May 28, 2003

Initiative for Software Choice vs. Sincere Choice

Two organizations have been formed in response to the recent spate of proposed open source laws: The Initiative for Software Choice, and Sincere Choice. For those keeping score at home, the Initiative for Software Choice was formed to combat the open source laws, Sincere Choice was formed to combat the Initiative for Software Choice, and this indirectly to support open source laws.

Since this site is pushing for open data format laws, not surprisingly I have issues with both organizations.

I'll talk about the Initiative for Software Choice first, since it is the easiest to dismiss. Although it is nominally under the auspices of CompTIA, the Computing Technology Industry Association, there seems little doubt that it was nudged into existence by Microsoft following the open source bills introduced in 2002 (CompTIA is a legitimate industry group that runs the A+ certification program, among others).

The ISC comes across as a quickie lobbying group with not much intellectual heft behind it. For example its policy page complains about the Oklahoma open source bill being labeled an "emergency" bill, which is pure alarmism. It also lists an article by Tim O'Reilly [8/15/02]as being in support of the ISC, when he immediately posted a disclaimer at the top denying this, and later wrote a longer article explaining that he was on the side of Sincere Choice [9/27/02].

The ISC has four principles:

The first one is the main one: don't pass laws requiring open source only. The other three are related to Microsoft's concern that open source prevents a company from licensing its intellectual property: this was the main pillar of Microsoft's anti-Linux platform in the summer of 2002, and one of the arguments it used to lobby against open source laws.

I don't actually disagree with any of this (I am not concerned with the issue of licensing intellectual property, except as it relates to file formats), but the whole things seems so ham-handed and blatant that it makes Microsoft look like it is trying to hide something.

In response to the ISC, open source advocate Bruce Perens founded Sincere Choice. He explains his goals in his article announcing the founding of Sincere Choice [8/9/02]. He also attacks the ISC's goals, more shrilly than I think necessary.

The goals of Sincere Choice are:

The first point I support wholeheartedly: "In order to have a fair market, without customer "lock-in", file formats like those used by word processors must be open standards....We support reverse-engineering for purposes of compatibility, and oppose legislation that would restrict it." (An excellent point about reverse engineering, although hopefully if ODFI succeeds it will limit the need for that.)

Perens' second point mixes open file formats (which I support) with open network standards (which I am neutral on, and I think occur much more naturally than open file formats). His third point is just a slap at Microsoft, his fourth and fifth are aimed at the ISC's last three points about how to license university research (a side issue in my opinion), and his sixth is the only one that relates to open source laws: what he means is that governments should be free to set their own policy on software acquisition including passing a law requiring open source software. I think there is a difference between a government policy and a law, and I'm opposed to open source laws in general.

Both these organizations appear to be shells thrown up to support either side of the open source law debate (Perens, to his credit, admits that Sincere Choice is just that). The ISC does not mention open data formats, once again showing that this is a benefit of open source laws that nobody seems to have an argument against.

In any case, both sites and organizations appear to be dormant, although ISC did post some links in response to Oregon's open source law. In this sense Perens succeeded in damping the effect of ISC and gave an example of how to start up a one-man industry initiative, which I am of course interested in emulating.

Posted by Adam Barr at May 28, 2003 10:57 AM