From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]

“This year, with a race so close and primaries ending so early, it’s hard to make the difficult decison about who to vote for and to support. Thankfully, there’s one issue that makes the decision a whole lot easier: is your candidate open-source?”

For reference:
Democratic Candidates:
Barack Obama runs Linux
Hillary Clinton runs Windows Server 2003
John Edwards ran Linux and some Windows Server 2003
Dennis Kucinich ran Linux

Ron Paul runs Linux
John McCain runs Windows Server 2003 and some FreeBSD
Mike Huckabee runs Windows Server 2003 and some Linux
Mitt Romney ran Linux
Rudy Giuliani ran Windows Server 2003

“The irony is that Bill Gates gave money to Obama’s campaign.”
– posted by Pastabagel at 8:34 AM on February 7

Open Formats Enter the Presidential Debate  /  November 17 2007

“Those of us who live in America are currently in the midst of that most protracted, expensive and (often) tedious of all democratic processes: the quadrennial quest to find, and perhaps even elect, the most able leader to guide the nation into the future.  Part and parcel to that spectacle is a seemingly endless torrent of printed words and video.  These emanate from more than a dozen candidates, each of whom is trying to convince the electorate that he or she is The One, while at the same time hoping to avoid offering any point of vulnerability that can be exploited by the opposition.

It is an overwhelming and leveling experience for all concerned, electorate and candidates alike.

Out of the campaign cacophony of the last week emerged a handful of words from Senator and Democratic party hopeful Barack Obama that could not fail to catch my attention.  He used them during the presidential debate held in Las Vegas, and they also appear in the “Innovation Agenda” that Obama had released a few days before.  He announced this agenda in a speech he delivered on November 14 at an aptly selected venue:  the Google campus in Mountainview, California. One of the pledges he made in the course of that speech reads in part as follows:

“To seize this moment, we have to use technology to open up our democracy. It’s no coincidence that one of the most secretive Administrations in history has favored special interests and pursued policies that could not stand up to sunlight. As President, I’ll change that. I’ll put government data online in universally accessible formats.  [emphasis added] A presidential candidate that is including “universally accessible formats” in his platform?  How did that come about?”

The fact of the matter is that I have no idea, but apparently he (or his handlers) believe that open formats are important enough not only to be used in the debate and the full nine-page policy statement available at the Obama Web site, but in the much briefer press release as well.

Another intriguing question is what exactly he means by “universally accessible formats.”  Does that phrase indicate formats that implement vendor neutral open standards, or formats that are accessible to those with disabilities, or both?  And if it means the former, what criteria would qualify a format as being “universally accessible?”  Adoption by a consortium?  Adoption by ISO/IEC JTC1?  Widespread market  doption? All of the above?

And on a related note, did Obama’s advisors independently come to the conclusion that open formats are important, and incorporate them as part of a prudent and comprehensive effort to frame out an open and interoperable government IT framework, or did the suggestion come from outside – perhaps from one vendor or another?  If the impetus was not external, then kudos to the sophistication of Obama’s staff, and to Obama’s bravery as well, if he is aware of the history of open formats in governmental debate to date.  But if the suggestion came from outside and was included without full awareness of recent history, well, one can’t help but wonder exactly what “universally accessible” is really meant to mean.

The full policy makes for an interesting read, and contains much else of interest, such as a commitment to network neutrality, support for what appears to be an expansion of the peer to patent process now in beta test, and much more (a good summary can be found here).  It will be doubly interesting if other candidates issue their own policies, as this would provide an opportunity to see how different political camps envision the role of IT in government.

If so, will any other candidate mention open formats as well?  There is, of course, at least one other contender with as much or more experience with the contentious topic of open formats in a political setting:  Mitt Romney – the Massachusetts governor whose Secretary of Administration and Finance and CIO launched the entire debate two years ago.

Overall, one can only applaud Obama for beginning a dialogue on the role of IT in government.  As the provision of government services becomes increasingly a digitized process, the importance of IT increases as both an enabler of new interaction between government and citizenry, but as something to be very carefully conceived, in order to ensure security, preservation and uninterrupted services. As usual, I have included the full press release below, for archival purposes.”

Obama Unveils Innovation Agenda at Google  /  November 14, 2007

“At a town hall meeting today at Google headquarters, U.S. Senator Barack Obama will unveil an innovation agenda that will connect and empower Americans through technology. The comprehensive plan will ensure the full and free exchange of information by protecting the openness of the internet and encouraging diversity in media ownership, create a transparent and connected democracy by opening up government to its citizens, modernize our communications infrastructure, employ technology and information to take on the challenges facing America, and improve our nation’s competitiveness.”

Excerpts from Obama’s prepared remarks are below: “Together, we could open up government and invite citizens in, while connecting all of America to 21st century broadband. We could use technology to help achieve universal health care, to reach for a clean energy future, and to ensure that young Americans can compete – and win – in the global economy. If America recommits itself to science and innovation, we can lead the world to a new future of productivity and prosperity. That’s what we can do if we seize this moment.”

“I will take a backseat to no one in my commitment to network neutrality. Because once providers start to privilege some applications or web sites over others, then the smaller voices get squeezed out, and we all lose. The Internet is perhaps the most open network in history. We have to keep it that way.”


“To seize this moment, we have to use technology to open up our democracy. It’s no coincidence that one of the most secretive Administrations in history has favored special interests and pursued policies that could not stand up to sunlight. As President, I’ll change that. I’ll put government data online in universally accessible formats. I’ll let citizens track federal grants, contracts, earmarks, and lobbyist contacts. I’ll let you participate in government forums, ask questions in real time, offer suggestions that will be reviewed before decisions are made, and let you comment on legislation before it is signed. And to ensure that every government agency is meeting 21st century standards, I’ll appoint the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer.”


“We need to make sure that the next success story – the next Google – happens here in America. The Google story is about what can be achieved when we cultivate new ideas and keep the playing field level for new businesses. But it’s also about not settling for what we’ve achieved. It’s about constantly raising the bar so that we’re more competitive, and so we use technology to reach ever-expanding horizons…The promise and prosperity of our new economy must not become the property of the few, it must be a force that lifts up our entire country, and that lifts up the world.”

Obama’s innovation agenda would:

I.Ensure the Full and Free Exchange of Information through an Open Internet and Diverse Media Outlets
· Protect the Openness of the Internet
· Encourage Diversity in Media Ownership
· Protect Our Children While Preserving the First Amendment
· Safeguard Our Right to Privacy

II. Create a Transparent and Connected Democracy
· Open Up Government to its Citizens
· Bring Government into the 21st Century

III. Deploy a Modern Communications Infrastructure
· Deploy Next-Generation Broadband

IV. Employ Technology and Innovation to Solve Our Nation’s Most Pressing Problems
· Lower Health Care Costs by Investing in Electronic Information Systems
· Invest in Climate-Friendly Energy Development and Deployment
· Upgrade Education to Meet the Needs of the 21st Century
· Create New Jobs
· Modernize Public Safety Networks

V. Improve America’s Competitiveness
· Invest in the Sciences
· Make the R & D Tax Cut Permanent
· Reform Immigration
· Promote American Businesses Abroad
· Ensure Competitive Markets
· Protect American Intellectual Property Abroad
· Protect Intellectual American Property at Home
· Reform the Patent System


Barack Obama: Refining Tech Policy
BY Roy Mark  /  2007-11-16

Citizen democracy, privacy and free speech in technology take the stage as Obama’s IT platform takes shape. On an issue where theres little disagreement between the candidates, Sen. Barack Obama moved Nov. 14 to differentiate himself from the Democratic pack with a detailed technology agenda.

While Obamas overall tech policy tracks with the plans from the other candidates–support for network neutrality, increased H-1B visas and jacked up spending and investment on math, science and technology- the Illinois Democrat uses his ambitious agenda to detail his broader view on citizen democracy, privacy and free speech.

Network neutrality, for instance, is more than a rate dispute between broadband and content providers, according to Obama. Without network neutrality rules or laws, he contends, the “quality of speech through which the Internet has begun to transform American political and cultural discourse” would be threatened.

At a campaign stop at the Googleplex in Mountain View, Calif., Nov. 14, Obama said, “I will take a backseat to no one in my commitment to network neutrality.” In his tech agenda released the same day, he added that network neutrality would “ensure that [the Internet] remains a platform for free speech and innovation that will benefit consumers and our democracy.”

With the usual obligatory nod to training more Americans for high-tech jobs, Obamas tech immigration position moves beyond his fellow candidates promising more H-1B visas. Under an Obama administration, he says, all immigrants who earn their college degrees in the United States will be given a path to citizenship.

“We should examine our ability to increase the number of permanent visas we issue to foreign skilled workers,” Obama states in his agenda. “We do not want to shut our doors to innovators overseas, who have traditionally made America strong.”

On the Internet issues of free speech and participatory democracy, Obama steps ahead of other Democratic contenders for the White House in promoting specific ideas and proposals. “[Obama] believes that openness of the new media world should be seen as an opportunity as much as some see it as a threat,” his policy paper states. He “does not view regulation as the answer to these concerns.”

Instead of the host of laws–most ultimately rejected by the courts– introduced over the last decade by both Democrats and Republicans to protect children online, Obama said parents should be provided filtering tools, including requiring content providers to offer parental controls software that not only blocks objectionable material  but also prevents children from revealing personal information. “Private entities like Common Sense Media are pursuing a sanity not censorship approach, which can serve as a model for how to use technology to empower parents without offending the First Amendment,” the paper states.

Obama also proposes the creation of “Public Media 2.0” as the next generation of public media that will “create the Sesame Street of the digital age and other video and interactive programming.” He said he would support funding for moving existing public broadcasting stations online to help “renew their founding visions in the digital world.” But nowhere in his tech policy agenda is Obama more impassioned on his view of 21st century technology as he is about government and the Internet. “Together, we could open up government and invite citizens in, while connecting all of America to 21st century broadband,” Obama said at his Google campaign stop. “We could use technology to help achieve universal health care, to reach for a clean energy future and to ensure that young Americans can compete–and win–in the global economy.”

In Obamas view of his potential presidency, Americans would be able to watch a live Internet feed of all government proceedings, from agency meetings to congressional hearings. He would give people an opportunity to review and comment on White House Web site for five days before signing any non-emergency legislation. In addition, he would create a government Web site and search engine to allow users to track online federal grants, contracts, earmarks and lobbyist contacts with government officials.

Overseeing it all would be the nations first chief technology officer. The federal CTO would have the authority to ensure government agencies have the right infrastructure, policies and services to solicit and receive information from citizens. The CTO would also oversee a national, interoperable wireless network for first responders. “This policy will enable Americans to discuss and debate more actively they key issues that affect our lives and will give citizens greater autonomy to determine where the truth lies,” Obamas agenda states.