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Software Choice vs. Sincere Choice

by Tim O'Reilly
Sep. 27, 2002

In a recent article about the efforts of the Institute for Software Choice's efforts to deflect legislation promoting open source software, Wired News cites me as someone who agrees with the ISC in principle, and contrasts my views with those of Bruce Perens, who argues that ISC is trying to maintain the status quo.

I'm in complete agreement with Bruce that the ISC is a front to maintain the status quo. It's the very lobbying response to legislation favoring open source that I feared in my original posting on the subject.

It is true that I disagree with the idea of legally mandated open source, because I do believe that decisions should be made on a product's merits. There's some great proprietary software out there as well as some great open source software. I've always thought that open source should be sold on its merits, just like any other software (but so does Bruce), and my advocacy has been to trumpet those merits. But I'm all for the softer European version of some of this legislation, which gives open source a strong boost without mandating it. That gives the technical people in government some cover if they choose open source, and gives a reason for those who aren't considering it to take a closer look.

The reason I don't want to see legislators mandating open source is simple: if legislators can be persuaded to mandate open source, they can equally well be persuaded to mandate against it, and once that battle is joined, I'm pretty clear who will win. Most modern governments seem to be far too much under the sway of special interest money for me to want to see them getting involved in any issue where the other side has the dollars and the access to get their way. You have only to look at some of the absolutely insane legislation introduced on behalf of the RIAA and MPAA to see whether the public benefit or the power of special interests has more sway.

Of course, now that the battle has been foolishly joined, the ISC is not going to go away, and open source in government advocates are going to have to sup at the table they have set.

Now that the battle is joined, put me on the side of Bruce's sincere choice rather than proprietary vendors' so-called software choice.

Tim O'Reilly is the founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media Inc. Considered by many to be the best computer book publisher in the world, O'Reilly Media also hosts conferences on technology topics, including the O'Reilly Open Source Convention, Strata: The Business of Data, the Velocity Conference on Web Performance and Operations, and many others. Tim's blog, the O'Reilly Radar "watches the alpha geeks" to determine emerging technology trends, and serves as a platform for advocacy about issues of importance to the technical community. Tim is also a partner at O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, O'Reilly's early stage venture firm, and is on the board of Safari Books Online, PeerJ, Code for America, and Maker Media, which was recently spun out from O'Reilly Media. Maker Media's Maker Faire has been compared to the West Coast Computer Faire, which launched the personal computer revolution.

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