Open source on hold in Oregon

Oregon H.B. 2892

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A bill that would push Oregon's state agencies to consider the use of Linux and other open-source software in information technology procurements is treading water.

During hearings last month, industry opponents voiced major concerns over the effects such legislation would have on software development.

As originally introduced, H.B. 2892 would have required state agencies to consider the use of open software in any IT purchases. Agencies already committed to using proprietary software could continue to use it, but they would have to justify its use when open-source software is available for the same purpose.

If passed, it would make Oregon one of the first state governments in the nation to require consideration of open-source software purchases.

Rep. Phil Barnhart, the bill's author, claimed the law is necessary to help agencies cut costs, to enable better interoperability among IT systems and to increase opportunities for Oregon's high-tech companies and workers.

Industry representatives, however, claimed the legislation would squelch software innovation, does not take into account hidden costs such as maintenance of open-source software and might actually harm the high-tech industry in Oregon.

The bill puts "government squarely in the position of picking technological 'winners and losers' and seeking to influence technological development by fiat, rather than market forces," Mario Correa, director of software policy for the Business Software Alliance, told an Oregon House panel.

Major companies, in particular Microsoft Corp., have also weighed in against the bill.

Although House Speaker Karen Minnis has not yet scheduled a work session to finalize the bill and bring it before the full House for a vote, Barnhart says the bill is far from dead. He is redrafting it to tone down language that mandated consideration of open-source software by agencies, and he claims the bill is garnering bipartisan support.

"We're still working on trying to make something happen this session, either as a stand-alone bill or through language inserted into other relevant bills," he said. "We're in this for the long haul, whether it happens this session or not."

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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