Gov’t of Canada RFI for OSS

The Government of Canada has issued an RFI for information about No Charge Licensed Software; for some reason they needed to create a new term for open source software.  Since I am a Canadian, live in Ottawa and am very involved in OSS, I have been preparing a response to the RFI; which is due February 19.

Below are my response so far.  Please feel free to leave a comment, if you have any suggestions.

Q1. In the Overview, the Crown provided a definition for No Charge Licensed Software. Is this an appropriate definition?

There is an industry accepted definition of open source software provided by Open Source Initiative (OSI).  Open source software license specify re-distribution rights, availability of source code and other terms that are not necessarily specified in a ‘freeware’ license.  We would suggest not creating a new one.

For the remainder of this RFI we will refer to Open Source Software (OSS), not No Charge License Software

Q2. What are reasonable criteria that the Crown should consider in a decision process for acquiring No Charge Licensed Software?
Are there circumstances in which the acquisition of No Charge Licensed Software would not be advisable?

The Crown should continue to make technology decisions based on the ability of the proposed solution to meet the specified requirements and at an acceptable return on investment.   OSS should be considered as an option in this decision making process but only as a peer to commercial software.   We don’t believe special treatment should be given to OSS that is void of a solid return on investment analysis.

We don’t believe there are circumstances that OSS acquisition in not advisable.

Q3. What factors other than price should be considered as part of an evaluation guideline for No Charge Licensed Software? Are there other factors beyond those outlined in Appendix A & B that the Crown should consider?

Some other factors to consider are:

1)    Type of OSS license
2)    Diversity of the OSS project community
3)    Number of releases completed by the OSS project

Q4. How should existing Government Furnished Equipment, Services, Service Level Agreements and internal resources be considered when evaluating the usage of No Charge Licensed Software?

To acquire an SLA for an OSS project, the Crown would have to purchase an SLA from a vendor that provides support for the specific project.  This should be considered as part of the normal software procurement process

Q5. How practical is No Charge Licensed Software? Are there hidden costs that need to be considered as part of the process of evaluating the alternatives available?

OSS has proven to be very successful and widely used.  Linux, Apache, Eclipse, Mozilla are all examples of widely deployed and used OSS.   As with any software, there are extra costs associated with training, development, deployment, management and support.

Q6. What are the general financial, technical and security risks associated with acquiring and using No Charge Licensed Software?

An important consideration with any OSS is the sustainability and longevity of the community associated with the OSS.   An OSS project that has a small number of committers, does not appear to be widely adopted, very little traffic on the project mailing list or newsgroups, may send a signal that the project’s longevity may be in doubt.   The Crown should look for a large and diverse committer population.  Ideally those committers are from a variety of companies, to ensure that a single vendor does not control the project.

Q7. How do Open Standards and interoperability factor into evaluation considerations?

OSS has a history of driving the adoption of open standards.   When evaluating OSS the Crown should expect that the technology implements and interoperates with open standards. This is very similar to commercial software.

Q8. How does the technology factor into the evaluation consideration, such as ability to maintain and evergreen?

Not really sure how to answer this…..

Q9. How does the Crown evaluate the flexibility of the licensing models for No Charge Licensed Software?

When evaluating the different OSS licensing models, the Crown should consider the rights and obligations for re-distribution.   Some OSS licenses, like BSD, offer  re-distribution with no obligation.  Other OSS licenses, like GPL, offer re-distribution but obliged any derivative works to also be distributed under the GPL license.   If the Crown plans to use OSS in a Crown asset that requires re-distribution, then they need to assess the obligations of the license.

Q10. What impact will No Charge Licensed Software have on Government Licensed End-User Networks

No idea how to answer this??

6 thoughts on “Gov’t of Canada RFI for OSS

  1. I assume by the industry accepted definition of open source software provided by the OSI you mean I would include a link to what you mean.

    But, I think the RFI is clearly written to specifically avoid the term “open source” and I don’t think they are simply trying to invent a new spin on existing definitions. By avoiding the term open source and using a more general term (No Charge Licensed Software) they can include far more classifications of software (freeware) in the intended context of discussion; for example, most free Google products (Google Earth, Picasa, Chrome..well..that one is Open Source, etc.). Basically what they mean (in my opinion) is anything you can download from the internet for free that may have a license attached to it. This doesn’t mean you have access to the source code.

    All of your answers make sense in the context of OSS but I get the vibe that you are also recommending they change the wording of the RFI and the definition of No Charge Licensed Software to refer to open source software only. Is that what you are trying to say?

  2. Mark,

    You might be right about them trying to combine OSS and things like Google App. If that is the case, then I certainly do recommend separating the two case.

  3. Good post / exciting opportunity, & I agree with Mark.

    Also –
    Consider adding to your answer to Q3 some form of your answer to Q6, i.e., recent-ness and frequency of project/codebase activity.

    b) Regarding Q8, I could guess what is meant by ‘evergreen’ but am not sure, but ‘ability to maintain’ is an area where OSS (in particular, as opposed to NCLS) really shines.

    Good luck.

  4. I see several issues. First, AVG has many levels, starting with “FREE”. Maybe they are trying to get a handle on the future liabilities of working with what is free now and maybe won’t be free a few years down the road. Second, in that line, what is free now, but no source code, and then the company goes out of existence and with newer operating systems may not work. Third, what is the advisability of working with software for which no contract for maintenance and training is forthcoming. Fifth, The advisaility of downloading anything from the web in the absence of a maintenance, training and service contract. So, who should they deal with – the download site? a bonafide commercial support entity for the software in question? Sixth, sometimes OSS is not cheap. Free program, but the book you must buy to learn to use the software is $70 bucks. there are manyu more issues, but I do agree on one thing, accept their language as defined, don’t try and redefine terms for them, but maybe give them a comparison chart of how each license type would contribute to TCO & ROI.

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