison. It’s about trying to force agencies to pick OSS products that they don’t want by subjecting them to a painful and costly “justification” process. (Note, I am not implying that agencies never want to pick OSS products. I’m just pointing out what happens if they want something other than OSS.) If agencies are choosing commercial software instead of OSS, even though it must cost more, they must see more value in the commercial software. Where’s the value in legislating that agencies must settle on a lesser product?

Don points out “we’re all lucky there’s a Chris Sells”. I agree completely (and I’ll add on how lucky we are there’s a Mike Sax who asked Chris to go in the first place).