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How Did This Get Past Microsoft? New Hampshire Passed An Open Source Software Bill

Date/Time Permalink: 02/05/12 10:08:29 am
Category: General

New Hampshire (motto: "Live Free or Die") has passed HB418, a House bill which legislates the requirement that state agencies "consider open source software when acquiring software and promotes the use of open data formats by state agencies. This bill also directs the commissioner of information technology to develop a statewide information policy based on principles of open government data."

Whew! According to bill author and Linux kernel contributor Seth Cohn (commenting on Slashdot), this is the first open source and open data bill to pass in any state, ever. Now, it does not require state government officials to pick the open source alternative over the proprietary one at any point in time, but simply to officially document their justification for their software policy.

Part of the justification for this is that state governments have to deal with the problem of digital obsolescence, where data stored in old media formats becomes unusable because no proprietary vendor supports the format anymore. Think of music stored on 8-track tape: where would you find a tape player in the modern day that would play back such a format accurately, or assist in transferring the data to a more modern format? Well, Cohn assures us that there's still data sitting on punched cards in the care of New Hampshire. What proprietary company would want to support it? The BSD games package (it's probably lurking on your Linux install right now) gives us the 'bcd' program; at the command line type "bcd $STRING" and it shoots out $STRING as a punched card:

/PENGUIN PETE                                    |
| ] ] ]   ] ]                                    |
|] ]   ] ]                                       |
|    ]     ]                                     |

There, just like "ISO 1682:1973" would have it. Now that's what you call "legacy support"! True, open source isn't necessary to support legacy programs and data standards... but have you noticed that open source developers always seem to care about these things while proprietary vendors do not?

This punched-card business may seem scary-archaic to some of you, but as a former state government employee myself, I assure you that this isn't even unusual. There's probably a few 286'ers out there still running Windows 3.1, IBM OS/2 Warp, and XTree Gold out there. In government, you don't just upgrade hardware willy-nilly. You run it until it breaks. If it still lights up when you turn it on, it's not broken. Heck, there's still jobs for COBOL programmers out there. If a team of archaeologists someday discovered within the basement of some federal warehouse a bearskin-clad caveman poring over chiseled stone tablets by the light of a torch, I wouldn't be the faintest surprised.

Of course, the bill could always be repealed, the ruling overturned, the public opinion astroturfed to death... Cue the return fire from Microsoft lobbyists in 10, 9, 8...

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