Mad Penguin on California's ARB move to open source
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There is a very good, and objective, article on An interview with the IT leads at the California Air Resources Board. Nice work, Mad Penguin [that's, not .com].

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Like the San Francisco fog, open source at ARB has crept in on little cat feet. The IT staff at ARB weren't out to change the world. They were initially interested in coping with limited budgets. These folks are passionate about fighting air pollution, and so they have been highly motivated to stretch their dollars rather than cut back on their delivery of services, despite years of lean budgets since the dot-bomb leveled California tax revenues. Open source fit right into that picture of coping with lean budgets, according to this interview. Equally important, their data is their passion, and so they were not keen on having to essentially repurchase their data by renewing hardware or software they didn't need, simply because a vendor said it was time for new stuff.

Note the very pragmatic point of view here. And note that they easily could see for themselves that tying themselves into the Microsoft/Sun systems would not achieve the freedom and cost effectiveness that they knew would be required to achieve their primary mission objectives.

A lot of people focus on the supposed 'ease' of setting up MS systems, and on how well they integrate with other MS systems. Of course. But this ease is like the first taste of heroin a dealer gives their prospective addict clients in order to get them hooked. Long term, nothing is saved.

If you have dealt with computers long enough to remember the moves from Windows workgroups/3.1 to Windows NT 3.5/95 to NT 4 / 98 to Server 2000 / 2000 pro to server 2003 / XP you will have started understanding that this is a treadmill that goes nowhere.

Open source systems are developed by the users, for users, and so one thing you will start noticing very quickly is that they tend to be very stable in terms of how they work internally, especially in the major projects like Apache [not technically open source, but free bsd licensed], the linux kernel, the core utilities, and so on. This means time spent learning for example Apache is not lost, as it is when MS decides to fundamentally redo their systems, like they tend to do every 5 years or so.

Almost every major skill I pick up working with free or open source type software increases my understanding of the systems. The only thing I learn with windows is which checkbox to click to hopefully make something or other happen.

When you begin thinking about this stuff long term, not quarter to quarter returns, the entire unix and apache + open dbs, and of course free and open data formats, whether OASIS [open document format], HTML, XML, or PNG, OGG, etc, it all starts making much more sense.

And the long term results of this extreme focus on job and cost cutting are becoming increasingly clear. See some of Paul Craig Roberts recent remarks on the truth behind US job 'growth' for example. Paul is one of many voices growing increasingly concerned with the direction of US economic policy, but what's especially interesting about him is that he was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review. In other words, we're not talking a liberal here.

If we want to start moving away from this short-sighted type of thinking that is slowly pulling the economy down, we need to get back to creating and enforcing value, like we used to do.

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We recently put a job notice out for a senior level position, and one of the things that we added to the notice was that we are an open source shop. I got a number of applications in which people said that they were willing to take a pay cut if they could come to us, because of our open source culture. So it helps us attract quality people. There are a lot of people who feel "trapped" in their organizations, and they can't really experiment and be part of these new changes that are sweeping through the Internet. ARB can give them that opportunity.

This is a very interesting observation, which if you haven't worked around open source systems - or the people who are good at them - may not connect immediately.

I first saw this phenomena in school, where I was taking Windows MCSE classes. I heard about Linux, and sat in on a few classses. I was immediately struck by how radically superior in terms of computing skills the average person in the Linux class was when compared to almost all the people in the Windows networking classes. The difference was night and day.

One thing that companies like Microsoft bank on is that corporations are in essence trying to outsource the skills required to do good, competent work to companies like microsoft. In other words, in exchange for lack of security, bugs, bloated code, and many other technical compromises, the corporations that go with MS solutions are able to drop the skillset required to run their systems.

This is fairly typical US corporate short term thinking, and it's a doomed model. You don't want to outsource the skills required to run your systems, you want to develop these skills internally so that you yourself are in control of your data and software.

There will always be raw cost cutting CEOs who will cut IT spending short term in order to try to boost quarterly and yearly profits, this is just part of the disease that is spreading like a cancer through the corporate world. But it's a bad model, and shouldn't be taken as anything but the cancer it is.

If you develop systems that attract the best and the brightest, then they will come to you. The best and the brightest always can come up with solutions that a thousand average drones could never dream of. That's just one of the basic laws of software and IT. There's a reason, for example, that Google is so attractive to new employees: it's the cutting edge, uses a lot of open source stuff in its systems on every level. It's an interesting place to work, that is.

There's a lot more in this article, it's worth a careful read because so much of the FUD that microsoft keeps spending its money spreading isn't even taken seriously enough to rebut, since this organization knows perfectly well that by investing in people to run their technology, they have saved literally millions of dollars a year, and will continue to save this money, year in and year out. And they will continue to attract the best and the brightest.

I can tell you from personal experience, recently I was offered a very attractive job by a major website, and I turned it down without a second thought because the site ran on all Microsoft systems, top to bottom. This was all I needed to see to know that no matter how superficially appealing the project might have been, the person running it simply did not have the mindset I was looking for if I was going to put out the kind of energy pushing a website to the highest level takes.
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