Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

Open source in government is not important

Labour’s “ICT” policy includes a statement on “Open software” in government, part of which is attempting to get two thirds of government agencies to use some sort of open-source software by 2015.  This is basically what you expect from politicians when talking about “ICT” (or nearly anything, unfortunately) – they jump on whatever bandwagon/buzzwords are popular without any understanding of what should be done.

Firstly, I would be shocked if more than two thirds of government agencies were not already using some form of open-source software already.  For a start, it’s nearly impossible to use the Internet without accessing something running Linux or Apache.

More importantly, it makes no sense at all to aim for governments to be using more open-source software.  They should be using the software most suited to the job at hand, whether closed source or open source.  What benefit is there in requiring open source?  If they think it’s cheaper, then they should look more closely, because it’s often not.  The same applies to being more secure.  There are absolutely situations where the best choice is an open-source one – but there are absolutely situations where closed source is better.  I don’t want government employees forced to use less than the best tools because of some ideological burden placed on them by someone wanting a cushy job for the next three years.

They have a few other requirements:

Software developed in-house will be made publicly available.  A nice idea, but (a) I’m fairly sure that most of the in-house software is of no use to anyone else, (b) I suspect most of the software you’d assume was in-house was actually developed by non-government contractors, and, most significantly, (c) not all code is ready to be shared.  If a government sysadmin writes a quick script to do a job, do we really want to add the pressure that it will be publicly available (and given that it’s the government, it’s reasonable to assume that someone will be looking at everything).  As long as the software does the job, that’s good enough (in the “in-house” context).  What would be worthwhile is ensuring that government agencies consider whether software should be released to the public – I’m sure that there is some that would be of general interest and where the quality is suitably high.

Agencies considering technology purchases over $2 million would first evaluate whether publicly available technology would substantially meet their requirements.

Ugh.  A technology purchase over $100 should involve consideration of whether there was an existing public tool that could do the job – this should always be the case, not just for obscenely costly jobs.

Labour would also create a government “app store” to provide “a short circuit for fledgling NZ software developers to get to market” which would allow local developers to submit software for purchase by government agencies. Labour promises to ensure “informed neutrality” in software purchasing with due consideration of open-source software.

I really don’t understand what this is trying to achieve.  There’s no indication that local developers would be preferred (only, with no reasoning, open-source software), so how does this help local developers?  This sounds like a way to spend a lot of money for very little gain.

What they are missing are the most important “open”s: open standards (and open formats) and open data.

Governments should only be using software that produces and accepts files that are in formats that are open standards (this includes Microsoft Office documents).  We do have a “New Zealand official interoperability framework definition” already, but it could be significantly expanded on (see what other governments require, for example).  Everything the government produces should be in some sort of open format and everywhere the government accepts data at least one open format should be accepted.  Open standards apply to other areas too, but open formats is the key in “ICT”.

We have a limited commitment to open data already (see data.govt.nz).  This should be significantly expanded on – every data set that the government creates (and there are a huge number of these) should be publicly available, so that (a) we have transparency, and (b) other researchers can benefit from the data.  The only limitation is privacy – unfortunately even when a data set appears to be anonymous it is often possible to identify individuals – it would be worth spending money on figuring out how to get past this so that we can share just about everything without breaching individual people’s privacy.

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Google Voice? Who really cares?

I really enjoy listening to Jason Calacanis when he’s on TWiT, and I think he generally makes a lot of sense (and considering his success, he clearly knows more than me).  However, his anti-Apple rant (like so many others) is really off-base (I’m not the only one that thinks so).

There is no technical reason why the iTunes ecosystem shouldn’t allow the ability to sync with any MP3 player

The iTunes ecosystem does allow the ability to sync with any MP3 player (even more so now that music is DRM-free).  You can build an application that uses the XML library description that iTunes creates to figure out where all the music/video is, and do what you like with it.  The way I see it, there’s no reason that iTunes/Apple should be forced to support any MP3 player with their software.  Apple clearly makes some money from the iTunes music/video sales, but it’s clearly not the main profit generator is the ecosystem – the high-margin iPods/iPhones are.  Apple has spent a great deal of time and money building a store and an application to make the players more appealing.  Why should any other player get to piggyback on the top of that?  If (e.g.) Palm wants to create an online music store and develop an application that works with it and the Pre, then they should be able to (and I see no reason they can’t).

I like iTunes more than other media applications I’ve used, but it’s certainly not perfect, and it shows that it started out as a music player and is now a great deal more.  I love the iTunes Store, but Amazon completes with it (I can’t tell how well, since they won’t see to me in NZ) as does the Zune Store – which even offers a subscription model (no idea if this is available in NZ – it’s too Windows-centric for me).  There’s absolutely room for someone (e.g. Palm) to build a better store (or interface with an existing one like Amazon) and built a better application.  Do that, and build a better device, and you’ll get customers.  Don’t expect that Apple should have to help you compete against them.

Think for a moment about what your reaction would be if Microsoft made the Zune the only MP3 player compatible with Windows.

The iPod/iPhone isn’t the only MP3 player compatible with OS X.  However, isn’t the Zune is the only MP3 player compatible with the Zune store?  The “PlaysForSure” idea got thrown out some time ago.

Simple solution and opportunity: Not only let the iPhone work on any carrier,

How many countries is the iPhone locked in?  It certainly isn’t locked here, or in many other countries (e.g. Australia).  This is only an issue in some countries, like the U.S. – it’s a U.S. Apple problem, not an Apple problem.  From what I understand, it makes business sense for Apple to have an exclusivity deal with AT&T, at least for now.  I don’t see anything wrong with that.  If AT&T was bad enough, then people wouldn’t use it, even if it was the only iPhone choice.  If other companies made phones good enough on other carriers, then it wouldn’t matter which network the iPhone was with.  I presume this is a temporary issue and the U.S. will join the other enlightened countries before long and have unlocked phones, anyway.

but put *two* SIM card slots on the iPhone

A nice idea in some ways, but about as un-Apple as you can get.

3. Draconian App Store policies that are, frankly, insulting

This is actually points 3, 4 and 5.

Yes, every application on the phone has to approved by Apple, and if you were interested in something adult in nature…well…you can’t do that.

From all accounts, the approval process needs a lot of work.  One suspects that now that Jobs is officially returned to work (and Schiller is speaking openly about at least some things) that changes will happen before too long.  I think Apple must surely realise that the situation is getting out of control, and will start implementing changes.  For now, there are still a lot of applications that I really love, there are none that I know of (which is an issue, of course) that I wish I had, and only one that has been pulled that I love (which is Amazon’s fault, not Apple’s).  I’m willing to give Apple a bit more time to fix this – I suspect that even they didn’t realise quite how successful this would be.

4. Being a horrible hypocrite by banning other browsers on the iPhone

Again, this is really just a specific case of #3.  Personally, I see almost no demand for Opera anywhere apart from by a few (very extreme) fans.  I don’t even see much desire for Firefox or Chrome on the iPhone.

5. Blocking the Google Voice Application on the iPhone

There’s a lot of talk about this.  It seems overblown to me, considering that Google Voice isn’t even publicly available (I believe it’s an invite-only beta) and is U.S.-only.  I think it’s just that a lot of the noisy tech pundits use Google Voice, and so this impacts them directly.  I think there are much worse cases of App Store approval problems.  In any case, this is again just another instance of #3.

Making great products does not absolve you from technology’s cardinal rule: Don’t be evil.

It seems to me that the cardinal rule is more “make great stuff”.  I’ll still buy from Amazon, even after they killed my favourite iPhone application.  I dislike some of how Apple handles App Store submission, but I’ll still buy various products from them.  I dislike DRM in general, but the iTunes Store is good enough that it’s still worth using.

1. Do you think Apple would be more, or less, successful if they adopted a more open strategy (i.e. allowing other MP3 players in iTunes)?

Less.  A huge part of the appeal of the Apple ‘ecosystem’ is that because they control all parts, everything “just works”.  If you use all-Apple products, everything works so much nicer than if you mix-and-match.

2. Do you think Apple should face serious antitrust action?

No.

3. Do you think Apple’s dexterity and competence forgive their bad behavior?

Yes.

Time for change, indeed

At last, after nine years, we have the change of government we need.  I think the most telling part of the results is that the winners are the parties that are willing to work with others.  The Maori party will work with Labour if that’s what gets their policies advanced, but their leaders (and the constituents will eventually catch up) understand that they can advance under National as well.  United Future, setting in the centre, can obviously work with anyone.  ACT, even though they are not in the centre, will work with National, but also with other parties (e.g. they agree with the Maori party on many issues).  National, obviously, is willing to put all of these pieces together and get something that is hopefully stronger than the individual parts.

I think the TV3 commentators were wrong when they said that ACT had no power being on the right, since National has the Maori party on the centre.  The Greens had a significant influence on Labour, even though they are less centre.  ACT will be no different, and have their 5-seat influence.

The Greens show up as the real losers.  They ended up with more seats, but no power.  If they were willing to work with National, like the Maori party are, then they could get things achieved, and appear more magnanimous as well.  I really hope that some day the Green party wakes up and realises that caring about environmental issues is not a left or right issue, and straddles both.  National and ACT would do positive things for sustainability & general environment issues by actually getting something done.  Why is that so much worse than Labour doing positive things by doing a great deal of talking and planning?  Why should one’s position in the debate over climate change have anything to do with whether you care about the environment or not?

The other thing that the TV3 commentators got wrong was Clark’s speech – she wasn’t that gracious.  She pointedly attacked the National policies.  If she was gracious, she could have said something like “I hope that when we come back in 2011 National have managed to safeguard all of the improvements we have made over the last nine years”.  Polite about National, but not praising them (just “safeguard”, not improve in any way), but not attacking either, and still putting in the note about the ‘achievements’ that Labour has managed.  Key was a much more gracious winner than Clark a gracious loser.

It’s not the result that I was hoping for, but I do hope that Key manages to do a good job, and the meme that I certainly agree with is that this is how democracy works.  Although I’m on one end of the new government’s policies, I respect that there are others who are on the other side and we can achieve greatness together.  Certainly if Key succeeds (with the Maori party included), then Labour is in a very tight position for 2011 (no NZ First, maybe no United Future, no guarantee of Maori party support, maybe no Progressives, no clear leader yet).

If the Maori party are included (and I hope they are), then it’s the first real MMP government (in my opinion), too – with four parties (National, ACT, United, Maori) working together for real progress.  Hopefully National and Labour will both continue to decrease in numbers, and we’ll have a real multi-party government one day.

I wonder if house prices in Australia just dropped 😉