Linux - avoiding a lawsuit
(An aggressive essay in a fictional setting in Anytown, USA)
Listen to this essay as an mp3 podcast HERE
In the not too distant
when proactive taxpayer groups decide to hold
their School Districts and School Board accountable for the
senseless spending of hundreds of thousands of dollars in computer
technology purchases, especially software, there may be court sessions
where the Prosecutor could be grilling the district's Legal Counsel
questions similar to these:
P: Was the
district aware of
the existence of Open Source applications that involve no cost and no
licensing fees to install in Mac and PC laptops?
LC: Yes, I
am aware of at least one
after purchasing laptops found that they had no money left for
software, so they used StarOffice, an Open Source application that is
equivalent to Microsoft's Office...
P: Are you
saying that the district knows
are software products that require no licensing, can be given to
teachers and students to use, and still insist on paying hundreds of
dollars per computer to provide basic functionality to desktops and
LC: I am
told that "the real world" uses
the district buys the product the child is likely to see in the
workplace when they graduate.
indulge me - what kind of car did
madam, learn to drive on?
LC: It was a
64 Ford truck with standard
P: Did you
learn to drive 64 Fords only, or
skills learned transferable to any car, anywhere, at anytime?
LC: You saw
me parallel park this morning,
what do you
P: I frankly
was impressed... very precise
maneuvering. The point is, regardless of how you learn a skill, if you
learn it well, you will be able to use it appropriately in the future,
don't you agree?
LC: It seems
reasonable to accept that
P: So, if
the skill of learning word
spreadsheet use and presentation software use is learned correctly, say
using software that loads and saves in the "real world" formats, as
Open Source software allows, then there is no need to spend all that
money for proprietary products, is there?
at the results, you may have an
But I understand districts want uniformity and a vendor they can call
when anything with the software goes wrong - Does Open Source provide
applications such as StarOffice
OpenOffice are Open Source, and programmers can look at the code that
runs these applications, the international community is very quick in
finding solutions to potential flaws and problems. They have an
intellectual interest in making sure that the Open Source application
stays problem free, so instead of an 800 number offering classical
music you have the Internet with Special Interest Groups that are
monitored 24 hours a day, again for free. That being said, have you
directed the district to adopt a policy of Open Records that applies to
the software they use?
LC: I am not
sure I follow...
Records can be interpreted not only
transparency of the dealings of the district, but also as the use of
proprietary formats that may change over time at the software maker's
whim. Open Source software, on the other hand, uses standards and
coding available to any programmer, so records become independent of
the application that created them. In a sense, you exclude proprietary
vendors from the record gathering or storage process. The question
has ever challenged the
format of any of the district's records, but I suppose eventually
someone will. How would recommending Open Source adoption change
anything? The district would still have a file called FILENAME.DOC
created via MS Word or Open Office.
difference is that the district would
spending tax money from Joe Taxpayer's payments - he's worked hard
enough to earn them, and there should be an Open SourceSoftware policy
in place at the
district level to make sure money is not being thrown away.
could make the same case for any
agency... We all use proprietary software.
will be other lawsuits and motions
that irregularity. I want to make sure Legal Council admits for the
purpose of this trial that there has been no distinct effort on the
part of the district to reduce the so called Digital Divide, by
incorporating Open Source software installation and distribution as a
priority in all computer desktops and laptops, and that in fact no
serious studies have been made to use Linux as a desktop Operating
System, replacing Window's propensity for infections by viruses and
LC: Linux as
an operating system? What does
to do with Open Source?
P: All Linux
code is Open Source, all the
we've been discussing are Open Source applications that run on Linux
also. Under certain circumstances, you can have Mac and PC computers
also running Linux, making it the one operating system that runs on all
platforms. This is the one standard that the district could have, if
they decided to protect the investment made in hardware.
Protecting the investment? Are you
old equipment also?
research and a willingness to
the traditional solutions would point out that Linux is ideal for old
equipment, and that for machines whose hard drive no
longer functions, the district could turn them into diskless clients
following the K12LTSP.org model, labs with one powerful server and PC
diskless workstations of every make and model running at network speeds.
mentioned MS Office products - what
Source products would there be as an incentive for the district to
start considering the "official" adoption of Open Source as a district
comes with hundreds of free
can be installed on any PC as a dual boot system, to at least offer
students that choice. For Macs and PCs, there are major applications
such as OpenOffice, a Microsoft Office replacement, GIMP, a Photoshop
equivalent, SeaMonkey a powerful browser and
HTML composer, LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP), TuxMath and
TuxPaint, and many more. Almost every major application in the market
has its Open Source equivalent.
LC: I would
like to ask for a recess to meet
client and propose a settlement. What major arguments would the
Prosecutor suggest I put forth?
Source software has several distinct
advantages over proprietary software. The widespread peer review
process involved in open source development creates software which is
more error-free and resource-efficient than proprietary software. In
addition, Open Source is a must for security-critical applications-
true security is never achieved by attempting to conceal any security
defects that a program may have, but rather by allowing anyone
interested to seek out these flaws and eliminate them. Open Source
allows for that. In terms of who will survive, if resilience is an
issue, the open-source culture will triumph not because cooperation is
morally right or software "hoarding" is morally wrong, ...but simply
because the closed-source world cannot win an evolutionary arms race
with open-source communities that can put orders of magnitude more
skilled time into a problem.
And so, Legal Counsel goes off to try and convince her fictional
district, that being accountable to the taxpayer's rights, and saving
money by embracing Open Source alternatives are issues that must be
addressed sooner, rather than later.