Microsoft opens up to Canadian governments

Microsoft Corp.’s continued efforts to open parts of its source code to government clients has some users searching for new definitions of proprietary and open source software.

On Sept. 20 in Paris, Microsoft made public its plans to open up aspects of the source code for its Office 2003

suite of applications, saying the it will be added to the Redmond, Wash.-based software maker’s Government Security Program (GSP).

Known as the Microsoft Shared Source Initiative, the program was launched in 2003 to address growing security concerns, giving government agencies access to a secure systems source code for key Microsoft programs, including the most recent versions of the Windows operating system.

Closer to home, the decision was no great shock to open-source software providers and government users. And as Microsoft continues its experiment with open licensing, many are wondering what technologies they will open source next and when.

If Microsoft’s recent announcement results in improved adherence to open standards, and leads to more component-based design, then it may be beneficial, said Jason Wesley, a corporate issues management analyst with the Management Board Secretariat of the Ontario government.

Wesley said, to his knowledge, the provincial government has no immediate plans to act on Microsoft’s announcement. An important consideration is the total cost of ownership (TCO) in order to “”arrive at a value for money conclusion,”” Wesley said.

“”A software framework based on open standards and architecture principles,”” Wesley said, “”should provide the functional benefits of scalable, reliable and interoperable component solutions necessary to support the delivery of public services.””

Functionality and cost benefits are among the strongest reasons governments the world over –including some in Canada — are making the change from proprietary software and adopting an open-source software solution, said Ross Chevalier, chief technical officer for Novell Canada.

While the company has staked its claim with open-sourced solutions by creating the online Novell Government Solutions section, Chevalier says it is precisely the nature of the beast that makes open source so appealing.

“”The beauty of it (open-source software) is that you are not lock-stepped by the specific staffing needs, or cultural mindset that proprietary software makers bind you to,”” Chevalier said. “”When we started working in open source, we found people were making contributions from all over the world. It gives you a greater perspective, and that leads to a greater world for technologists.””

While Chevalier admits many proprietary software proponents have voiced concerns over security in working in open source, in Novell’s view, Linux has had security at its core from “”word go.””

The federal government’s official position on open-source software is illustrated in the Government of Canada’s Federated Architecture Program (FAP), said Christiane Fox, spokesperson for Industry Canada.

The FAP stresses a number of key architecture principles with regards to the use of open source software. First, the software must reduce “”integration complexity,”” or essentially keep to a minimum the number of vendors, products and configurations for maximum flexibility in implementing changes. Second, it must ensure the absolute security, confidentiality, privacy and protection of information. Third, it must apply a proven standard and technological prowess. And fourth, it must ensure an “”effective overall reduction of the total cost of ownership of the Canadian government’s IT infrastructure.””

That’s precisely why many public sectors in Western Canada have adopted Linux-based systems, said John Lathrop, site administrator of Linux Leap and author of Linux in Small Business: A User’s Guide.

The City of Calgary, for example, recently move over to Linux. According to the city’s Web site, it is saving 75 per cent on server hardware and related costs and transactions are being completed 200 to 500 per cent more quickly.

“”I think the reason governments, in Western Canada in particular, have adopted Linux systems, is because of their proximity to the energy sector,”” Lathrop said.

Lathrop added that the very fact that Microsoft is acknowledging the strength of open-sourced systems means the market could be blown wide open for competitors.

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