April 21, 2014

Massachusetts' Bold Steps To Open Source - page 2

Open Source and Open Standards

  • September 30, 2003
  • By Rob Reilly

First, the Commonwealth needs to retain data for very long periods of time, sometimes up to 50 years or more. This situation causes problems when a format is considered obsolete and no longer supported by a vendor. Open Standards, such as XML, ensures that the data can be migrated across applications. The data becomes application- and system-independent and is thus easier to move around.

Second, Open Standards and Open Source Software will be employed as an effort to save money, especially during periods of tight budgets. It makes sense to try to save on license fees, when possible. Kriss was quick to point out that it is not always possible to move from proprietary systems. Sometimes, proprietary software is the only practical solution to a business need. Conversely, being locked into a single vendor is not seen as a benefit.

The third benefit was described as the concept of the public good. Kriss explained that the data and systems are owned by the people of Massachusetts. One such example would be a tax collection system. A system like this would need to be reliable, easily modified and subject to quick turn around of changes. This touches on the essence of Open Source, in that the application can be evaluated, debugged, and revised more quickly than could be done with proprietary solutions. Collaboration and sharing of knowledge are key to this benefit.

One project has already demonstrated the worth of Open Source. The prototype for a legal service management application was designed and built, using PHP and Perl, in about two weeks. The cost was negligible, Kriss stated, and he estimated that the system would have taken a year and hundreds of thousands of dollars to complete using proprietary software.

He noted that very large legacy systems tend to be impractical to move and sometimes will remain on their respective proprietary hardware and operating systems.

One of the biggest obstacles of moving to Open Source is the very same subject of aging legacy systems. Kriss commented that 6.5 million people depend on the systems, every day. They are very transaction-intensive and the difficulties of switching over to new technology, while still running wide open on the old system are well known.

Kriss was enthusiastic about the prospects of increased efficiency and better service, though. He was happy to be able to start looking at options.

Although now a goverment manager, Kriss himself is no stranger to high tech. In his early career he was a programmer, specializing in PL1 on IBM 360's. In high school, Kriss took a summer job at Stanford and worked on an early Artificial Intelligence project with Joshua Lederberg, the noted Nobel prize and National Medal of Science-winning scientist. Even though Kriss is extremely busy with running his department, he did admit that he enjoys programming in Perl and PHP, on occasion.

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