New version of Toledo Talk

    July 17, 2006

Recent interesting ideas from Ben Konop - Via the GCJ: "[F]our-part proposal promoting openness and accessibility in county government." And "[P]roposal to switch the county's computer system from Microsoft to open source software."

Maybe TPS should also consider using open source software to help save money.

Open Source Software

First, BK's OSS initiative from his press release:

"At the press conference, Konop will personally demonstrate the open source software that he hopes to have the county utilize when he is Commissioner. The Konop campaign is already utilizing open source software in its daily operations."

"Currently, the County purchases and uses software products like Microsoft Office, Corel, and LotusWorks. In addition to the costs of the software, the county pays licensing fees and upgrading fees of hundreds of dollars per computer. In comparison, open source software is available for free and performs very similar functions. In addition, open source software is less susceptible to viruses, eliminates inaccessibility of public documents, and allows for greater customization."

"And best of all, it's free! Based on estimates by the State of Massachusetts, which recently developed an open source software plan, switching to open source could amount to savings of $300 or more per user within the county. Thus, Lucas County taxpayers stand to save millions over the next several years with a new round of licensing and new products entering the market."

(What about savings in TPS?)

Part of one comment by Ben on Glass City Jungle explained:

"[O]pen office is 99% identical to Microsoft products and it took me about 5 minutes to learn my way around it. That's compared to probably about one million dollars in savings over a 4 year period if we moved to open source."

Another comment by Ben said:

"I use Open Office as does the campaign and we have our campaign computer running on an open source operating system."

Open Government

BK's plan for a more open govenment from a press release at GCJ:

"Konop will propose streaming live webcasts of Lucas County Commissioner meetings, as well as real-time television broadcasts."

"Konop is also calling for an increase in the number of meetings held throughout the county and in the evenings. With one-third of the residents of Lucas County living outside of the city limits, equitable practice would call for a commensurate proportionality in the location of meetings, with two-thirds in the city and one-third in other areas."

"Konop is also advocating for the county budget to be placed online to increase accessibility and accountability in spending practices."

"Finally, Konop is calling for full disclosure of all campaign contributions via the website of the Lucas County Board of Elections. Franklin County already has such a system in place in order to provide the voters with a clear picture of the sources of funding for each candidate."

Back to open source software, a few stories:

July 11, 2006 story:

"[A] report from the Department of Defense's Advanced Systems and Concepts Office, which recommends that the DoD move to a roadmap to adopt open source and open standards, maintaining that such a move is not only in the US national interest, but in the interests of US national security." and the State of Massachusetts:

"The State of Massachusetts says:
* Open document formats that are free to be used by programs
* Preferably open source applications, because a format specification is only a fraction of the value of a running application in source. (porting is less work than implementing to read and convert(?) an old format).
* Open source office suites, such as, KOffice, AbiWord, ..."

(Oh yeah, Schools and open source and the K12 Open Source wiki.)

posted by jr to politics at 6:21 P.M. EST     (21 Comments)

Comments ...

I wholehartedly agree that the county should run on open source. There have been few times in my life where I have felt as confidant in a decision. Find a programmer who can script, and the result will be a system that is not only much cheaper, and safer, but more efficient and robust.

I have never really felt one way or another about Konop, but I have just gained a lot of respect. What a divegence from Carty.

posted by nick44 at 06:46 P.M. EST on Mon Jul 17, 2006     #

Good. Lemme know when they need some trained and certified people for Linux and so on, I could use a job.
posted by anonymouscoward at 06:46 P.M. EST on Mon Jul 17, 2006     #

...that's a smart move for the county to head. The license fees for some of that software can be pretty high.

Ever since I switched from a PC to a Mac last January, I've made the most of the OSX unix shell and gone open source. OpenOffice instead of MS, GimpShop ionstead of Photoshop, Inkscape instead of Freehand, etc.... 100% legal software that costs me nothing. I love open source, and you don't need to be on jr's or ac's computing level to run it at home...

I'm not sure how this plays out as a campaign platform, but if a candidate has an idea that helps save our gov't money, I can't say it hurts...

posted by timault at 08:16 P.M. EST on Mon Jul 17, 2006     #

I've always kinda like Open Office, though I don't use it myself, simply because I've always had access to MS Office (and all I boot into Ubunutu Linux for is to mess around). And while some of the more robust features make sense for a business, I don't feel that a government office really needs it. So OOo makes perfect sense.

I'm still not a fan of the kid (multiple-county taxes? You gotta be kidding me!), but it's a hell of an idea.

posted by TheTalentedMrC at 09:57 A.M. EST on Tue Jul 18, 2006     #

I don't like Mr Konop's brand of politicking, but it's time to give credit where it's due. These are good ideas -- and are not just pie-in-the-sky ones that usually infest Toledo. Government tech infrastructure can stand to change to Open Source alternatives. Even if the change lags, the threat of the change can be used to chew down the local Microsoft rep to something that passes as reasonable fees for software licenses.

As for more open government, well, all Mr Konop will have to do is follow such precepts himself if and when he becomes a LC Commissioner.

posted by GuestZero at 03:39 P.M. EST on Tue Jul 18, 2006     #

Lemme know when they need some trained and certified people for Linux and so on, I could use a job.
Ouch!!! posted by anonymouscoward at 07:46 P.M. EDT on Mon Jul 17, 2006 #

I think I just found how to use the word kakistocracy in a sentence!

posted by billy at 07:38 P.M. EST on Tue Jul 18, 2006     #

"The phrase architecture of participation describes the nature of systems that are designed for user contribution, such as open source and Wikipedia itself. It was coined by Tim O'Reilly, who described it at length in a 2003 speech and later in several of his online writings."

"The phrase has come to define one of the key elements of what's been called Web 2.0, which describes the collection of companies, technologies and projects that are designed around the culture and economics of openness."

posted by jr at 10:19 A.M. EST on Wed Jul 19, 2006     #

I agree that Mr. Konop hasn't shown himself as honorable in the way he attacks his opponents but I believe this is an interesting idea.
posted by MikeyA at 11:21 A.M. EST on Thu Jul 20, 2006     #

Its a very interesting idea, i wonder who gave it to him? hahahahahah sorry, i couldn't resist.

But i wonder if the rest of the government flunkies would go for it? Im thinking that they probably wouldnt.

Also how could it be implemented, and what would they do with the funds that they saved? Unfortunatly i think they would give it away, i dont think our taxes would get lowered?????

posted by tm at 01:26 P.M. EST on Thu Jul 20, 2006     #

About open source software being used in government from the June 30, 2006 Blade article:

"The level of complexity and integration among programs makes implementing an open-source system impossible, said Lucas County Auditor Larry Kaczala, who runs the information services division. It will take at least a decade before the county could transition to open-source applications, Mr. Kaczala said."

LK professed:

"You’re going to have to dismantle the county’s entire IT system, which I can’t do because I can’t let the prisoners out of jail. I'd be happy to have Ben come in and give him a tour of our systems — bring him up to speed."

George Sarantou said:

"I would rely on the professionals we’ve hired who do this for a living. They do this every day. They know our technology needs."

Two more Republicans who do not understand technology. We know Republicans don't understand the openness of the Internet.

One mouthpiece for the telcoms who is opposed to net neutrality is Mr Bridge to Nowhere Republican Senator Ted Stevens. In Ted's speech given a few weeks ago where he spoke against net neutrality, Stevens described the Internet this way:

"They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the Internet. And again, the Internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a truck. It's a series of tubes."

"And if you don't understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it's going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material."

The other day, I think I tripped over one of those Internet tubes that's pushed up through the soil from all the recent rain.

Apparently, Stevens is chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Another of Stevens's meathead statements:

"... an Internet was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday; I just got it yesterday"

Yeah, I could see it taking a few days if someone sent the entire Internet or "an" Internet.

Kaczala says it would take at least a decade to transition to open-source applications. That's probably true especially when Kaczala studied technology at the Ted Stevens school of science.

Kaczala shot his mouth off when he said:

"I'd be happy to have Ben come in and give him a tour of our systems — bring him up to speed."

Fine. Konop should call Kaczala's bluff because you know Larry is not serious. If Konop did get a tour, Konop should have with him a few network and software engineers who work with open source software.

And maybe the next time Jeremy Zawodny is visiting his folks in Toledo, someone can organize an open source software dicussion that includes Zawodny. Jeremy is a Toledo native and BGSU grad who has worked at Yahoo! for several years, first as a programmer and internal evangelist for open source database MySQL, and now he does I-don't-know-what.

Jeremy Zawodny is known as a "Technical Yahoo!" He's worked at Yahoo! since 1999. As the company's resident MySQL guru, he worked on application design, architecture, database support, tuning and troubleshooting. He's worked as an evangelist on the influencer marketing team and helped launch the Yahoo! Search blog. He is currently a member of Yahoo! Search’s Technology Development team. He is the author of “High Performance MySQL." "

Kaczala wouldn't make Ted Stevens-like statements if he actually spoke with people who use open source software at the major league level. Instead of being open-minded about the open source idea, Kaczala naturally knee-jerked to an ignorant political comeback.

"I can’t let the prisoners out of jail."

Yeah, that's a brilliant response. Someone needs to send Kaczala an Internet so Larry can learn something.

posted by jr at 08:46 P.M. EST on Thu Jul 20, 2006     #

No wonder why there's no high tech in Toledo... the bogon density from the politicians alone drive the clueful right out.

"The level of complexity and integration among programs makes implementing an open-source system impossible, said Lucas County Auditor Larry Kaczala, who runs the information services division. It will take at least a decade before the county could transition to open-source applications, Mr. Kaczala said."

Yeah, and it's taken the county how long to get to the joke of "modern" at which they currently exist?

The wonderful thing about Open Source is that all the data interchange, file formats, protocols, and so on are also open. So whatever ultra-complex steaming pile of so-called integration that they inevitably have will go bye-bye as they don't have to play games with Microsoft's monopolistic file formats, Netware garbage, whatever Unix stuff is sitting around, legacy data BS, etc. etc. You undoubtedly know, jr, as I know, there's probably two dozen kludges and complicated procedures in their current system to (for example) get data out of some ancient database and import it into some shiny new Microsoft application, or to get some outdated legacy app to talk with current hardware and software. There's probably some "absolutely critical application" that only runs on Windows 3.1 or DOS or Mac OS 9 or VAX/VMS or AS/400 that they still use to print up pretty brochures or voter registration cards, or, horror of horrors, do the payroll with. Some damn monstrosity that requires them to use some $BIGNUM per license terminal emulation package to talk with. I'd bet good money they probably still have 9-track tapes around there (oh gods, the horrible memories).

Gods forbid that Konop propose to scrap all this and put everything on Open Source. Oh dear, that doesn't make sense, does it?

posted by anonymouscoward at 09:34 P.M. EST on Thu Jul 20, 2006     #

Kaczala just wants to keep the current system running without that highly uncomfortable thing called CHANGE. They could implement changes as a program of progressive and constant changes, as application by application, server by server, and department by department. Over time those nasty site licenses with Microsoft can be downgraded until they are either eliminated or discounted to a rational price.

In Toledo, it's not really a technological limitation, but a philosophical one. An alleged 10-yr transition plan is completely laughable by its length and only brings to light now Kaczala is simply refusing to deal with the issue (a skill he learned from nearly every other Toledo politician).

posted by GuestZero at 10:25 P.M. EST on Thu Jul 20, 2006     #

The only thing I can say in Kaczala's defense is that most of his operation is in geographic information system (GIS), my bread & butter. Right now geospatial software is pretty much ran by ESRI, and their software is almost exclusively targeted to run on Microsoft. Unfortunately, the competition to ESRI in the Open Geospatial consortium is several years behind ESRi in their capabilities. As sad as it is (and as buggy as it is, trust me), the whole industry is pretty much stuck win MS-ESRI, or MiSERi if you will...

...then again, you can concede the geospatial software, but there's no reason why file servers and personal workstations could go open source..

posted by timault at 10:47 P.M. EST on Thu Jul 20, 2006     #

Okay - honest questions...please no bashing my lack of technical terms because I'm trying to understand this...

I was told (NOT by county staff) that open source software is 'out there' and available for download. Individuals can modify the existing versions and then make available the 'next' version of the software. If this is basically correct, how would an entity verify that they've got the SAME version as everyone else in the entity if they had to download copies at various times. Does open source have numbers like the versions of other software?

Many packaged softwares (like for courts, corrections, document maintenance) run on MS platforms. How would switching to open source impact those packaged softwares and could such a switch violate terms of agreement as to maintenance on the packages?

Please know - I've asked these questions of staff and others, but y'all seem to be saying that the staff people are not telling the truth about how it could work. So your patience as I learn is appreciated.

posted by MaggieThurber at 08:07 A.M. EST on Fri Jul 21, 2006     #

Open source could be used where it works as an easy, cost-saving replacement. It doesn't have to be a complete overhaul overnight.

If Kaczala or his cronies were concerned with budgets and saving taxpayers money, they would look at everything to see where it's possible to save some bucks. Maybe a few areas in the computer system could be indentified as candidates for open source.

Like timault said, the GIS doesn't change. But I wonder what the GIS has to do with keeping prisoners in jail?

With his Ted Stevens moment, Kaczala made it sound like everything on the network is about keeping the prisoners in jail. Don't close your Windows programs the wrong way on your desktop PC because you may open the jail doors.

But AC is probably on to something. I wonder how many different county systems are cobbled together with duct tape and a prayer, making it nearly impossible to do worthwhile upgrades or changes?

Kaczala responding to the idea as quickly and ignorantly as he did shows he's just another political hack. He'd been better off saying he would have to investigate the matter to see where or if open source works.

And this idea of integrating open source software where possible should not be restricted to county government. What about Toeldo government and the Toledo Public School system?

How much money does TPS spend each year on software licenses? Yes, some TPS proprietary software won't be replaced with open source, but I bet some could. How much money could TPS save?

posted by jr at 08:46 A.M. EST on Fri Jul 21, 2006     #

I don't think everyone here is looking at the total cost of implementing OSS to replace the current systems. OSS seems cheap because there's no cost for the software, but the other costs involved are going to be higher

Implementation - While Mr. Kazala might be overestimating the time needed to convert to OSS software, the migration to OSS would take years to complete. This conversion would entail more than just dropping Linux on a PC and even without knowing much about the county's IT structure, I know they don't have the capacity to move to OSS in under a year. For example, authentication services need to be developed, a patch management system needs to be set up, and data migration plans need to be developed. Personally, I'd rather be molested by a red hot poker than migrate data from one mail server to another. I've done that before and it's the only time in my professional career that I've contemplated suicide.

Support - The current IT staff is more than likely very knowledgeable in dealing with the current systems and software packages used by the county. Now they'll need to support software that they've never used before, meaning training will be required. Given the training prices I've seen lately, you can probably count on at least $100k, although considering what reputable places like Global Knowledge are charging, it's more like $250k.

Also, since the county would be using OSS, there's no vendor support included. Redhat has a support subscription for their enterprise products, but it's not free. The alternative would be to use a consulting firm, and in the Toledo area you can expect to pay at least $150 an hour for enterprise application support.

Staffing - To tailor the OSS packages to fit the needs of the county, programmers will need to be hired. Additionally, a large project like this will require someone to manage timelines, prioritize features, and keep the conversion moving forward will require a fulltime project manager. Add up these employees and their benefits and the county will be paying north of $250k a year in additional salaries. Again, consulting firms can be brought in, but the fees will quickly surpass the cost of the new employees' salaries and the consultants are more interested in racking up billable hours than ensuring a project's success.

I'm not saying it can't be done, nor that there will be no cost savings. I'm saying that OSS is not going to save millions like Konop promised. I also fail to see how converting all documents to an open source standard that has .0001% market penetration will increase openness in the county government. Want to get data in a format that every resident of the county can use? Use RTF. I've yet to run across a word processor that can't open a document in RTF.

posted by thenick at 10:42 A.M. EST on Fri Jul 21, 2006     #

Yup yup yup.

Open Source won't cooperate with most enterprise software. But MS is coming on board, at least talking the talk, of making a common source accessible to their platforms.


posted by katie82640 at 04:49 P.M. EST on Fri Jul 21, 2006     #

"Open Source won't cooperate with most enterprise software."

Like what? Are those enterprise systems using open standards or their own?

posted by jr at 09:32 P.M. EST on Fri Jul 21, 2006     #

Using microsoft interface. They've been hammered pretty hard about using proprietary interfaces - it looks like while they have paid some big fines - they're still at it.

I found a couple of other articles on this. But it looks like they would (Toledo) have to buy software or configure what they already have.

BUT if the new red lights downtown were in the planning NOT because of the activities coming up downtown but because there was a projected cost savings over a (?) 4 year period of time - they could buy a hell of alot of software with this savings over a similar time frame. That logic should be re-employed on this topic.

(And I don't buy that about the lights - but it is on the city council recording that I posted from last week)

posted by katie82640 at 09:39 P.M. EST on Fri Jul 21, 2006     #

Using microsoft interface.

Microsoft doesn't have an interface. They have something they claim is an interface, which is merely a mask.

"I love the way Microsoft follows standards. In much the same manner that fish follow migrating caribou." --Paul Tomblin

posted by anonymouscoward at 10:16 P.M. EST on Fri Jul 21, 2006     #

I was told (NOT by county staff) that open source software is 'out there' and available for download. Individuals can modify the existing versions and then make available the 'next' version of the software. If this is basically correct, how would an entity verify that they've got the SAME version as everyone else in the entity if they had to download copies at various times. Does open source have numbers like the versions of other software?

Version numbers and cryptographic signatures and, hell, there's nothing at all saying that the IT people can't burn 500 squillion DVDs of it as well (at least for most open source licenses). Which you can't do for proprietary closed source software, because possessing a backup copy is either against the licensing agreement or illegal. Yeah, you heard me, burning a duplicate CD of Windows XP for your own "if it gets lost, scratched, or just fails to read" purposes isn't permitted. Nor is it for music CDs, the RIAA and so on are putting copy-protection on so you can't burn a copy for in the car while keeping the original in the case at home safe and sound. Anyway, we have MD5sums and so on that verify what the people released is what has been downloaded.

Many packaged softwares (like for courts, corrections, document maintenance) run on MS platforms. How would switching to open source impact those packaged softwares and could such a switch violate terms of agreement as to maintenance on the packages?

If you signed some sort of binding long-term maintenance agreement whereupon you have to solemly swear to never ever peer under the hood or even think of evaluating or switching to a competing product, you deserve the screwing you gave to yourself, because you're at the mercy of the company. Don't even get me started into the security aspects of this, because so many of these companies won't admit that their products are insecure, and won't fix the problems when they are told about them. You'd have to hire some lawyers who know about IP law, contract law, and IT to unravel things for you. Besides, if this stuff runs on Windows, and Windows is as full of bugs as I know from horrible personal experience fixing PCs as it is, the kinds of things that can be done to these system would make you faint.

Maggie, Kazcala is the auditor, right? His job is to go around and examine the scales and verify with a set of exact weights and verify that the scales at the stores aren't cheating, right? He goes around with a set of exact volume containers to verify that gas pumps pump exactly 1.000 gallons of gas when they say they pump exactly 1.000 gallons of gas, yes?

Well, I know you think I'm an arrogant little dumbass who claims to be some sort of computer genius. Whatever. But I recall some years ago that someone got clever and put a chip in the gas pumps (all electronic now, you see, digital readouts and all that) that would dispense exact measurements for the standard size auditor containers (1 gallon, 5 gallon, whatever they are) but otherwise screw the customer when pumping other amounts. I wish I could find the sources on this, but even if I can't, modifying a gas pump to do this is certainly trivial.

Kaczala would never know the difference unless he had some whacky callibrated 6.34 gallon container or something, and saw that either the price was off or the gallons pumped was off, because he can't see inside the programming of a closed system.

Maggie, there are shows on like the Discovery Channel where they talk about people trying to cheat the house in Vegas, and where the house tries to cheat people. Some of it involves slot machine programming. The house programs the machines to be "loose" (pay out) or "tight" (take your money), as part of controlling people coming in and out... if traffic's down, they loosen the machines up to get people in ("hey, I won $500 on the slots last week" "cool, let's go to the casino"). You and I don't know what's going on inside the machine, so we don't know if the machine is loose, tight, or if they decided it's time to go jackpot.

All the Microsoft software, all the proprietary closed source software, is just like those black boxes and gas pumps. You can't look inside and verify that Bill Gates doesn't have a secret line into your computer, or that he didn't put one in there for the FBI/CIA/NSA/Illuminati/Vast ____ Conspiracy. You only have Microsoft's word. And, of course, the law, such as it is, to allow you to prosecute Microsoft. But Microsoft has $50 billion dollars CASH, *PLUS* your critical data and that of millions of other people to hold hostage. Microsoft effectively has you by the proverbial short-and-curlies. Honestly, what are you going to do to stop Microsoft? Drop a tac nuke on their HQ? Assassinate Gates and Ballmer? And it's not just Microsoft, but the makers of almost all closed-source software. They've got plausible deniability on their side. They can claim that some hacker put the backdoor there, or that specific bug. It was an inside job, honest. They really truly didn't know about it, Your Honor.

The great thing about Open Source, is that it's Open Source. If you are absolutely completely paranoid, you can read
the entire program, the entire code of the compiler that makes the program a program, etc. and see exactly what it does and how it's supposed to operate, and verify it all yourself. If there is a bug, or a backdoor, you can fix it or remove it. You don't have to wait on Microsoft to screw around for two weeks to release a patch that doesn't work, and then wait for another week for one that does. (Oh how I remember "winnuke" and "ping of death" and the JOY of running Linux at that time :)

If you need a new program, or something changed in the current one, no problem. You've got all the information you need to do it. Unlike Microsoft and other closed source programs, where you need to violate the DMCA and face being fined half a million and going to Federal Pound-Me-In-The-Ass-Prison to reverse-engineer a file format or protocol just so you can do something with YOUR data. Assuming that the license agreement didn't explicitly give the company all rights to YOUR data. Which, if you read the Terms of Service for YouTube, MySpace, and many other sites, if you upload or transmit something to or through their service, you're giving them an unlimited license to use, reproduce, sell, etc. etc. YOUR data, images, programs, ideas, and so on.

Two stories for you to read:

Apparently, people think that paying for expensive software from some person or company they can sue (or at least try to) when it goes wrong is good. It seems to give them a sense of security. They sleep at night knowing they can go yell at someone, sue 'em, sic the government on them, and if all else fails, blow up the company's HQ or shoot the place up. However, they don't realize that they don't have the faintest idea what's really going on. If they did, they wouldn't be sleeping so soundly.

Of course, you tell people the alternative is some totally free, Open Source software that nobody's really responsible for, that there's no warranty, that nobody can be sued for it if you use it and it causes a nuclear meltdown, they get all upset... but they have the entire code for it right there before their eyes, they could go learn programming or hire someone to completely audit it and swear on a stack of Bibles (or other holy texts as appropriate) that it's safe and secure and does exactly what it says it does. Unfortunately, that means someone has to take some measure of *GASP!* personal responsibility and accountability.

A gas pump or scale that overcharges by a penny or a voting or vote-counting system that throws one vote out of every N to a particular candidate -- both work to screw the masses to benefit the select few as long as the people cannot fully audit and inspect that system.

Print this out and pass it to Kaczala. I want to hear him say that he can personally verify and will stake his office, his home, and his life savings, on there being absolutely no security holes in any of the county's systems, that if I pump gas at any pump in Lucas County I will get the exact amount of gas to the nearest hundredth of a gallon it says, and the price the pump will display will be the price per gallon times the amount dispensed, and that if I go buy 2.000 pounds of dark chocolate covered espresso beans at $14.99 a pound on one of the scales with his sticker on it, that I'm getting 2.000 pounds of chocolate covered beans for $29.98. Because these things are all on the honor system. They swear everything is Nice and Exact, and they may well be when the auditor visits, but that doesn't mean they're not on the take when he's not around. It's a matter of Not Getting Caught.

posted by anonymouscoward at 11:44 P.M. EST on Fri Jul 21, 2006     #

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