Sun’s McNealy Wants to Rain on Proprietary Software

by on January 23, 2009 · 18 comments

Sun Chairman Scott McNealy seemingly wants to shine some light on the benefits of software that is open sourced, but by advocating government mandates he’s calling for the specter of regulatory darkness. Here’s a quote from him in a BBC article:

“The government ought to mandate open source products based on open source reference implementations to improve security, get higher quality software, lower costs, higher reliability – all the benefits that come with open software.”

One could dispute the substance of his comment, but not his motive:

“Open source does not require you to pay a penny to Microsoft or IBM or Oracle or any proprietary vendor any money.”

Ah, so it’s all about some businesses getting a leg up over others, and using government to do so. Even Matt Asay writes that he’s not a supporter of mandates.

The scary thing is that, according to the BBC article, McNealy has been asked to prepare a paper on open source for the Obama administration! As the new administration is touting open government, let’s hope it remains open to the best products that are available, whatever license they may carry, without tech mandates.

  • lewisb

    As long as you recognize that license terms can be a criteria in evaluating the “best product.”

  • DB

    I agree with you, but just to play devil's advocate:

    We're not talking about government putting mandates on the free market. This is about government putting mandates on itself to limit spending and save taxpayer dollars. Isn't this entirely consistent with promoting limited government?

    Why should government have “the best products that are available?” Using this argument, all government vehicles should be BMWs. As stewards of the taxpayers' money, doesn't government have a responsibility to buy the cheapest possible products that can accomplish the task. Aren't these mandates a demonstration of fiscal responsibility?

    If the government “mandated” that all departmental lunches must take place at fast food restaurants, would you still complain? Clearly, this will give McDonalds a “leg up” over more expensive alternatives…

  • MikeRT

    I'll give you a good reason why you want the government to get the best price-quality ratio it can. MySQL is a great database server if you know what you're doing or don't really care too much. It is a terrible database server if you invert both halves of that statement. For example, one of the areas where Postgre users roast MySQL is that it will often cheerfully make a best effort to fit data into a field that really shouldn't accept it.

    So, it's all fun and games until the FBI standardizes on MySQL, they store your biometrics in it poorly, and you're accidentally linked to half a dozen people with similar genes because a bunch of your unique identifiers at the end got truncated.

  • http://zgp.org/~dmarti/ Don Marti

    Is it “regulatory darkness” if the GSA mandates buying computer hardware using a competitive bidding process instead of signing a one-sided rent-to-own deal with Rent-A-Center? It's very fuzzy thinking to consider the
    terms under which a vendor offers access to a product as an attribute of the product.

  • dm

    The government is a customer, and the customer is always right. That's not “regulatory darkness”. I think you want to restrain your knee before you jerk it into something hard, like a desk or a filing cabinet.

    I suppose it was a terrible thing when the government mandated open standards for the network it was paying to build, instead of relying on proprietary standards. Why, just think how much farther along the Internet would be if it were subject to royalties to IBM or Digital or Microsoft.

    Arguably, at the time, the network technology from Digital was superior to that being developed for the Arpanet and Internet-to-be. It was, however, limited to Digital's hardware and operating systems.

  • bradencox

    Don, we're on the same page I think. A competitive bidding processes should be driven by costs and features, not rhetoric from lobbyists or executives from companies that stand to profit (either Rent-A-Center or Sun). That's why McNealy's advocacy for mandates–requirements on government itself–struck me as very wrong…why should the government a priori place limits on itself as to the type of license that accompanies a product?

  • bradencox

    Agreed.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    “The government ought to mandate open source products based on open source reference implementations to improve security, get higher quality software, lower costs, higher reliability – all the benefits that come with open software.”

    That's actually not saying anything against Microsoft at all.

    Another way of saying what Scott McNealy said is: “The government should utilize peer reviewed software where ever possible. Peer reviewed means that the source code should be throughly reviewed by an open, transparent process that ensures access to that software program's source code by a broad community of developers who would, by virtue of their experience, education and/or training, be competent to review such software.”

    Now, IF Microsoft wants to have it's software source code peer-reviewed, it is ENTIRELY up to them to decide. IF Microsoft decides to preclude any peer review of their software, the government should have every right to exclude that software from it purchasing programs, unless and until Microsoft can demonstrate and equivalent quality control process.

    Note especially that I, like Scott McNealy, have excluded any moral considerations from the above line of reasoning, focusing only on a very narrow pragmatic reasoning to optimize functionality of a software program.

    If you accept that the government has some minimal duty to act morally (not a very widely held belief at TLF) then FREE SOFTWARE, rather than MERE OPEN SOURCE becomes the obvious software to promote.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    “The government ought to mandate open source products based on open source reference implementations to improve security, get higher quality software, lower costs, higher reliability – all the benefits that come with open software.”

    That's actually not saying anything against Microsoft at all.

    Another way of saying what Scott McNealy said is: “The government should utilize peer reviewed software where ever possible. Peer reviewed means that the source code should be throughly reviewed by an open, transparent process that ensures access to that software program's source code by a broad community of developers who would, by virtue of their experience, education and/or training, be competent to review such software.”

    Now, IF Microsoft wants to have it's software source code peer-reviewed, it is ENTIRELY up to them to decide. IF Microsoft decides to preclude any peer review of their software, the government should have every right to exclude that software from it purchasing programs, unless and until Microsoft can demonstrate and equivalent quality control process.

    Note especially that I, like Scott McNealy, have excluded any moral considerations from the above line of reasoning, focusing only on a very narrow pragmatic reasoning to optimize functionality of a software program.

    If you accept that the government has some minimal duty to act morally (not a very widely held belief at TLF) then FREE SOFTWARE, rather than MERE OPEN SOURCE becomes the obvious software to promote.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    “The government ought to mandate open source products based on open source reference implementations to improve security, get higher quality software, lower costs, higher reliability – all the benefits that come with open software.”

    That's actually not saying anything against Microsoft at all.

    Another way of saying what Scott McNealy said is: “The government should utilize peer reviewed software where ever possible. Peer reviewed means that the source code should be throughly reviewed by an open, transparent process that ensures access to that software program's source code by a broad community of developers who would, by virtue of their experience, education and/or training, be competent to review such software.”

    Now, IF Microsoft wants to have it's software source code peer-reviewed, it is ENTIRELY up to them to decide. IF Microsoft decides to preclude any peer review of their software, the government should have every right to exclude that software from it purchasing programs, unless and until Microsoft can demonstrate and equivalent quality control process.

    Note especially that I, like Scott McNealy, have excluded any moral considerations from the above line of reasoning, focusing only on a very narrow pragmatic reasoning to optimize functionality of a software program.

    If you accept that the government has some minimal duty to act morally (not a very widely held belief at TLF) then FREE SOFTWARE, rather than MERE OPEN SOURCE becomes the obvious software to promote.

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