Friday, November 24, 2006

A Practical Framework for the FOSS Bill

In this series: Practical Framework for the FOSS Bill, Desktops, Small Servers, and Large Integrated Systems

Where the FOSS Bill is weakest is, ironically, in its purported intent to mandate the use of FOSS in all government projects. The heart of this is Section 6.2: "Use of FOSS – The government shall apply only FOSS or FOSS solutions, as defined in section 4 of this Act, in all ICT projects and activities." Understandably, this point is the lightning rod for all the controversy surrounding the bill. That's unfortunate because it threatens the other important points that need to be addressed.

Just why is the FOSS bill so weak on this point? Because it attempts to achieve too much without understanding the practical considerations. Because it relies on a blanket generalization that all IT projects are created equal. Because it doesn't make any distinctions based on the types of IT projects.

Rather than an all-or-nothing proposition -- which it will most likely lose -- I'd much rather see the FOSS bill make those distinctions in which FOSS applies. The approach I propose is to classifying according to desktop, small servers, and large integrated systems. We need to take into account their characteristics and see how FOSS and open standards apply. Each category here is different enough so as to justify a different approach for each, FOSS or otherwise.

1) Desktops are individual units which could presumably stand alone or participate in a network; their primary application is for office productivity and communications.

2) Small servers, either as a single unit or working with a very limited number of other servers, provide a set of services to other computers.

3) Large integrated systems require copious amounts of storage and processing power (and correspondingly, special software) either as a single powerful unit or aggregate of several units.