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Open source's double standard on government bias

Open-source advocates like Michael Tiemann point to Brazil's president as an example of how countries should treat open source, but when these same leaders prefer Microsoft, we scream. Double standard?

The open-source community has a long tradition of looking for and hounding away at the very thought of Microsoft influence from government IT policies.

For example, Open Source Initiative President Michael Tiemann rightly decries an alleged tie between the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's charitable donations and Microsoft's "cabinet-level access to inform policy."

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (red fedora) and Michael Tiemann Ricardo Stuckert

Apparently, however, Tiemann has no problem proudly displaying a picture of Brazil's president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, wearing a Red Hat fedora, declaring...

Would that all Presidents and all ministers of all countries were so concerned about the sovereignty of their nation and the fiduciary care of their people!

...that they'd openly stand behind one vendor? That doesn't sound much like a sovereign act to me.

In fact, it sounds exactly like the sort of bias that the open-source community routinely inveighs against. Imagine the outcry if President Lula would have been seen posing with Bill Gates, wearing a Microsoft t-shirt?

Mark Taylor, president of the U.K.'s Open Source Consortium, lashed out against the U.K. government "pay(ing) lip service" to open source while "actually pursuing policies that are exclusive." Presumably it would be better if those "exclusive" policies actually favored a particular open-source vendor or technology?

That seems to be the message coming out of Europe, too, in its proposed policy changes around the purchase of standards-based technologies, which some suggest amounts to a built-in bias for open source. Policies that promote openness, generally, are good, because they help to protect a country's sovereign interests.

But when a country's leaders are seen to be supporting a particular vendor, even a vendor of open source and open standards, that strikes me as just the sort of favoritism that we disparage when the beneficiary is Microsoft. Just because it's bias in our favor doesn't make it right.

Back to Brazil. Sun Microsystems' Simon Phipps also posted pictures of President Lula wearing the Red Hat fedora, but also a Sun Java ring. (The president apparently said it made him feel like "James Bond.") At least Java is a technology, not a vendor, which makes this act of Lula less...loony.

Simon Phipps and Lula show their open-source colors Simon Phipps

That said, the ironic thing is that while Phipps points to the benefits Brazil derives from its commitment to open-source Java, he neglects to note that Brazil had this same commitment to Java long before it was actually open source.

Regardless, in describing Lula's affection for open source Phipps unwittingly makes him sound like an open-source groupie, which is hardly how I'd want my president to act, either for proprietary or open-source interests.

A sovereign nation should be just that: sovereign. Its leaders shouldn't bow to particular vendors or even particular development practices, nor should they be perceived to do such. For Brazil, it's immaterial whether the company is Sun, Red Hat, Microsoft, or SAP: it is a sovereign nation and should act as such.

A government tasked with the protection of its people should never look like a cheap infomercial for any vendor--either open source or proprietary.

Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.