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 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”.

Will you buy a Zune?

16 11 2006

Zune is now up for sale! For those of you who haven’t heard of the Zune, it’s Microsoft answer to Apple’s iPod. Will Filipino flock to buy this new toy or will they stay with their beloved iPod? That question may not be answered for a long time since Microsoft products take months before we can see them at local tech stores. The US price is $249 and probably this will sell here for PHP 15K to 20K.

Zune offers some nifty features that is not available for the iPod, these are:

  • It has a built-in FM tuner.
  • The ability to send photos and music files through Wi-Fi. One drawback though is that you have to share it with another Zune player and music files expire within 3 days or after listening for 3 times.
  • The ability to play music and view photos, well this feature is in the current iPods
  • Wider screens compare to iPods which means good for viewing videos
  • The ability to let the user customized the Zune background

Is Zune for you?

I asked a couple of my friends if they will grab a Zune when it hits the Philippines’ shore and I got some pretty interesting replies. One friend of mine, sort of Microsoft fanboy, admitted that he still wants an iPod and is waiting for the supposedly large screen iPods because the Zune just looks big and looks heavy. Another friend of mine was interested but stated that he is turned-off by its size. When I dropped the bomb that the Zune cannot be used as an external hard drive and the 3×3 Wi-Fi feature then it was clear that he was pretty much under whelmed by it.

Will Pinoy embrace Zune?

This question is really hard to answer, but judging by the sheer number of people who uses iPod these days, then Zune has an uphill battle. iPods have been synonymous with being “cool” and Pinoys love to be “cool”. The good thing though is that a Pinoy is a social being and they may be psych up by the whole photo and music sharing. And since their is no iTunes Music Store here in the Philippines, everything is free-for-all, so the iTMS-iPod ecosystem does not hold ground here, and that maybe one of Zune’s advantage.

Java is FREE!

14 11 2006

Best news of the day, Java is officially free! SUN just announced that they are releasing Java under GPL. The question is, what would be the impact of an free/open source Java to local developers? I say a lot. Lets breakdown the advantages.

1. Java is so prevalent in universities across the country that it is part of OOP’s curriculum. With this recent development, expect more schools – that are beginning to recognize open source software and with the upcoming FOSS Bill – to pick up Java as their main programming language. With free and one of the best IDEs available in the market today, Java can easily be picked up by computer science students with no hassle of buying *pirating* Visual Studio.NET.

2. Expect Java to be bundled with 100% Open Source software. No more hassles of downloading it, installing and then configuring it in Linux. And yeah .NET is also cross-platform via Mono but do you know anyone who is seriously coding in Mono in his day job? As much as I love .NET, Mono is not just viable for me. Those local programmers who have decided to move entirely to the Linux/*BSD world will find this development interesting.

3. OSS developers will begin scrutinizing the Java code and within days/weeks/months we will see faster Java development that will benefit the programmers and the users alike and that is a win-win solution for all of us.

In the end, to those who have said that Java’s time is up, well you’re wrong Java will not die and perish but will be here to stay. So local software developers who are in the Java field – I am right now – expect greater things for Java in the future.

P.S. Thanks SUN!

Does Open Source matter to the local programmers?

13 11 2006

They say that Open Source is now a major force to reckon with. Why so? Some developers love the idea that they can get the software for free, tinker its codes and modify it to their own liking and benefit. But the question is, is the idea of Open Source really attracts Filipinos? There is a thin line of understanding between Filipino developers between Open Source and Free Software. For some of them both ideas are the same, but how do we distinguish both of them? According to wikipedia Free Software is “as defined by the Free Software Foundation, is software which can be used, copied, studied, modified and redistributed without restriction” while Open Source is “Open source describes practices in production and development that promote access to the end product’s source materials—typically, their source code”. Note that in the Open Source definition the idea is to have access to the source code of a program regardless whether you bought the software or not, in short Open Source mostly caters to programmers and if we look closely Free Software caters most to non-tech/tech persons who may or may not have programming skills.

I have asked some programmers regarding the value of Open Source vs Closed Source and some responded that they value more Closed Source because it makes their main asset – source code – much more secure. Their common argument is that if their source code is released in the wild, some programmers might steal it, create their own version of the program and ultimately destroy their careers, while others say that they held high regard to Open Source because they like the idea of modifying a program to suit their need. I quickly countered the Open Source guys asking if they ever had modified any Open Source software’s source code and no one answered me. I was baffled by this because some of the programmers who advocate Open Source do not have the actual experience modifying the source code. So the question now is, why do they advocate Open Source then? The answer is, they advocate Open Source because they equate it with the freedom to use any software they want. If this is the case then they should be advocating Free Software instead right? But no, some programmers tend to avoid the Free Software idea because they believe that Free Software does not benefit their career. The punch line is this “who the hell wants to give his software for free? But I would not mind if I can read someone’s source code for free at the same time I can have the application for free”. So I asked myself again, does Open Source matter to local programmers?