The FOSS Bill

22 11 2006

Disclaimer: IANAL but this is going to be a boring topic but if you are interested in FOSS, then please read.

There was an article written in Inq7.net about the new House Bill 5769 on Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) which got a fussy reception during its first hearing. The FOSS bill, which was authored by Bayan Muna Representative Teodora Casiño, mandates the use of FOSS among government offices. If you’re interested in the bill you can check it here in PDF format.

Here are some of my views about the bill:

  • Section 7.2: Open Formats – I am more interested in this one. Why? With this government agencies will not constantly upgrade to the latest Office software just because the document created in Office 2003 will not generate properly in Office XP. Instead of using the proprietary .doc extensions in document files why not adapt either open standard file formats like PDF and ODF.
  • Section 11.3: This is a vague section. It states that it is unlawful for higher educational institutions to offer a professional certification using proprietary solutions if it does not offer similar certification program for FOSS and open standards. This section will – if implemented – kill corporate funding in universities. Lets take for example Oracle, this company wants to tie-up with a major university to provide free training and software to all CS students, because of the bill this university now must provide a similar free training using MySQL AND PostgreSQL AND other FOSS database application. I believe it is the school’s decision whether or not they will teach proprietary solutions to their students as they see fit. The government must not dictate them that they should teach this and that less they are criminally liable.
  • Section 22.7 and 22.8 talks about patent issues which is a right step for the government to ensure that no bogus patents will ever be patented for obvious reason. This will ensure that innovation in the IT space will continue here in our country without fear of being drag in court for patent violation.

This is a good step towards a more open and transparent IT infrastructure in our government. HOWEVER, the spirit of free/open source is all about choice. It is all about the right tool for the right job. And mandating something, I think is breaking the essence of FOSS movement. I still believe in encouraging the use of FOSS through sessions, seminars, trainings and various pilot programs. I recommend that the CICT should provide a pilot program for a transition from proprietary to open source, say if it can be done within a year or two. If it is possible then let us migrate one government agency at a time and not just give a definite year – Section 15 – that this will all go smoothly across all government agencies. I believe that open source is the past and the future of software but let us not forget that not all proprietary solutions are “bad” and all open source solution are “good”.

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