71°
UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Open Source Software Policy Brings Free Enterprise to Commonwealth

Finally the Romney administration is doing something good for the state: It is putting end to business-as-usual practices in the affairs of the state government-as promised-by exclusively considering open source software for all future IT projects. The move has the potential to dramatically reduce the state’s burden of substantial licensing expenses and restrictions imposed by closed source software companies.

Last week, Massachusetts Secretary for Administration and Finance Eric Kriss unveiled a plan-“effective immediately”-that commits the state to consider only open source software and products that adhere to open standards such as Extensible Markup Language (XML) and Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). “We’re going to be evaluating all projects to ensure conformance to open standards as we move forward and to retroactively move legacy systems to open standards… We want to make sure what we build is interoperable and interchangeable, so that different applications can use the same data, so we won’t have to be constantly reinventing and rethinking basic functionality,” Kriss stated.

There are three central issues in regards to the new IT policy. The first is that state has the obligation to maintain a well-built infrastructure that can preserve records for many years. Security is essential to infrastructure and the current software, closed source Microsoft, is very vulnerable and is frequently the target of virus attacks. The best way to preserve our crucial records is to use open source systems that are based on well-founded common standards. It is similar to how other industries use standardized parts, such as the plumbing industry.

Second, as mentioned before, by purchasing open source software the commonwealth could save hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, by paying for software and not just access to exclusionary software platforms. UMass stands to save a lot of badly needed cash since each computer workstation in every lab here is individually licensed for hundreds of dollars.

Finally, Massachusetts will be setting a precedent for the rest of the country by using open source standards that other states, which have common IT needs, can improve upon more easily and set better standards. Kriss says, “It makes sense to operate in an environment that can be given to other states to enhance.” Instead of being entirely dependent on one software company, IT-united states can collectively fabricate superior and more cost-effective software, a move Kriss described as for “the public good.”

Massachusetts is also one of only nine states that have refused to settle with the monopoly in the country’s antitrust case against Microsoft. Kriss has stated that the decision to move to open source software is unrelated to the Microsoft case. However, the move essentially excludes Microsoft from state bids as the company currently only produces closed source software.

Ironically, Microsoft has condemned the new policy as eliminating “fair and open competition in Massachusetts.” What the policy is promoting, however, is the possibility for companies that want to build software for the state to have access to the blueprints of other software that it will be interfacing with. This means that any software company can design software to interface with the state’s existing software and whichever company has the best software-not just the company with access to the existing software’s blueprints-will build the commonwealth’s software. Such a move effectively levels the playing field for the state’s software vendors and opens the door to truly free enterprise in the software industry.