Many arguments recycled when the legislator thinks about open source software


It’s been three decades since Linux launched the modern world of free and open source software, but you hardly knew that during a state legislative hearing on Tuesday.

The hearing, on two bills to make the New Hampshire government use more non-proprietary software, covered points of debate about security, costs, maintenance and control that have not changed since the days when Digital Equipment Corp. ruled on the technological perch of New Hampshire. In fact, DEC has been mentioned more than once.

A bill (HB 1273) by Eric Gallager, a Concord Democrat, is a broad-based effort that not only establishes a committee to study “the replacement of all proprietary software used by state agencies with free software” , but also does things like limit non-compete clauses that conflict with open source development and ban JavaScript from state government websites.

The other bill (HB 1581) by Lex Berezhny, a Republican from Grafton, would restore the requirement that state agencies must use open source software when it comes to “the most efficient software solution.” “. This requirement existed in state law from 2012 to 2018, he said.

Gallager said the two bills were developed separately. “The fact that you have people on both sides thinking about this issue independently shows that there is a wide range of support,” he said.

The executive department and the administration committee sent the two bills to the subcommittee.

New Hampshire has a long history of thriving open source software community, but despite the field’s philosophical connection to “live free or die,” they have had little success in securing state laws or regulations to support the concept. . Concern over the lack of central oversight in open source programs, which are often developed by volunteers, has lingered on the ground from the start.

Definitions of free and open source software may differ – Gallager said part of the value of his bill would be to put some of these definitions into state law – but generally they refer to programs that allow the user to review or modify the code as needed. , which proprietary software almost never does.

Proponents say this allows users to get the most out of their software, freeing them from the whims of companies that might modify or abandon useful software or increase their price, and limit security or privacy concerns as everything is open to business. inspection.

Opponents claim that the lack of development and oversight of the business creates unpredictable programs that do not have a good backup, which raises issues of security, privacy and maintenance.

“Who manages their technical support, who manages their updates, who manages their problems? If they’re not making money doing this, if there’s no financial incentive, how is the government supposed to… rely on this kind of process for a free product? Asked Rep. Stephen Pearson, R-Derry.

Despite the term, free software is not necessarily free of financial cost, a distinction geeks associate with the terms “free” (free to use) versus “free” (free to get). Many great companies have been built on the sale and service of free software.

Tuesday’s hearing drew the state’s foremost free software advocate, Jon Hall, a programmer whose legacy in the field stretches back three decades. (Hall is the person who brought up DEC, a former employer, during his testimony. He also mentioned the Morris worm, a 1988 bug that was the first to draw media attention to the potential for software to spread. hacked online.)

Among his arguments, Hall said studies have shown that free and open source software is cheaper in the long run than software from Microsoft or other vendors because you don’t need to purchase regular licenses, being forced into software upgrades or abandoning equipment such as printers because they are no longer supported.

Even when free and open source software have higher costs due to training, he said, those costs have benefits.

“Where does the money you spend go?” You can send millions of dollars to Redmond (Washington, Microsoft headquarters) or Silicon Valley, or pay local software developers, ”Hall explained.

On the other hand, Denis Goulet, commissioner of the Department of Information Technology, said Gallager’s bill would impose significant costs on the state that are difficult to quantify. “It would take a year, two years, to figure out what it would cost” because of the training on the new systems, he told the committee. “It wouldn’t be small.

Goulet, who opposed Gallager’s bill and did not speak to Berezhny’s, said the state is already using open source systems as appropriate, pointing to its web content management system.

“I estimate that 85% of the systems contained one or more open source libraries,” he said. Software libraries are pieces of code, data, or other procedures that can be inserted into a program to help it run.

Goulet also raised questions about open source security, mentioning a serious bug called Log4j in a free open source library that has been incorporated into a myriad of applications, many of which are used by the state. The bug generated a global alarm due to the number of vulnerabilities it causes.

“As I speak, we are working to fix it,” Goulet said.

Open source proponents, on the other hand, have said that Log4j is an example of the security benefits of open source because users can examine the code of open source programs that use Log4j and decide on their own fixes, instead. having to wait passively for private companies to issue a fix.


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