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August 10, 2002

Open Source Weapon: CA Law?

Open source advocates are planning to introduce a new legislative proposal in California, the "Digital Software Security Act," that would prohibit state agencies from buying software from companies that place restrictions on use or access to their source code. (Can you say Microsoft?)

This may seem like a radical proposal, but the federal government for years used to mandate sotware standards that undermined proprietary systems. As I detail in my own work, UNIX became the operating system standard for the mainframe and server world largely because federal agencies refused to buy any computer system using only proprietary alternatives.

So if California uses its purchasing power to force Microsoft to either open its code or lose out on government contracts, it will be following in an honorable history of federal action.

Such a stance by the California legislature would not be unprecedented. A few years ago, Microsoft, GTE and a couple of other companies sought to establish monopoly control of the computer systems of the California State University system. I was part of the mobilization against the proposal, including hearings at the state capitol. In those hearings, myself and others argued that the state government had great economic power to effect, for good or ill, computing standards in the private sector as well. In the end, under legislative pressure against the deal, the university abandoned it. So a movement to further open the state to open code and innovation already has allies in state government.

Posted by Nathan at August 10, 2002 07:28 AM

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