April 3, 2003 spout


Chris Sells
Sells Brothers, Inc.
8539 SW 166th Terrace
Beaverton, OR 97007

Oregon State Representatives,

My name is Chris Sells and I run a one-man software consulting firm from my home in Beaverton, Oregon. For more than 20 years, I’ve been pretty much everything you can be in the software world: software engineer, chief architect, director, author, speaker, consultant and even marketer, so I know software ins and outs pretty well. In addition, I’ve been the treasurer for the Cooper Mountain Elementary School for the last two years, so I’m familiar with how important computer-related purchases are to at least one branch of the Oregon state government and how those decisions get made.

Before I start my testimony, I’d like to tell you about my experience in my high schools’s band. I played the trumpet for seven years, four of them in the marching band. I wasn’t great, but I loved to play. It gave me a deep feeling of satisfaction to be part of the band and to perform for the audience. I even continued my playing into one semester of college band, but it just wasn’t the same. The band at that level required a degree of skill and professionalism that I just didn’t have. Once I figured out that I didn’t have what it took to be a professional musician, I went on to find something else to make my living (computers).

By and large, open source software is often very much like a high school band. No one cares about the money. An open source programmer just wants to have their work seen and appreciated, regardless of whether they’re good enough, or thorough enough, to be paid for it.

Sometimes a high school band will be amazing; easily good enough to compete at any level. However, this is very rare when compared to professional bands that get paid based on how well they entertain their audience. Likewise, sometimes open source software achieves the same level of quality as closed source software. In those cases, I?m completely in favor of considering open source software to solve Oregon?s software needs. However, I?m not in favor of mandating open source software, which is what HB 2892 does.

By putting up artificial barriers to entry for closed source software, Oregon is narrowing their choices to those rare cases when open source software lives up to the letter of the requirements for a Request for Proposal (RFP) but doesn?t provide the same level of thoroughness that competing for money on the open market requires. This narrowing of choice is going to cost Oregon considerable additional funds in support, training and documentation, all things that the open source community lives without because of their own level of expertise. Continuing the analogy, assembling your own electric guitar if fun for an enthusiast, but requires very specialized skills. Likewise, using, supporting and maintaining open source software requires real engineering skills, which is the hidden cost you don?t see when initially installing open source software.

In addition to mandating open source software, HD 2892 calls for open data exchange standards. This is something that I?m very much in favor of. The latest and most general purpose standard for open data exchange is called the eXtensible Markup Language (XML) and is fully embraced by both the open source and the closed source communities. However, it?s the closed source vendors, like Microsoft, IBM and BEA, that are really making XML a reality by pushing it into their software at all levels. In fact, these same closed source vendors as going beyond just XML and building standards for communicating data between computers based on open source and closed source operating systems to make sure that all computers can communicate with each other. These standards are called ?web services? and are based around the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP). Defining, implementing and testing standards is an expensive proposition involving man-decades of dedicated engineering work, which is why it takes companies that make money on software to turn them from an adolescent dream into an adult reality.

I believe that open source should absolutely be considered for the state’s software needs. However, being open source is but one quality that needs consideration. Things that also need to be considered include the cost of training, documentation, support, upgrading and maintaining software systems and their support for open data standards. Some open source software will achieve the level of functionality and attention to detail that Oregon needs, but artificially narrowing your choices to open source software is like open picking high school bands to play at the Rose Garden. Sometimes you’ll get lucky but more often the audience is going to demand a refund.

Thank you for your time and attention,

Chris Sells