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12/13/2003 Archived Entry: "An intelligent politician"

In a previous blog I went on a rant about the universal ignorance of politicians when it comes to technical matters. Sometimes I'm happy to be proven wrong. I've actually learned of a politician who seems to "get" the ideas underlying open-source software.

Unfortunately, he's in Peru.

Dr. Edgar David Villanueva Nuñez, a Congressman in Peru, wrote this memorable letter last year to the General Manager of Microsoft Peru. It seems that the Peruvian Congress proposed to standardize on free software, and Microsoft responded with their usual mixture of misrepresentation and FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt).

While I do not endorse Dr. Nuñez's arguments for the "advantages...to the Peruvian State," I do commend his insightful analysis of the strengths of free/open-source software, and his dissection of Microsoft's blather.

One choice quote pertains to the tired MS claim that there is no "warranty" for open source software, and no recourse if it proves defective:

As you know perfectly well, or could find out by reading the "End User License Agreement" of the products you license, in the great majority of cases the guarantees are limited to replacement of the storage medium in case of defects, but in no case is compensation given for direct or indirect damages, loss of profits, etc... If as a result of a security bug in one of your products, not fixed in time by yourselves, an attacker managed to compromise crucial State systems, what guarantees, reparations and compensation would your company make in accordance with your licencing conditions? [Answer: none! -B.] The guarantees of proprietary software, inasmuch as programs are delivered ``AS IS'', that is, in the state in which they are, with no additional responsibility of the provider in respect of function, in no way differ from those normal with free software.

In response to Microsoft's claim that this action by Peru would cripple the software industry, this lovely bit of judo:

In addition, a reading of your opinion would lead to the conclusion that the State market is crucial and essential for the proprietary software industry, to such a point that the choice made by the State in this bill would completely eliminate the market for these firms. If that is true, we can deduce that the State must be subsidising the proprietary software industry. In the unlikely event that this were true, the State would have the right to apply the subsidies in the area it considered of greatest social value...

And about Microsoft's laughable claim to stronger security than open source (remember, this was early 2002, before last year's round of worms):

What is impossible to prove is that proprietary software is more secure than free, without the public and open inspection of the scientific community and users in general. This demonstration is impossible because the model of proprietary software itself prevents this analysis, so that any guarantee of security is based only on promises of good intentions (biased, by any reckoning) made by the producer itself, or its contractors.

This same rejoinder could be directed to Microsoft's more recent attacks on the provenance of open-source software. I could go on, but read the letter yourself. It's a bit long, but well written and clearly reasoned.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that governments should use open-source software...since I never advocate that governments do anything. Nor do I see government as the golden opportunity for open-source to gain widespread acceptance. I cite this letter because Microsoft peddles exactly the same drivel to private enterprises who are considering a move away from Windows, and this Peruvian Congressman has done one of the best jobs I've seen of deflating Microsoft's nonsense.

And what a singular experience it is to discover a politician who understands something about technology, and communicates it clearly.

(Thanks to Automation Access for preserving that letter.)


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