No more pink walls

    Still kickin

    Browsing Posts in Free Speech / Patents

    An article on /. this evening got me thinking, again, about open source. Specifically today it was open source in government. The article was about how the Australian Tax Office (ATO) has release their latest version o e-tax, their electronic tax submission program and, surprise, surprise, its Windows only.
    Whilst it being a Windows program isn’t too frustrating the fact that there is ONLY a Windows version is a little disturbing. Most people seem to use the argument that 90+% of all PC’s out there are running Windows so this is not a problem. Anyone complaining must simply be some pincko lefty running linux or MacOS (Or something even stranger). This argument is fine from a purely useability point of view however morally and ethically I object to it on two main grounds:
    1) It shows a complete lack of flexibility within the ATO. A system such as thihs could just have easily been written in a multi-platform way such as Java or a browser based interface. Forcing users to have paid for a commercial product is wrong and unethical from a government
    2) My tax dollars paid for this e-tax application to be build or bought. Ignoring the fact that I’ve contributed financially to something I cannot use, where is the source code? If the public have paid for this application then they are entitled to the entire application, including the source code. Additionally this would eliminate the complaints for the ATO as it allows the community to port the system to whatever platform they desire.

    The only reason for not releasing a program such as this under an open source license is security. If the ATO is so worried about security then, in my opinion, they have a poorly written system and should be addressing this. It is bad enough that large companies are able to hide their shabby products behind closed source, we should not be permitting our government agencies to be doing the same thing.
    Its the old thing of “if you’ve got nothing to hide you’ve got nothing to be worried about”.

    I’m not even going to mention areas such as accountability, standards compliance, accessibility issues etc, but in an ideal world where governments are FOR the people, begging for openess would not be an issue.

    Edit: What’s worse is that I just went to download this application and found that it won’t let me do it with Firefox! Not even download it! This is nothing if not descrimination against free software. There is no possible way that they can argue IE is either more secure or more standards compliant and yet they will force me to upgrade a piece of software I don’t even use before I cn download a single file. If they are using IE’s library files to submit returns then god help us all.

    I’ve been meaning to post something about the EU software patent decision since it was announced a day or so ago but haven’t go around to it. For anyone who considers themselves a nerd and hasn’t managed to hear about this, the European Union voted down (by a considerable margin) a bill to introduce software patents across Europe. If you need some more background on it take a look at this

    First off let me start by saying software patents are evil. Sure, many things in the tech world, for example open source code, I consider to be a virtuous thing, but I can usually see 1 or 2 exceptions to the rule. Cases where maybe they aren’t the best way to go. This, however, simply doesn’t apply to software patents. They serve big companies and big companies alone. They stifle innovation and put a dark legal cloud over smaller software companies.

    The decision is a good one and I’m surprised by the margin that it was passed through with. It does not however mean that ‘we’ are out of the woods. Whilst there will now be no law for software patents across the whole of Europe, this decision allows for individual countries to make up their own minds about whether or not to allow these trivial patents. You might think that if countries all voted this down in the EU then they will do a similar thing individually but I don’t think its that easy. Something tells me that this ‘victory’ had a lot to do with some large companies turning sour on the EU bill after a number of amendments (~140) were made to it. These same companies will still be pushing for software patents in each country and now because there is no one unified front, I fear that the it will become a non-issue in many of these countries, not enjoying the same level of opposition or debate.

    The more I read about software patents, the more they look like a dream come true for large companies seeking a monopoly for themselves. I actually find myself getting angry when I hear about them and the harm that they have/will cause/d. Sure they may not sound like something worth fighting for now, especially not to someone outside of the technology community, but I really think that I can see myself trying to do something good in this area, be it in either a professional or hobby capacity.

    I’ll end this entry by saying that I still firmly believe that the best way to conqueur this world would be to take out a patent on the idea of patenting something. After that its game over.