CompTIA under fire in open source debate

Open source advocate Bruce Perens, who last month left Hewlett-Packard (HP) after announcing his desire to become more active in...

Open source advocate Bruce Perens, who last month left Hewlett-Packard (HP) after announcing his desire to become more active in promoting open source software, has taken an aggressive stand against Computing Technology Industry Association's "software choice" campaign.

Perens says it does not promote fairness, as CompTIA claims, and would lock open source software out of the government marketplace.

CompTIA has "carefully crafted a message that appears to call for fairness while actually supporting policy that would retain the status quo of a strong bias toward proprietary software," Perens said during a panel discussion at a conference on the use of open source software by governments. "They explicitly call for public entities to blind themselves to the merits of one intellectual property policy over another and they have the nerve to call that fairness."

CompTIA's Initiative for Software Choice is a lobbying effort spearheaded by CompTIA, a trade association with more than 8,000 computer and communications companies, including numerous small businesses and several prominent hardware and software developers such as Intel and Microsoft.

Both Intel and Microsoft are backing the initiative, which aims to prevent governments from passing laws that grant preference to open source operating systems like Linux. The initiative says governments should buy software that best meets their needs and should not discriminate between developers that choose to licence their intellectual property and developers that choose not to charge licensing fees.

But Perens, who now has his own consulting company, accused the initiative of fronting for Microsoft, which he says benefits greatly from the "strong and pervasive legislation" in the USA including patent and copyright law, that places a preference on proprietary software over open source.

"The saddest thing about CompTIA's efforts is that an 8,000 company organisation allows itself to, in effect, become a mouthpiece for the vision of a single vendor," Perens said. "The other side doesn't find a real choice acceptable because on a sincerely level-playing field, open source would win most decisions."

In defence of the initiative, Bob Kramer, executive director and vice-president of public policy for CompTIA, said proposals mandating that governments buy open source software would hurt nearly all CompTIA members, including thousands of resellers and hundreds of application service providers.

"We are not a Microsoft puppet," said Kramer, who jokingly introduced himself as Hannibal Lecter after being demonised by Perens.

The initiative's backers are alarmed over more than 70 proposals calling for governments to buy open source software in 24 countries, including many that mandate open source software and exclude proprietary software from the worldwide multibillion dollar government marketplace, Kramer said.

Of particular concern is the Digital Software Security Act (DSSA), which has been drafted in California, but not formally proposed in the state legislature, requiring government offices in the state to use software with freely available source code. The idea behind the legislation is to help protect the state against potential security risks and to avoid being locked into doing business with a single vendor.

Such preference laws are needless because "open source software competes very effectively in the marketplace," Kramer said, pointing to facts and figures about Linux, the leading open source operating system, which saw revenue grew 2,188% from 2000 to 2001, and is expected to equate to 30% of the revenue generated by Windows by 2004.

Countries in which open source software proposals have been put forward include Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, France, Italy, Peru, South Africa, Spain and Venezuela, Kramer said. "All are serious proposals and many have government support," he added.

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