Frequently Asked Questions

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					                                  Open Source Software
                             Frequently Asked Questions


Q1. Can you tell me what the position is in Canada with respect to departments and agencies
using open-source software? Are there any legislative or administrative initiatives at the federal
or provincial level in this regard?


To support service delivery to Canadians and the internal operations of government, the Government
of Canada has adopted a business-driven standards- and architecture-based approach to develop its
information technology infrastructure and systems.

As a result, departments and agencies base their decisions to acquire, develop and use software
(including Open Source Software) on their business needs and the principles set out in the
government’s Federated Architecture Program.

Existing Canadian federal legislation, agreements and policies accommodate a wide variety of business
models for public sector software acquisition, use, production and distribution. Accordingly, software
solutions used in the Government of Canada come under many license types, including certified “open
source” or “free/libre” software licenses.

The Federated Architecture Program includes thirteen architecture principles to guide the development
of information technology infrastructure and systems within the federal government. Four of these
principles (principles 1, 5, 6, and 7) are especially applicable to the acquisition and use of software
including open-source software:

      Reducing complexity and enabling integration to the greatest extent possible;
      Respecting government security, confidentiality and privacy policies and laws;
      Choosing solutions which use commercially viable standards-based technologies; and
      Ensuring that the total cost of ownership for applications and technologies balance
       development, support, disaster recovery and retirement costs as well as those of flexibility,
       scalability and ease of use/support over the life cycle of the application or technology.

The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat is responsible for the Federated Architecture Program and
the development of information technology, management and security policies and standards.

Q2. How is open source being used now in the federal government to your knowledge?

The following are some examples of OSS now in the federal government:

      The Government of Canada’s main public website www.canada.gc.ca runs on an open-source
       solution: the Apache web server. The Apache web server is used to run 67 per cent of all the
       web servers on the Internet;

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      All of the Government of Canada's “top level” gc.ca domain names run through the Domain
       Name System (DNS), which is an open source component of the World Wide Web. This is
       what permits web sites to have names instead of numbers. Without it, you would be typing
       "199.201.243.200" into your browser instead of "www.canada.gc.ca";
      National Research Council’s Research Press publishes journals, monographs, conference
       proceedings, and allied publications. Its investment in electronic publishing uses open-source
       technologies to keep it at the forefront of scientific communications internationally. Open-
       source software used in this project includes: Apache web server; MySQL for database
       information; OpenLDAP for authentication and authorization and the Linux operating system;
      The Atlas of Canada Online provides geographic information products at a national level.
       Open-source software used in this project include: Red Hat Linux operating system, Apache
       web server, Zope for sophisticated web content management and web-publishing,
       PostgreSQL/PostGIS -- a relational database system; University of Minnesota MapServer -- an
       online mapping tool, GDAL (geospatial data abstraction library), and MapLab -- a web-based
       authoring tool;
      The Geological Survey of Canada operates a Canada-wide network of over 100 seismographs.
       In addition to detecting earthquakes around the world, these seismographs are used to detect
       seismic waves from nuclear tests and to report the findings via satellite to the UN in Geneva.
       Open-source software is used as part of the secure system that authenticates (digitally signs) the
       seismic data before it leaves the sealed seismographs. The project uses the Linux operating
       system; and
      Software Defined Radio (SDR) is a new generation of wireless devices that can be reconfigured
       to adapt to changing communications protocols and frequency bands. It has many applications;
       for instance, emergency response organizations can benefit from the vastly improved
       communications available through SDR. Key to SDR is the underlying open-source
       architecture. By providing the industry with a common interpretation of SDR technical
       specifications, it ensures radio interoperability among manufacturers. The project is based at
       the Communications Research Centre, Industry Canada and sponsored by the Defence
       Research and Development Canada, DND.

Q3.    How could it be used more?

We are witnessing a trend towards increased use of open-source solutions. Therefore, we expect that
as more federal public-sector decision makers become aware of what is available in terms of open-
source solutions, we will see more of them being used in government. That being said, the
Government of Canada’s approach is to have departments and agencies base their software decisions
on their business needs and the principles set out in the government’s Federated Architecture Program.

The Federated Architecture Program includes thirteen architecture principles to guide the development
of information technology infrastructure and systems within the federal government. Four of these
principles are especially applicable to the acquisition and use of software including open-source
software:

      Reducing complexity and enabling integration to the greatest extent possible;
      Respecting government security, confidentiality and privacy policies and laws;
      Choosing solutions which use commercially viable standards-based technologies; and


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      Ensuring that the total cost of ownership for applications and technologies balance
       development, support, disaster recovery and retirement costs as well as those of flexibility,
       scalability and ease of use/support over the life cycle of the application or technology.

Q4. Do you support the idea of mandating the use of open source as some jurisdictions have
done? Or should market demand drive that as opposed to laws?

Again, the Government of Canada’s approach is to have departments and agencies base their decisions
to acquire, develop and use software, including open source, on their business needs and the principles
set out in the government’s Federated Architecture Program.

Mandating one type of solution restricts decision-makers flexibility to choose the best available
solution according to their business needs and the principles of the government’s Federated
Architecture Program.

Q5. What are the advantages of using open source particularly in the public sector?
Disadvantages or issues? How does ease of use and training factor into this issue?

I would like to turn the question around: what we see is the advantage of being able to include open-
source solutions in the range of choices available to public sector decision makers. It gives them many
other options in their efforts:

      To provide higher levels of service to Canadians;
      To reduce costs;
      To foster a competitive environment; and
      To create opportunities for small and medium sized enterprises.

In terms of ease of use and training, these and other issues are factored into the decision of what
software to use. They are not unique to open source. They also arise with proprietary software.

The challenge to the government is ensuring that the decision makers have the information necessary
in order to make informed decisions. The Chief Information Officer Branch at Treasury Board
Secretariat and partners such as PWGSC and Industry Canada are currently assisting IT decision-
makers throughout the public sector to gain and apply working knowledge about the full spectrum of
operational and strategic business choices available to them when acquiring, using, producing and/or
distributing software.

Q6. In terms of building awareness and the marketing aspect of open source in government, is
that an issue mainly with the people who do procurement as opposed to the people who
implement technology?

All stakeholders should be aware of the solutions that are available and the full range of business
model options and licensing terms that various solutions come under. It is also a matter of sufficient
awareness amongst suppliers, not only those who are acquiring or implementing solutions.

In the case of the Government of Canada, as I mentioned earlier the Chief Information Officer Branch
at Treasury Board Secretariat along with other departments and agencies are currently assisting IT
decision-makers throughout the public sector to gain and apply working knowledge about the full

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spectrum of operational and strategic business choices available to them when acquiring, using,
producing and/or distributing software.

Q7. I understand the government has commissioned a study on open source business
opportunities. Where are we with that at the moment? What have we learned?

          Name of Report: Open Source Software in Canada: Open Source Business
            Opportunities for Canada’s Information and Communications Technology Sector: A
            Collaborative Fact Finding Study.
          Author: The e-Cology Corporation
          Date of publication: September 2003
          Available at: http://www.e-cology.ca/canfloss/report/

The study was completed in September 2003. It has enabled us to understand the current level of
open-source software adoption and development activity in the Canadian public and private sector as
well as their opinions vis-à-vis relevant strategic issues and the long-term prospects of open-source
software. Further, it presented an environmental scan of the current state of open-source software and
relevant worldwide trends. It also enabled us to gain a better understanding of the opportunities,
barriers and conditions for adoption in the Government of Canada.

Q8. One of the issues I’ve heard raised with the difficulty of using open source in government
more is related to the amount of data stored in proprietary file formats. Is there any way around
this that you can see?

This issue is not unique to open-source solutions. This same challenge would arise when moving from
one proprietary solution to another proprietary solution.

The Government of Canada has indicated in its Federated Architecture Plan that it is moving to
standards-based formats. We see a number of advantages for the government in moving to standards-
based formats including:

      Avoiding dependence on weak and/or under performing software and suppliers;
      Reducing risk;
      Enabling greater use of standard, shareable software;
      Allowing the government to influence and stay current with industry standards and trends;
      Permitting software to be selected for "functionality" and its fit with business requirements
       which will improve speed of delivery; and
      Allowing greater flexibility and adaptability in product replacement.

Q9. Do you have any predictions as to where the public sector will be with open source in, say,
five years?

As I said earlier, we are witnessing a trend towards increased use of open-source solutions. Therefore,
we expect that as more federal public-sector decision makers become aware of what is available in
terms of open-source solutions, we will see more of them being used in government. That being said,
the Government of Canada’s approach is to have departments and agencies base their software
decisions on their business needs and the principles set out in the government’s Federated Architecture
Program.

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Q10. Are there any policies or restrictions in place with regards to downloading Open Source
Software?

Caution must be used when downloading or using any software. Employees must consider licensing &
procurement implications in addition to security & network impacts. Many departments and agencies
have rules and regulations regarding the implementation of software which must be understood prior to
any installation.




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