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August 28, 2008 12:53 PM   Subscribe

Facil, an open-source community based in Québec, is suing the Québec government for buying Microsoft software when free alternatives are available. Facil's press release says, in part, "From February to June 2008, FACIL has noticed sales of proprietary software for more than 25 million dollars. These purchases were made for products offered by large multinational enterprises, with no regard to suppliers in Quebec. ... While most of the developed countries have started, a few years back, migrating their technological infrastructures to Free Software, Quebec's public administration is far behind." Some applaud Facil's move. Others, not so much.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing (47 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
While "facile" might mean "simple" in French, it means something a little different in English which is a lot better description of this group's arguments...
posted by GuyZero at 1:00 PM on August 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


^^
posted by autodidact at 1:08 PM on August 28, 2008


How can they only approach the surface of this issue like that?

Can they back up the "cost-savings" statement with proof that productivity from the change of platform doesn't decline (which would actually offset the "savings")?
posted by tybeet at 1:15 PM on August 28, 2008


I think you hit the nail on the head tybeet, MS Office on Windows have some well-known shortcomings, but it is "the devil you know" for most users.
posted by Mister_A at 1:18 PM on August 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


They aren't simply saying that open source will definitely cost less and so the Gouvernment should always use OSS, though - they're saying that there should be a bidding process in which it's even possible for an OSS vendor to win a contract, which they assert is not possible right now. The IT World Canada guy agrees with them on that.
posted by XMLicious at 1:27 PM on August 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Mister_A writes "I think you hit the nail on the head tybeet, MS Office on Windows have some well-known shortcomings, but it is 'the devil you know' for most users."

I'd much rather support the transition to OO than to Office 2007. Exchange is the sticking point.
posted by Mitheral at 1:35 PM on August 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Is suing really the best way to accomplish this? Seems like you could appeal to some politician running on a budget-trimming platform to push for this in the legislature. Governments must spend quite a lot on updating all their MS software.
posted by Tehanu at 1:49 PM on August 28, 2008


Not to make this about America (well, this is Metafilter) but after the Department of Homeland Security endorsed Microsoft products as a security measure (!), there should be no more illusions that this sort of thing isn't just corporate welfare, the payoff for all the payola.

All those campaign contributions and junkets that Microsoft throws at policy makers: Microsoft greases palms in India, they grease it up in Munich, Germany, they get greasy in China, they do it dirty in America, they do the samba in Brazil, and (yes) they do it French-style in Quebec, Canada.

And it all reaps exponential dividends when you get governments hooked on Microsoft cash and get them hooked into the closed Microsoft ecology. The only way out is to rebuild almost all your systems from scratch, instead of being able to replace components of your IT infrastructure with better technology.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:50 PM on August 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


So... Step 1 of the revolution is no longer Grab Pitchfork, but instead Destroy Installation CDs?
posted by Tehanu at 1:58 PM on August 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


Microsoft started playing the campaign contribution/ lobbying game as a defensive measure. In 1996, when its total US donations were (eyeballing) $200,000, its market cap was around $100,000,000,000.

Personally, I blame the communists at the FTC.
posted by Kwantsar at 1:59 PM on August 28, 2008


As a professional sysadmin and longtime linux user, let me tell you: Exchange is huge, but isn't the only problem. The elephant in the room here is that OpenOffice is a really, really crappy product. It's huge, brittle (until recently, you could make it crash by selecting a first-tier menu item in an empty document), the UI is awful and even on lightning-fast modern hardware, it's a dog. And you'd have to give up Exchange (and everything that works with it, like Blackberry Enterprise Server), Access, Visio, Project, and do you know how much money gets shovelled through the Excel Macro Language in a single business day?

The answer, it turns out, "lots". And the cost of retraining, in a large organization, isn't something you can just brush off.

Anyone who thinks that OpenOffice is even vaguely acceptable as an MS Office replacement is deluding themselves, and anyone who rants about Microsoft's "bloat" and then turns around and advocates OpenOffice is a crackhead.
posted by mhoye at 2:01 PM on August 28, 2008 [5 favorites]


(make that "total campaign contributions")
posted by Kwantsar at 2:01 PM on August 28, 2008


"Governments must spend quite a lot on updating all their MS software."

Not so; government and educational bulk licensing costs are pennies on the dollar of what corporations pay.
posted by mhoye at 2:03 PM on August 28, 2008


Not so; government [...] bulk licensing costs are pennies on the dollar of what corporations pay.

Really? I'm government, and we don't get a significant break compared to the corporate rates. We often pay more per license, in fact. Prices are usually fixed for long periods and agreements are notorious for being inflexible.
posted by bonehead at 2:19 PM on August 28, 2008


The elephant in the room here is that OpenOffice is a really, really crappy product.

I really,really don't understand that statement. As a purchaser in a MS-centric corporation,I use Microsoft Office products all day long. As a freelance worker, I use Open Office all night long. OO is certainly not as polished as MSOffice, but is far from a crappy product.

I actually prefer OO for most tasks (not all, but most).
posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:19 PM on August 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


And it all reaps exponential dividends when you get governments hooked on Microsoft cash and get them hooked into the closed Microsoft ecology. The only way out is to rebuild almost all your systems from scratch, instead of being able to replace components of your IT infrastructure with better technology.

An even better deal for Microsoft is that getting governments to use Microsoft forces anyone who has to deal with the government to use Microsoft. The NSF and NIH grant submission processes debacle is one of many good demonstrations of what happens when governments and corporations collude in this way, marginalizing any non-Microsoft technology at taxpayer expense.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:24 PM on August 28, 2008


The elephant in the room here is that OpenOffice is a really, really crappy product.

I've actually never used OpenOffice; I had some ridiculously bad experiences with it when it was StarOffice, and I have heard repeatedly that OO is crap too as you say. But there are a bunch of Office Suite type apps that are very good; I use AbiWord as a word processor, which has done anything I've ever needed it to, and Gnumeric as a spreadsheet, with the only issue they really need to work on being printing large sheets (though I haven't checked out the latest release, the problems I've had in the past may have been fixed, and I use it on Windows anyways which I'm sure receives less QA effort).

MS Office does have a really wide range of capabilities but I'm skeptical that most users of it ever get far enough beyond the tip of the iceberg that they'd run into much, or even anything at all, that an open source app couldn't do.
posted by XMLicious at 2:30 PM on August 28, 2008


The French version of the press release has links to the actual filings.

My understanding of the request:

A.

The Quebec Government is required issue a call for tenders for almost all of its contracts, but there are exceptions. The relevant one in the case of Microsoft would be:

(As per Supply contracts, construction contracts and service contracts of government departments and public bodies, Regulation respecting, R.Q. c. A-6.01, r.0.03)

12. A call for tenders is not required in any of the following cases: (7) a contract is awarded to the only possible supplier considering that a person's exclusive right such as a copyright or a right based on a licence or a patent, or the artistic or museological value of the goods or services must be complied with;

So the Gov't would be justified to go directly to Microsoft (well with intermediaries) because it's the only party that can license the software and because that software is required for continuity reasons.

But FACIL argues in the request (pdf, French) that Vista and the "2007" software "n'ont rien de commun avec les précédents logiciels que leur fonction et le nom de leur fabricant" ("have nothing in common with the previous software except their function and the name of their maker"). They also say that the fact that other parts of the gov't already use some software does not justify foregoing a competitive bid process based on functionality.

B.

FACIL also argues that by foregoing the bid process, the gov't is also violating its Politique sur les marchés publics (French) which calls for consideration of global cost and opening to as many suppliers as possible. They say it also violates some of the guidelines set in Les logiciels libres et ouverts et le gouvernement du Québec : Guide de référence (pdf, French)
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 2:41 PM on August 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


The French version of the press release has links to the actual filings.

For those who don't understand French, the English version of the press release - like the French version - has pdf links to the press release and the motion filed. But the French version does have pdf scans of evidence, it seems.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:52 PM on August 28, 2008


According to my supervisor, the French dictionary packaged with OpenOffice is a piece of merde.
posted by avocet at 2:52 PM on August 28, 2008


Two relevant pieces from the Quebec Government's bidding Website:

One were the motives for avoiding a call for tender is that Microsoft has the copyright on the software used

Another where the motive is "ensuring continuity and evolution of existing software by updating software" (my translation)
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 2:56 PM on August 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


MS Office does have a really wide range of capabilities but I'm skeptical that most users of it ever get far enough beyond the tip of the iceberg that they'd run into much, or even anything at all, that an open source app couldn't do.

This is absolutely true, but it's still a big problem if you're trying to replace Office. The needs of the "power users" are often the limiting factor in trying to get a replacement in. I use Excel, and my accountant uses Excel; I could get away with any spreadsheet app, but he can't, and it's easier for me to just keep using Excel because he's going to have to, and it's easier for IT to maintain one solution for everyone instead of one solution for him and another for me.
posted by me & my monkey at 2:58 PM on August 28, 2008


MS Office does have a really wide range of capabilities but I'm skeptical that most users of it ever get far enough beyond the tip of the iceberg that they'd run into much, or even anything at all, that an open source app couldn't do.

That's absolutely not true. In real life, and this is true of everywhere I've worked, most of the features do get used. What happens is that one department uses a certain feature set and another uses a different set. Power users use a different feature set altogether.

The high-profile OSS projects are pretty good, with OO being one of the worst. Software below the top items really is terrible. Im skeptical of an OSS equivalent of everything a government or business would use, especially when you factor in support, stability, migration, and training. It seems like a believable "truthy" concept, but in real life it just aint there.

That said, OSS vendors should be allowed to bid, but dont be surprised if people decide the Evolution/OO/redhat combo doesnt do it for them.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:58 PM on August 28, 2008


Maybe they could use the French word for "delay".
posted by Artw at 3:06 PM on August 28, 2008


That's absolutely not true. In real life, and this is true of everywhere I've worked, most of the features do get used.

The 80-20 rule applies, for sure - 80 percent of your user base will only ever use 20 percent of your features. But the thing is that (1) it's a different 20 percent for everybody, and (2) in a large organization (or any org, really) you just cannot have that other 20 percent of your staff sitting on their hands because of crappy, second-rate tools.
posted by mhoye at 3:06 PM on August 28, 2008


On the spreadsheet front I understand that OO does not have Pivot Tables. That'd be a deal breaker for a start.
posted by Artw at 3:14 PM on August 28, 2008


On the spreadsheet front I understand that OO does not have Pivot Tables.

Not true. OO calls them DataPilots. Functionally the same thing.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:22 PM on August 28, 2008


Hmm. Sounds like it might not be a full implementation, but is mostly there. It'd take soemone who knwos more about spreadsheets than me to tell you how significant the diffrences are.
posted by Artw at 3:29 PM on August 28, 2008


I use Excel, and my accountant uses Excel; I could get away with any spreadsheet app, but he can't, and it's easier for me to just keep using Excel because he's going to have to, and it's easier for IT to maintain one solution for everyone instead of one solution for him and another for me.

I am not an apologist for OO, but these kind of things are just excuses. OO can save perfectly well in Excel format. Information is freely exchangeable between MSOffice and OO. Sometimes it takes a little forethought, but it's doable.

Just sticking with MSOffice can cause problems between versions, too. Alot of the brass in my company use the newest version of MSOffice and insist on sending out stuff in the newest formats that are incompatible with the older versions us peons use. Microsoft offers "compatability" tools, but they need to be downloaded and installed by the older versions' users; and, even then, they don't always work.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:30 PM on August 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


I am not an apologist for OO, but these kind of things are just excuses.

So, it's easier to provision identical machines with different application suites than just one?

Alot of the brass in my company use the newest version of MSOffice and insist on sending out stuff in the newest formats that are incompatible with the older versions us peons use.

If your company lets people use whatever they want on their machines, that's your company's problem. Quite a few companies don't do this. They enforce standardization, for obvious reasons.
posted by me & my monkey at 3:41 PM on August 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


That's absolutely not true. In real life, and this is true of everywhere I've worked, most of the features do get used.

I'm sorry but there is just no way that the average user uses anything but a small fraction of the capabilities in MS Office (mhoye's 80-20 sounds good to me), and the capabilities they do use are probably things that have been there for ten years or more. I say that as someone who has worked as a software trainer of both technical and non-technical people.

I remember that back in Word 97, you could select some text and put an animated border around it - falling confetti or marching ants or something like that, there were a wide array of options. I have never, ever met anyone in the last eleven years who used that feature nor even seen a document that contains it. How about you?

Or how about "Clippy"? Or Microsoft Office Binder? Or macro recording. You're not going to say that most Office users use macros, are you? (Not that open source products don't have their own macro and scripting capabilities, often in more conventional languages than Visual Basic for Applications. And I know there are the COM APIs but in my experience those are horrendous to work through.) That's real life - there really hasn't been any substantial value added to the product in a decade for the average user and open source products can do what Office 97 did, and more, just fine.

Im skeptical of an OSS equivalent of everything a government or business would use,

Well, go ahead and name a software category that doesn't have open source representatives in it. I think that whatever you might come up with is probably going to be a pretty obscure category for the desktop user.

Many of the Office-Suite-category OSS products are pretty good, but in my estimation that group doesn't even touch on the really high-quality products that are out there, things like Paint.NET for raster images (I hate GIMP, ugh), Inkscape for vector image illustration, Scribus for desktop publishing, or something like SugarCRM or JIRA in the case of a server-side app (not to mention the fundamental ones like Fire Fox or Apache).

Yeah, some times a commercial closed-source solution is best - but there are a hell of alot of instances where there's an OSS solution out there that is at once the cheapest, most flexible, and most generally suitable solution. I've seen so many companies (and government organizations, etc.) spend ridiculous gobs of money on commercial software for the stupidest things.
posted by XMLicious at 4:03 PM on August 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


For large datasets, Calc doesn't work, it's still stuck on the 256 columb x 65,536 row limit. Excel is now 16k columns x 1M rows. While you could use a database instead, I do find spreadsheets better for quick analysis of large datasets, which I work with pretty regularly.

I also find Calc to be very buggy, and it does not have as rich an ability to do conditional (programmatic) formatting and sheet generation. Perhaps more importantly, while it does support Pivot Tables as DataPilots, it does not support PivotCharts.
posted by wildcrdj at 4:07 PM on August 28, 2008


Well, go ahead and name a software category that doesn't have open source representatives in it. I think that whatever you might come up with is probably going to be a pretty obscure category for the desktop user.

CAD/CAM
posted by sebastienbailard at 4:18 PM on August 28, 2008


Many of the Office-Suite-category OSS products are pretty good, but in my estimation that group doesn't even touch on the really high-quality products that are out there, things like Paint.NET for raster images

I *like* paint.net, I use it a lot, but it's not really a serious contendour when compared with Photoshop. Push it or GIMP on a graphic designer and they'd mosty likely walk off the job.
posted by Artw at 4:19 PM on August 28, 2008


Most people don't create Office macros, but in a large organization, like the government, a large portion will probably use someone's macros, in order to fill in a form, or input data into some type of larger application using office tools.

These types of situations are migrating to the web, but in places with no network connectivity, being able to fill out a spreadsheet that automagically creates a word document is a great help.

Even with scripting capabilities, you are looking to retool an entire workforce, either through retraining or rehiring, to use a new tool. People are expensive, more expensive than licensing or machines.

It's the 80/20 rule, but the 80% still uses the tools and products of the 20%, even if not using those features directly.
posted by zabuni at 4:24 PM on August 28, 2008


Um, you can run Office in linux just as easily. I can think of several apps where the proprietary version is way better: video editing, 'shop, CAD, GIS.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 4:40 PM on August 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


What's sad is that as long as people are stuck with monopoly's products, they don't get to see how much better things could be if there were real competition. To bring out the old car analogy, just imagine what cars today would be like if General Motors were the only company manufacturing cars since the 1940's. We'd all expect to get about 10 miles per gallon and raise eyebrows at the grease-monkey hackers building their own vehicles.

This is why office productivity is stuck in the 90s. If Silverlight catches on, the rest of the web could be next.
posted by Loudmax at 4:52 PM on August 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't that be a better argument if teh open source software we were discussing actually innovated, rather than atytempting to duplicate the functionality of existing apps?
posted by Artw at 4:57 PM on August 28, 2008


sebastienbailard: CAD/CAM

Archimedes, BRL-CAD, and QCad Community Edition are just the ones listed on Wikipedia and I've come across others in the past. Though this kind of thing is pretty much what I meant by an "obscure category for the desktop user".

Artw: I *like* paint.net, I use it a lot, but it's not really a serious contendour when compared with Photoshop. Push it or GIMP on a graphic designer and they'd mosty likely walk off the job.

Not a serious contender as the expert tool that a graphic designer does her entire job in, I can understand. But most of the people I've seen with Photoshop installed on their desktop have not been graphic designers. (Who knows how many of those installations were legal, of course, but that's not even a problem with open source.)

zabuni: Even with scripting capabilities, you are looking to retool an entire workforce, either through retraining or rehiring, to use a new tool. People are expensive, more expensive than licensing or machines.

Sure, and there are also IT support costs, et cetera. I'm just saying that a commercial app does not automatically trump an open source app amongst these costs. That might've been a reliable rule of thumb in 1998, but not today. And if some marketing guy comes to you with a requisition form in his hand saying "I need Photoshop!" or "I need Microsoft Project Server Super Platinum Team Edition!" as a one-off, it may be well worth the while to at least take a look at the OSS solutions available.

And, thanks in part to OSS I believe, there are more "Lite" and "Express" free versions of products out there now that are pretty capable too.
posted by XMLicious at 5:13 PM on August 28, 2008


Marketing guys are requesting Microsoft Team Foundation Server?
posted by Artw at 6:03 PM on August 28, 2008


On OS X boxen, "Pages" and "Numbers" are actually pretty damn nice and provide far more functionality than most end-users require.

I find document sharing of *source* to be almost wholly unnecessary. I send PDFs. Hardly ever does anyone need to be able to actually change a document (and most of the time I really *do not* want them to).
posted by five fresh fish at 6:14 PM on August 28, 2008


Marketing guys are requesting Microsoft Team Foundation Server?

No, Project Server. Tsk, tsk, you're not up to snuff on the MS product line - what are you going to do if you suddenly need a product like that and don't even know it exists?
posted by XMLicious at 6:33 PM on August 28, 2008


avocet writes "According to my supervisor, the French dictionary packaged with OpenOffice is a piece of merde."

Which would be a perfect place for the goverment of Quebec to make an improvement. Especially the Government of Quebec. They could get the exact version of french that they want.
posted by Mitheral at 8:38 PM on August 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Regarding OO's dictionary: the Government of Quebec can probably afford the OO 2 compatible Antidote, especially since they have a "buy local" policy. In fact, they probably already do (and while MS Office's French spellcheck is getting better by leaps and bound, Antidote is still superior)
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:52 PM on August 28, 2008


If your company lets people use whatever they want on their machines, that's your company's problem. Quite a few companies don't do this. They enforce standardization, for obvious reasons.


I think you're missing the point. Apparently his company, like mine, doesn't buy enough software to make sure everybody is using the same thing (it's a small company, and we don't have any dedicated IT staff). There are at least 4 different versions of MS Office floating around here and the compatibility between them sucks. In fact, I found a work-around where I would open docs from one particular co-worker on OO.o, save it in MS Office format, and then it would open properly in my version of Word.

FWIW, I switched to NeoOffice in my personal life a while back, and now OO.o3 beta, because my older personal copy of MS Office for the Mac is the only software I use that regularly crashes (The office computers are all Windows XP) and has on every version of OSX I've ever used. On my last field assignment, which I just returned from a couple of weeks ago and used my personal Macbook Pro I used NeoOffice pretty much exclusively and nobody noticed because the export function for spreadsheets and documents worked well for me and I sent out most stuff in PDF format anyway. I guess that means I'm not a power user. I switched over on day 2 because Word kept crashing on me.

Yes, real power users might need MS Office, but for most of us OO.o is fine.
posted by lordrunningclam at 6:26 AM on August 29, 2008


the really high-quality products that are out there, things like [...] Inkscape for vector image illustration

Inkscape!?!? I use it all the bloody time because it's free and it's just about capable of doing what I need it to. But quality? It's a poster child of OSS arcane UI design, it's missing all sorts of features, it's unstable (or unstable enough that its lack of autosave is preposterous). For god sake, the only way to copy an object between documents is to open the other document in the same window, closing the document you're copying from.

It's usable, I'll give them that, but the idea that it's a suitable replacement for anyone with a non-zero budget is laughable.
posted by cillit bang at 1:54 AM on August 30, 2008


It's a poster child of OSS arcane UI design,

That's completely contrary to my experience with it. I find it way more usable than a good 90% of the commercial software I've used. Now GIMP - there's the poster child of arcane UI design.

I don't know if you've done any commercial software engineering, but believe me none of the commercial products out there, at version 0.47, were anything near what Inkscape is right now. That's a well-designed, well-managed, and well-QAed software project. That's what I meant by "quality".

I think it's going to be pretty formidable when it's released. But it has substantial business value right now. If, for example, you knew a small business owner who just needed to make a resolution-independent version of their company logo, the obvious thing would be for them to use Inkscape, right? Sure, they might have the budget to buy Illustrator or something like that, but to me that would seem like a waste of money.
posted by XMLicious at 2:32 PM on August 30, 2008


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