What are we supposed to do with citizen inquiries such as this?

I’ve made a lot of inquiries into government programs, but what happens to these things? It seems, not even the government knows….

Here is a small example regarding the use of Open Office instead of Microsoft licenses. (It’s been so long, it might be Libre Office).

(At the request of commentors, I have cut and paste the text rather than post the jpgs).

from
Tore Simonsen

to
Tony.Rees@state.mn.us
date
Wed, May 20, 2009 at 9:55 AM
subject OET questions.

I am just inquiring as to whether as part of the budget cutting process, the State of Minnesota has considered a transition to OpenOffice.

I am wondering how many Microsoft Licenses are currently being paid for?

What are the total costs of these licenses?

How many of these licenses are for Microsoft Office?

What the total costs of these licenses are?

How many new licenses OET plans to be purchasing during the new budget cycle?

Whether the state of Minnesota has considered making a transition to OoO? 

It appears to have saved the French police some money, has such an option been considered in Minnesota?

http://arstechnica.com/open-source/news/2009/03/french-police-saves-millions-of-euros-by-adopting-ubuntu.ars

Short follow up email:

From: Tore Simonsen [mailto:toresimonsen@gmail.com] 
Sent: Wednesday, May 20, 2009 11:55 AM
To: Tony Rees (OET)
Subject: OET questions.
 
I am just inquiring as to whether as part of the budget cutting process, the State of Minnesota has considered a transition to Open Office.

The response:

from
Tony Rees (OET)
to
Tore Simonsen
date
Thu, May 21, 2009 at 7:47 AM
subject
RE: OET questions.
mailed-by
state.mn.us

Larry:
 
Received this yesterday.  What are we supposed to do with citizen inquires such as this?  Investigate and reply?
 
Tony
 
Tony Rees
Financial Analysis Manager
Office of Enterprise Technology
658 Cedar Street, St. Paul, MN 55155
651-201-1106
tony.rees@state.mn.us
http://www.oet.state.mn.us

Another email from me:

Tore Simonsen
 to Tony

show details 5/22/09

It was not my intention to cause you any unnecessary work.  I assumed the information was readily knowable and that it would just require a quick answer.

I was able to review several useful reports on your website. The closest thing I found to documenting the costs was the Enterprise Information Technology Portfolio Report (2009). For example, it stated that the Medical Practices Board planned to upgrade to Windows Vista and MSOffice 2007 to the SLMB Boards. However, I could not locate the specific costs of such measures for that or any other agency.

I was surprised I could not identify the costs for MS Windows orOffice licenses in that report. As for the Microsoft licenses, I can only assume that the number is at least 25,000 and probably closer to 32,000. ( I read in 2005 it was 25,000 but I see you are currently upgrading 32,300 Outlook licenses.)
It appears that the Air Force has adopted an approach which might be adaptable for Minnesota1. To paraphrase their model: ‘We want to pay for unique intellectual property when they are best of breed, but not succumb to code and vendor-specific lock-in situations. Acquisition of proprietary solutions needs to be a conscience choice, not an assumption. The default should be open technology development where standards and interfaces are open and accessible and best of breed software is utilized, all coupled with the Air Force exercising data rights.’ (emphasis added).  

As a steward of public money in a materially constrained environment, I would hope you are actively considering open source alternatives.  I would think that in a financially challenging environment, such alternatives would be compelling, if not simply necessary.

In an October 2008 review available online at Ars Technica, the reviewer wrote:

“Although OpenOffice.org has not yet reached full parity with Microsoft Office, it is maturing at a rapid pace and is already capable of meeting the basic needs of many average computer users. It is an ideal choice for schools and is an increasingly viable choice for small businesses and home users that don’t rely on the more advanced capabilities of Microsoft’s office suite.”

In any event, it seems less important that I am aware of the specific costs of your Microsoft licensing arrangements than you are.  My hope is that your agency is aware of and considering opensource alternatives at state agencies.  I am also concerned that many open source alternatives, available for free download online, do not have the staff to submit materials in an RFP process and therefore may be overlooked during the decision making process.

Thank you for taking the time to review this information.  
  
Tore Simonsen

1Linux.com (April 2007). “Open Technology within DoD, Intel Systems”.http://www.linux.com/feed/61302.“Our goal is to increase technical efficiency and reduce software lifecycle costs within DoD,” said Chuck Riechers, Principal Deputy, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition. “TheOpen Technology Development roadmap sets out a strategic vision that encourages the use of open standards, open data interfaces and best-of-breed open source software solutions when and where appropriate. “We are not mandating that it’s either “open” or “proprietary” solutions,” he continued “We want to pay for unique intellectual property when they are best of breed, but not succumb to code and vendor-specific lock-in situations. Acquisition of proprietary solutions needs to be a conscience choice, not an assumption. The default should be “open technology development,” where standards and interfaces are open and accessible and best of breed software is utilized, all coupled with the Air Force exercising data rights. Further, we need to move toward an increased competitive, collaborative and interoperable environment across the Services and industry for technology development. This strategy will help to minimize redundant development efforts and enable more agile development and deployment of systems.”

Another response

Tony Rees (OET)
 to me

show details 5/22/09

Although I am relatively new to OET and was not here for the start of the FY2010 budget process, I am attempting to answer the thrust of your question related to open source software.  I have contacted the technical people and will get back to you as soon as I hear from them.
 
Regards,
 
Tony Rees
Financial Analysis Manager
Office of Enterprise Technology
658 Cedar Street, St. Paul, MN 55155
651-201-1106
tony.rees@state.mn.us
http://www.oet.state.mn.us

Last email:

Michael Muilenburg (OET)
 to me

show details 6/3/09

Hi Mr. Simonsen –
 
Thanks for your emails.  We appreciate the ideas and input.  We continue to evaluate our software licenses and options and will take your thoughts into consideration.
 
Thanks again,
 
Michael Muilenburg | Office of Enterprise Technology
658 Cedar Street | Saint Paul, MN | 55155 
651.556.8005 phone | 651.215.3877 fax 

10 Responses to “What are we supposed to do with citizen inquiries such as this?”

  1. What’s the angle here for saving Dollhouse? Perhaps you should run for Governor? Is this part of the plan to have the state take over Dollhouse?

  2. Hi,
    the topic is very interesting, but the story is simply unreadable. Email is plain text. Please just copy and paste the TEXT and headers of those email in the post instead of screenshots, in the right sequence. We’ll all be able to read the whole story much more quickly, with much less strain on your server and it will also be decently indexed by search engines. As it is, after waiting for one minute (from a fast ADSL connection) to download just the FIRST image, I have to give up.

    • The thing is most people do not believe emails unless they are imaged. I went through this regarding the DICE mail and pilum shield overloads, so I tend to screenshot the emails to avoid questions.

  3. Tore,
    many thanks for the prompt explanation. However:

    “The thing is most people do not believe emails unless they are imaged”

    if THIS doesn’t prove that most people are (making an effort to be polite…) absolutely clueless about everything related to computers, nothing will. I must remember to compose an HTML file that looks like an email in which Obama expels California from the USA, with White House logo and all, publish a screenshot of it and see what happens. It takes 30 seconds and should be lots of fun 🙂

    OF COURSE, this is not your fault at all, I’m not angry at you if this is the case: I’m just half flabbergasted, half sad that we have to cope with such situations. Also because text can be quoted in other pages by cut and pasting, as it is everybody willing to quote the email and link to this page would have to type everything manually. Not likely. Here’s a couple of constructive suggestions:

    1) copy and paste the TEXT, add just a link to the screenshots.
    2) and/or add the text _headers_ of the email, including the Message-ID that would also be usable to track the message in the ISP backups (=prove its authenticity much more reliably than a screenshot). This is what I did in a similar situation, in a post that, believe it or not, is about almost the same topic of yours: http://stop.zona-m.net/it/node/104

    Hope this helps,
    Marco

  4. In reading this, I could not stop laughing at the wonderful government employees of this great nation. I like that the attempt was made, and I am surprised that by the end it seemed as if people were actually looking into it. Good read. Keep us updated if you hear anything more from the gov.

  5. I don’t see how this moves the ball forward for Dollhouse.

  6. Microsroft Office is still the best program when it comes to spreadsheet and word processing*`~

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