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Microsoft Attempts to Derail Oregon Open Source Software Bill

Open Source Software is equally capable if not superior to proprietary software in most ways - AND IT'S FREE! Free for anyone to use, to modify, to experiment with, to redistribute. It's also free to use without charge, which frees up money for schools and health care! A bill now in Oregon legislature would require that all State offices "consider" open source alternatives before purchasing software. Microsoft and the Business Software Alliance are trying to kill it.

Stiff opposition derails open-source measure

2003.04.18
Jeffrey Kosseff
The [Wh]Oregonian

The software industry is slamming the door on a push for Oregon government agencies to use open-source software -- computer programs that don't carry recurring fees or usage restrictions.

House Bill 2892 was scheduled for discussion Thursday at a House General Government Committee work session but was passed over after heavy opposition to the proposal, which would require state agencies to consider open-source software when purchasing computer programs.

Even if the panel eventually considers the bill, some of the strongest -- and most opposed -- provisions have been removed.

Microsoft, other software companies and three national technology trade groups have squared off against a grass-roots group of open-source programmers and school districts pushing for the bill.

"A lot of it is going to depend on whether or not we can work through the issues the folks have," said Rep. Jerry Krummel, R-Wilsonville, chairman of the government committee, which earlier this month held an initial hearing packed with opponents and proponents of the bill.

Krummel ordered both sides into a work group last week to attempt a compromise. The open-source proponents agreed to drop a requirement for state agencies to justify purchases of proprietary programs such as Microsoft Office.

Both the industry and the state's Department of Administrative Services -- Oregon's central purchasing agency -- said requiring agencies to justify the purchases would be cumbersome.

"We took out the justification because that drew a lot of fire," said Ken Barber, the Eugene network engineer who drafted the bill, which was proposed by Rep. Phil Barnhart, D-Eugene. "That basically takes out almost everything they were opposing"

But the industry continues to oppose some requirements.

"The proposed amended bill still says that in every new software acquisition, state agencies shall consider open-source solutions," said Jim Craven, lobbyist for the American Electronics Association, which opposes the bill. "It still has a 'shall' in there. I am not lobbying in opposition to open-source systems. Our concern with the bill is the mandate to state purchasers that they 'shall' do this or 'shall not' do that."

Krummel said he can still hold a work session -- the discussion of changes to the bill before a committee vote -- if a compromise is reached. But after today, he will need permission from House Speaker Karen Minnis, R-Wood Village.

"I think there's still a chance," Krummel said.

If approved in any form, the bill would make Oregon the first state to pass a law promoting open source, which advocates say could save taxpayers' money. They also say that because the programming code can be altered, agencies can tailor it to their needs.

"The state government is going to go with open source, whether the bill passes or not," Barber said. "Anybody who watches the industry will say this will happen."

If that's the case, Microsoft says, such a bill is unnecessary.

"We believe that procurement decisions should be based on the overall merits and value of the software under consideration," said Alex Mercer, a Microsoft spokeswoman.

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