Friday, 27 February 2009

Courting Controversy...

Oh dear. I’m getting myself into all sorts of bother following my Blog entry on “Open Sauce”!

Before I go further, I should make clear, perhaps belatedly, that I am stating my personal opinion, which does not in any way represent Socitm policy.

A lot of the comments I receive are semi-literate, anonymous insults, which are easily dismissed and likely to do their authors more harm than they do me - although I do try to find the time to provide reasoned responses. However, when someone who is clearly intelligent, is prepared to be identified and stands behind well-reasoned arguments, I really have to take notice.

…And if someone as intelligent as Glyn Moody doesn’t understand that I’m trying to poke fun at myself in a blog entry entitled “Open Sauce”, as in having the cheek to challenge some of the assertions around so called Open Source, then I accept that’s down to me trying to be too clever by half. I am, ‘though, disappointed that he should think I “have such distaste for the concept that (I) can’t bring (myself) even to write the words without sanitising them between quotation marks”. Actually, I think some of Glyn’s respondents have caught the sense of what I was trying to say by suggesting other terms, such as “free software”, or “software freedom”.

I do stand by my comment that what many people mean is “anything but Microsoft” and I’m sure that Glyn, in his heart of hearts, knows that there are a lot of people who see Microsoft as the devil incarnate, and “Open Source” as a catch-all to describe the battle for redemption! Yes – I know that the term “Open Source” is clearly defined, but it’s constantly misused, and that’s the point. I also think Glyn makes my point for me when talking about “you license it, just like you license proprietary software”. (I know your, packaged, licensed Open Source-derived software includes a spell-checker, Glyn, but you missed the typo - propretary!!) As he points-out, Microsoft itself uses Open Source, but my view is that once you’ve turned-it into a commercial product, the term is no longer appropriate.

However, when it comes to my assertion that “Open Source software development… lags proprietary development”, I have to put my hands-up; fair cop! I did kind of pre-qualify my remarks by implying I was cream-crackered as I made them, ‘though. Those who know me know that I push myself very hard – perhaps too hard - and I probably should have taken more time for a better considered response.

I can’t argue with Glyn’s examples of innovation based-upon Open Source, so my statement was clearly wrong (as I also admitted to ZDNet, today) but I do know that there’ve been occasions when I’ve wanted products that Open Source software products did not support. The Tablet PC is one that comes to mind, although I’m sure it’s now supported; (I haven’t checked lately.) This tele-presence thing is quite important, in my view. It makes so much difference for teams or groups of people working in disparate locations and work-styles. It’s really great for real-time collaboration.

Anyway, we could argue over this for ever more. What I propose is that Glyn and I meet-up and I’ll take Glyn through the requirements I have, as a CIO, for ICT infrastructure to support an organisation like Newham Council. I’ll be completely open about the products we use, the costs and the benefits achieved, which he’ll be able to see for himself. Glyn, then, can take me through how I could achieve as much at the same or a lesser cost using “Open Source” products, and we’ll both publish the results.

I’ll freely admit that I’m no technician, so I will need a technical expert to support me, and of course agree that Glyn can be similarly supported. If you are up for it, Glyn, give me a call on Monday, and we’ll agree a date for our first meeting.

I worked from home, today, and, when I wasn’t responding to Blog comments, spent several hours in ‘phone calls on Socitm affairs, using ICT as an efficiency-enabler in the depression and executive partnership, and of course in dealing with correspondence.

Have a great weekend.


glyn moody said...

Sorry for the humour failure on my part: tricky things these blogs....

Steve Odart said...


I bet you have never had the dubious role of initiating a virgin into the world of blogging!!!!

However, your blog got my brain a racing and I sailed forth with my own (first) blog ...

Thanks for the inspiration

Kind regards,


Richard Steel said...

Hi, Steve.

Glad to have been of some help!

You may not be thankful after you've been blogging for a while!!)

Actually, Newham developed its own CRM (in 1998), which is sold to other Authorities through a collaboration with Belfast City Council. It's not Open Source, but we sell it with an unlimited licence, with a number of standard interfaces to common Council services, and it's a fraction of the cost of other providers'. All customers benefit from all developments introduced by any customer.

What's my point? I'm just trying to further exemplify how a term like "Open Source" is misused/ lacks clarity. In many respects I think our product is more "open Source" than many open source derived packaged software - certainly in terms of collaborative development and shared benefits - but, of course, it cannot be because we have not developed it using open source code.

plh said...

There is lack of clarity, yes - but it's entirely unnecessary and I don't think you're helping much!

It (your CRM) cannot be Open Source solely and simply because its licence clearly isn't an Open Source licence: There is no more or less about it - the licence either is or isn't OSD compliant and it completely determines 'Open Sourceness'. Such considerations as whether users/customers can view (parts of) the source or not, and whether the source was originally derived from a liberal BSD-style licence or not, are irrelevant.

Furthermore, there are innumerable proprietary software applications which can be enhanced by additions and developments made by users, but that doesn't make the underlying core of any such software any more “Open Source” than its licence states that it is, either. If it isn't OS licenced then the necessary¹ conditions for realisation of the full potential benefits of true 'Open Sourcehood' do not obtain.

¹Though necessary, an OSI licence does not, of course, guarantee sufficient conditions.