Thursday, August 24, 2006

Governments' role in open source

Posted by Dana Blankenhorn @ 9:40 am
Digg This!

The decision by Croatia to endorse open source leads to this question. (I assume Hrvatska is Croatia in Croatian.)

What should government's role be in open source?

I know what many of you will say. None. Government's role in a capitalist society is to promote private enterprise, period.

Maybe. But to me that's a theological argument, one totally at odds with American history. From canals to railroads to highways to the Internet itself, the U.S. government has always funded public works, and endorsed policies aimed at improving conditions for certain industries over others.

Governments outside the U.S. are increasingly adopting policies that support open source. They have several reasons. They want to save money. But they also want to encourage local developers, and starting from an open source base means they start from a higher level of complexity than if they were building from scratch.

There is nothing Americans can do to change this. The open source genie is out of the bottle. The Internet is out of its Pandora Box. (Insert your own metaphor here.)

The problem is that, in the past, when American industries were threatened by foreign competition, America generally chose the worst possible policies to support them. Mainly we subsidized incumbents, the outfits with the biggest lobbying arms, rather than doing all we could to encourage entrepreneurship.

Now American software leadership is under threat, with a business model Americans had a big hand in creating. The first state to back open source, Massachusetts, is now backing away from that commitment, in favor of the proprietary model.

So what happens now?

Standardized Medical Records

Bush Executive Order Unlikely To Pump Much Life Into Health IT

Though it pushes federal agencies to use standards-based IT, it won't drive many reluctant doctors to adopt such software.

By Marianne Kolbasuk McGee

Aug 22, 2006 06:00 PM

In the latest U.S. government move aimed at pushing the nationwide adoption of health IT, President Bush Tuesday signed an executive order requiring federal agencies that sponsor or administer health programs, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to adopt and use interoperable, standards-based health IT systems such as electronic medical records.

In addition to HHS, other large federal agencies that sponsor or administer health programs include the Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs, and the Office of Personnel Management.

The order, which becomes effective Jan. 1, also requires that parties that contract with those federal agencies—such as private health plans that participate in Medicare programs—also adopt standards-based, interoperable systems as they upgrade or implement health IT.

Bush two years ago set out the goal for most Americans to have electronic health records by 2014. Yet progress has been slow, and these orders won't necessarily affect the private-practice doctors who have been most reluctant to adopt electronic-medical records. Some federal agencies, such as the VA, have in fact been aggressive adopters of health IT.

"These orders won't have much effect at all," predicts Stephen Davidson, professor of health-care management and management policy of Boston University's School of Management.

Specifically, the order says that "as each agency implements, acquires, or upgrades health information technology systems used for the direct exchange of health information between agencies and with non-Federal entities, it shall utilize, where available, health information technology systems and products that meet recognized interoperability standards."

In addition to those requirements, the executive order also requires that the agencies provide enrollees and beneficiaries of federal health-care programs with "transparency" regarding costs and quality of health-care services. Specifically, the public should have access to cost and quality information regarding the common health services the agencies pay for.

The last health-IT related executive order signed by Bush was in April 2004, when he ordered the creation of a federal health IT czar—the position of national health information technology coordinator. That position was held for two years by Dr. David Brailer, who resigned in the spring. A replacement hasn't been named yet.

The new executive order adds another level of formality in the push for IT adoption to reduce costs and improve quality of care. In addition to the various moves by the White House, a number of health-IT related bills have been introduced in the Senate and House of Representatives over the last year or so, including a health IT bill approved last month by the House.

Many doctors are unconvinced that they should buy costly systems that require many process changes, when the financial benefits from processing efficiency and even improved care don't flow to them.

"The missing link is that not many doctors have systems that talk to each other," says Davidson of Boston University, "and even if the software works in the way it's supposed to work, the benefits of those systems go to the payers and the patients."

Mass. to use Microsoft Office in ODF plan

Massachusetts will begin using OpenDocument as the default document format later this year as planned, but it will be sticking with Microsoft Office in the near term, the state's top technology executive said.

As expected, Louis Gutierrez, chief information officer of Massachusetts' Information Technology Division, on Wednesday sent a letter seen by CNET to advocates of people with disabilities. The letter was in response to their concerns about the commonwealth's plan to move to the OpenDocument format, or ODF, standard.

In addition, Gutierrez last week wrote to the state's Information Technology Advisory Board with an update on the OpenDocument format implementation plan, as had been planned.

Last year, Massachusetts caught international attention for its decision to standardize by January 2007 on ODF, a document format standard not supported in Microsoft Office.

Disability unfriendly?
The move was criticized by disability-rights groups, which complained that going to ODF-compliant products, such as the open-source OpenOffice suite, would not adequately address their needs. In general, Microsoft Office has better assistive technologies, such as screen enlargers.

Earlier this year, Massachusetts' IT division said it would adjust the dates of the OpenDocument adoption if the state could not find adequate accessibility products.

In his letter to disability-rights groups, Gutierrez said emerging Microsoft Office plug-ins will enable Massachusetts to stick to its standardization policy while meeting accessibility needs. Plug-ins act as converters, enabling people to open and save documents in the OpenDocument format from Microsoft Office.

"This approach to ODF implementation will fulfill our legal and moral obligations to the community of people with disabilities, acknowledges the practical requirements of implementation and enables the Executive Department to continue to pursue the benefits of using open standards for information technology," Gutierrez wrote.

The state had considered adopting other office suites, such as OpenOffice and StarOffice, but Gutierrez decided against those because they would not support accessibility requirements by the January 2007 target date.

State executive branch agencies will take a phased approach to using a plug-in. Gutierrez did not indicate which plug-in the state intends to use but that he expects them to be fully functional by 2007.

"Early adopter" agencies, including the Massachusetts Office on Disability, will use a selected plug-in starting in December of this year. The IT division will then move all executive branch agencies in phases to the OpenDocument standard by June of next year.

Gutierrez added that the state will consider OpenDocument format-compliant Microsoft Office alternatives as they become more mature.

Not "anti"-vendor
In his letter to the state's Information Technology Advisory Board, Gutierrez referred to the economic and political factors that have weighed on the state's planned move to ODF.

His predecessor, former CIO Peter Quinn, and other ITD officials were faulted by a state senate oversight committee for, among other things, not providing an adequate cost-benefit analysis. Meanwhile, Microsoft executives argued that the OpenDocument format favored the open-source business model over Microsoft's closed-source model.

Gutierrez told Massachusetts officials that keeping Microsoft Office on state desktops enables the state to "thread the needle" by adhering to a document standard created and supported by multiple software providers without being opposed to, "anti," any one vendor.

Because Microsoft Office and the forthcoming Office 2007 do not support OpenDocument natively, many expected the state to move to a different productivity suite.

Keeping Office, however, makes the ODF implementation more economical and less disruptive to end users, Gutierrez wrote to state officials. Microsoft started its own OpenDocument format plug-in effort earlier this year by sponsoring an open-source project.

"Technology that did not exist at the time of the policy formulation--namely various plug-in or translator components that can be added to Microsoft Office to allow it to read/write to OpenDocument format (ODF)--is at the heart of our near-term approach," Gutierrez said.

femtocells - small cellular base stations

By Stuart Corner
Thursday, 24 August 2006
When McDonalds started installing WiFi hotspots in its restaurants it provoked concerns about exposing its customers to radiation. That could be nothing compared to what will happen when the much maligned cellular base stations start appearing as 'femtocells' in residential and corporate environments.
According to ABI Research, in the near future, femtocells - small cellular base stations designed for use in residential or corporate environments - will be adopted by mobile operators with great enthusiasm. It forecasts that, by 2011 there will be 102 million users of femtocell products on 32 million access points worldwide.

The research company says operators will embrace femtocells because of "greater network efficiency, reduced churn, better in-building wireless coverage and the abilities to shape subscriber data usage patterns and to build platforms upon which fixed-mobile convergence services can be realised."

"Femtocells offer many benefits to operators," according to principal analyst Stuart Carlaw. "From a technological standpoint, their better in-building coverage for technologies such as WCDMA and HSDPA is an incredibly important aspect of service delivery. From a strategic and financial standpoint, the routing of traffic through the IP network significantly enhances network quality and capacity, and reduces the opex that carriers expend on backhaul."

The most interesting characteristic of femtocells, according to Carlaw, is that they can form the basis of a viable option for realising converged fixed-mobile services. "They give operators a cost-effective way to support fixed-mobile substitution, as well as a platform in the home upon which additional features such as Wi-Fi and IPTV can be layered."

However, Carlaw adds a note of caution: "This is a very nascent market and as such there is a pressing need for some standardisation, or at least a common recognition of what a femtocell's minimum requirements should be."

The development of femtocells could also open up a new front in what many see as a looming battle between operators of WiMAX and cellular technologies.

In July, UK chip maker, picoChip, and Korea Telecom formed a partnership to develop home-base stations, otherwise know as 'femtocells' conforming to the mobile WiMAX standard IEEE 802.16e-2005 and its Korean variant, WiBro, which KT is now using to launch a commercial network in Korea.

According to picoChip, "By enabling cost-effective deployment [femtocells] allow carriers to complete with UMA or voice-over-WiFi."

picoChip noted that the femtocell concept was being recognised in the 3G community, but said that, as the carrier most advanced in deploying WiBro, KT was the first to develop such a program for WiMAX. "WiBro, the South Korean wireless telecommunications standard, is compatible with WiMAX 802.16e-2005 (mobile WiMAX), and aims to be the technology that delivers personal broadband to consumers around the globe."