President's Report 2013-14

Posted on: August 29, 2014 - 22:40 By: dave

Shortly after our 2012-13 AGM, the culmination of several years of hard work by a dedicated group within the NZOSS and some of our sector collaborators, the NZ government altered our Patents legislation to block the patenting of software. In the warm glow of that major victory for all New Zealand software developers, the year has been one of quiet growth for the Society, but very busy for the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) world at large.

Global Trends

We've seen the heartening rise of vendor-neutral royalty free open standards with the UK leading the way with their decision in June to adopt open standards like ODF, PDF, and HTML for collaboration with and distributing information to businesses and citizens. This effectively revokes the monopolies held by proprietary vendors on a national level in the UK for 20 years, creating a level playing field in which FOSS options will compete and win.

In conjunction with the dawning recognition in governments that open standards are crucial to a competitive IT market place, the adoption of FOSS in general and Linux in particular has been accelerating.

Increasingly cities are following Munich's example by establishing "FOSS-first" policies for IT infrastructure and software procurement. Recent highly publicised suggestions that Munich was looking to revert to proprietary software were somewhat exaggerated.

The revelations of widespread spying by Edward Snowden, Wikileaks and Anonymous have changed the information game, shining light on illegal and unethical government practices in many parts of the world. With strong evidence that much of the spying has been aided by proprietary software, mostly produced by US-based corporations, entire countries are shifting to FOSS. 

Businesses building products and services on open source software, like Instram, Github and others, are thriving, being acquired by larger players, and leading their various markets. Even many software businesses commited to pure FOSS principles without a "proprietary layer" are doing very well offering a wide range of services that are increasingly in demand. In particular, we are seeing the rise of the FOSS cloud, represented by FOSS technology ecosystems like OpenStack, at the heart of many of these emerging commercial successes.

The Outlook in NZ

The NZ political system is moving towards multi-partisan agreement that we should be mandating open standards (vendor-neutral and royalty-free) across gov't to ensure a level playing field. In the run-up to the 2014 election next month, a number of parties have proposed IT policies citing a move towards local procurement, open standards, and increasingly, open source software.

It's no Free Trade Agreement

It's a "High Quality Trade Agreement" whatever that means.  The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement is still looming as a threat to NZ's sovereignty as well as the general move towards open government and the successes the FOSS community is having in leveling the playing field - in business, education, and government - to overcome past barriers to FOSS adoption. The current government seems committed to NZ taking part in the Agreement although the negotiators seem aware of our industry's concerns.

Unfortunately, the anti-democratic secrecy of the negotiations and the base text means that we have to take their word for it when they say they are looking out for our best interests. We hope that the incoming government releases the text of the document, or steps away from the negotiations until an approach that is more compatible with the democratic process can be found. Throughout the process, the NZOSS has supported "A Fair Deal" - an effort led by InternetNZ which has now gone international.

Online Voting

Also on the democracy front, members of the NZOSS have been participating in the discussion about local efforts to trial online voting for public elections. We have been cautioning against online voting given the dire state of computer security, and perhaps more importantly, popular awareness of security threats.

We are also involved in the discussion of what properties - assuming that the state-of-the-art makes as yet unforeseen advances - a viable online voting system would need to have to maintain voter trust. The discussion is ongoing.

Joining Forces

The software patents efforts have seen NZOSS members strengthen our networks within government and education. We have also developed closer ties with other organisations like the Insitute of IT Professionals (IITP) - particularly moves to participate in their ICTConnect programme bringing IT pros' stories to secondary students and their upcoming ITx conference, Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand (CCANZ) - promoting the use of more liberal, flexible and creation-friendly content licenses, NZRise - representing the interests of NZ-owned IT businesses, Internet NZ - working to ensure a free and uncapturable Internet in NZ, and the Maori Internet Society who represent the online Maori community.

Capability Building

As we catch our breath after our success raising awareness in government of the threat posed by software patents to the software industry including FOSS-focused developers, we in the society have focused our effort on building capabilities and engaging in quiet education elsewhere.

Some of the work going on behind the scenes:

  • members of the NZOSS have been invited to advise various political parties on their IT policies
  • developing resources for the Society:
    • dedicated hosting infrastructure (sponsored by Rimu Hosting - many thanks to them for their discounted services)
    • updating the branding and education collateral (many thanks to Birgit Bachler for her efforts)
    • upgrading the website (ongoing)
    • online payment capability (we now have an account with Kiwipay, after a long process trying to find a suitable online payment vendor. It will be integrated in our as-yet-to-be-completed new site)
    • a shift to a new mailing list system - from the trusty-old Mailman (many thanks to Mark Foster for his many years of dedicated service to the Society!) to the shiny-new OnlineGroups.net set of groups (OnlineGroups.net is a kiwi company also responsible for the underlying FOSS platform, GroupServer).
  • an evolving plan for engaging business and organisational members as well as individual and student members to help increase our community and financial resources

Broadening our horizons

In the past year, we've also reviewed our mission, generally agreeing that we not only want to promote the value and use of FOSS in NZ: we will endeavour to both focus our message to government to ensure that our country's legislation fosters a culture of openness and transparency.

We also recognise that emerging groups like "makers" - whether they be focused on electronics, 3D printing, or textiles and other tangible media as well as open data proponents and privacy advocates,  are all part of our broader community.  We will work to engage them into our community as our aims are well aligned.

Community Event Sponsorship

In the past year, we have contributed some of our modest financial resources towards some high-quality events we felt were aligned with the interests of the kiwi FOSS community including

  • the 2013 Open Source Developer Conference, held in Auckland
  • the 2014 Multicore World conference, held in Wellington

The NZOSS Council 2013-14

I would also like to recognise the current council as we come into this years AGM and elections. They have done great work, and provided excellent ideas throughout the year:

  1. Don Christie  (Government Liaison)
  2. Nicolas Erdody
  3. Peter Harrison (Vice President)
  4. Matthew Holloway
  5. Dave Lane (President)
  6. Tim  McNamara
  7. Scott Newton (Secretary)
  8. David Nind
  9. Vik Olliver
  10. Jaco van der Merwe
  11. Daniel Reurich (Treasurer)
  12. Brent Wood
  13. Pikiora Wylie
In particular, I'd like to thank Scott Newton who agreed to perform the role of Secretary, which he has done admirably, and Daniel Reurich who has served us well as Treasurer. 

The Year Ahead

So, it's been a busy year, with lots of build up - the year to come will be one focused on realising the fruits of our labours with improvements in our ability to reach the people of NZ with the message of a level playing field with open standards, and increased capabilities, greater local participation, and more trustworthy computing with Free and Open Source Software.

More information about plans for the coming year will follow the AGM.