Micro$oft Monitor

Published by NetAction Issue No. 38 February 12, 1999
Repost where appropriate. See copyright information at end of message.


Economic Benefits of Open Source Software
Why Software Buyers and Developers Should Be Worried
About Micro$oft Monitor

The Economic Benefits of Open Source Software

In a new White Paper, NetAction explains how government efforts to promote wider use of open source software will benefit the U.S. economy by helping to curb Microsoft's monopoly, alleviating some Year 2000 computer problems and strengthening computer security.

NetAction intern researched and wrote our latest White Paper. The full text of the White Paper is on the web at: http://www.netaction.org/opensrc/oss-report.html.

In conjunction with publishing the White Paper, NetAction has created an Open Source Action Kit and launched a grassroots campaign to encourage Internet users to educate policymakers about the economic advantages of open source software.

The Action Kit is at: http://www.netaction.org/action/opensource.html. It contains downloadable versions of the White Paper in several software formats, a sample cover letter, links to sites with additional background on open source software, and a pointer to an online directory with contact information for members of Congress.

In addition to sending copies of the White Paper to policymakers, Micro$oft Monitor readers are encouraged to share the Open Source Action Kit URL with other Internet activists.

Open source software has a growing share of the market because it's reliable, secure, and inexpensive. As the world's largest software consumer, the U.S. government is ideally situated to promote widespread use and continued development of open source software through its purchasing policies. The potential benefits include cost savings, increased reliability, and security.

NetAction has identified several low-cost steps which the government can take to promote wider use of open source software. These steps include authorizing a General Accounting Office study to assess the benefits for specific agencies of switching to open source software. In addition, NetAction recommends that the government begin collecting nonclassified source code in a series of repositories available for public access.

The benefits of open source software identified in the White Paper include:

Curbing monopolies in software.
As Microsoft has demonstrated, the software industry is fertile ground for the growth of monopolies. But open source software is inherently anti-monopolistic, and may therefore serve as an effective antidote.
Elimination of economic loss from duplicated work.
Since the vast majority of software code is written for a single use, making the source code public reduces economic waste because it eliminates the need to write new code for every separate function. This has significant potential for reducing government expenditures on software.
Solution to the Year 2000 problem.
With proprietary software, a limited number of programmers must find each reference to a date and each calculation performed on dates, and rewrite the code to allow for four-digit year references. With open source software, an unlimited group of programmers can share the work, allowing for a much more cost-effective solution. In addition, access to source code allows a government agency or company to verify for itself that Y2K problems have been solved, without having to trust the manufacturer's claims. Because the solution to the Y2K problem is easy in the context of open source development, almost all commercial quality open-source software on the market today, such as the Linux operating system, is already Y2K-compliant.

Why Software Buyers and Developers Should Be Worried

For readers in the San Francisco Bay Area, author and attorney Cem Kaner will discuss the status of a proposed software licensing law on Thursday, March 18, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the San Francisco Main Library's Latino/Hispanic Community Meeting Room.

The talk is sponsored by NetAction. Admission is free but seating is limited; please RSVP by email to , or by phone to (415) 775-8674. The Main Library is located at 100 Larkin Street, near the Civic Center BART/Muni station.

If enacted, the proposed changes in the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) could exempt software purchases from traditional consumer protection laws, allow the software industry to dictate in advance the terms of software purchases by validating "shrinkwrap" licenses, and threaten the rights of software developers to make competing programs.

The proposal has been under development for about 10 years and is scheduled to be introduced into state legislatures in the fall of 1999. The complex bill runs well over 200 pages, and is written to cover all contracts involving the development, sale, licensing, maintenance, support, and documentation of software, and most other contracts involving information products.

The proposal is opposed or severely criticized by a wide range of organizations and associations, including the American Library Association, the Association for Computing Machinery, Ralph Nader's Consumer Project on Technology, Consumers Union, the Institute for Electrical & Electronic Engineering, the Motion Picture Association of America, the National Association of Broadcasters, the National Cable Television Association, the Recording Industry Association of America, the Newspaper Association of America, and the National Writers Union.

Kaner has participated in the drafting of the proposed Article 2B for the past three years as an advocate for the interests of software consumers, developers, and writers. He is the author of "Bad Software" and "Testing Computer Software," teaches software testing, and consults on technical and software development management issues.

Background on the UCC 2B issue can be found on NetAction's web site at: http://www.netaction.org/notes/notes37.html and http://www.netaction.org/notes/notes38.html.

About The Micro$oft Monitor

The Micro$oft Monitor is a free electronic newsletter, published as part of the Consumer Choice Campaign http://www.netaction.org/msoft/ccc.html. NetAction is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public, policy makers, and the media about technology-based social and political issues, and to teaching activists how to use the Internet for organizing, outreach, and advocacy.

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NetAction is supported by individual contributions, membership dues and grants. For more information about contributing to NetAction, contact Audrie Krause by phone at (415) 775-8674, by E-mail at , visit the NetAction Web site at: http://www.netaction.org, or write to:

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Copyright 1999 by The Tides Center/NetAction. All rights reserved. Material may be reposted or reproduced for non-commercial use provided NetAction is cited as the source. NetAction is a project of The Tides Center, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.