President's Report 2014-15

Tēnā koutou katoa. As our 2015-2016 AGM begins, I am taking a look back over the past year, reflecting on what we have achieved as a Society. It has been a busy year. There has been no shortage of controversy both in NZ and internationally, all with implications for what we in the NZOSS hold dear: the ability of our communities to enrich our Commons, our ability to educate our children (and our politicians) about the increasingly digital world we inhabit, our ability to participate in our democracy, and to be free as a nation to make our own choices, exercising our sovereign right to govern on behalf of our own citizens, not pandering to foreign interests.

The State of FOSS

These are my general reflections on the past year.

Mainstream Acceptance

In the past year many of us have also noted that open source software has become mainstream, with corporations like Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Github - whose fortunes have be built entirely on the back of open source software - dominating the digital landscape, and throwing plenty of open source scraps back to the community (even though they keep their crown jewels proprietary). Age old enemies of openness (open source and open standards), like Microsoft, have been falling all over themselves to be seen to embrace open source, even open sourcing parts of their central .Net software framework.

Latent Makers Re-emerging

At NetHui, I found that people are still taking up "making" in ever greater numbers. They reflect the latent desire of people to be able to create things, a desire largely pushed into the fringes by the excesses of the industrial revolution and the oil-based growth dependent consumer economies and the strong messages to consume mass produced uniformity and that, for example, fixing things is beyond most of us. Increasingly rebelling against that programming, makers are finding inspiration in this new world where they can create things of their own, and they can fix or re-purpose what they have instead of throwing it away. They're revelling in the powerful tools and increasingly open hardware available at ever decreasing prices.

Digital Tech in Education

Our schools are slowly accepting that digital technology is increasingly core to exploring the world and that it can amplify all aspects of learning. That teachers don't need to be the experts any more, and that their role as guides and facilitators has never been more important. The rise of CodeClubs in NZ, as in the rest of the world, demonstrates that parents know this change has to happen far more quickly than the education leadership - our Ministry of Education - can possibly manage. Much and even most of this education is being undertaken using open source tools and resources.

Crisis of Purpose?

Some of us see this as a comprehensive victory of open source values. It's led us to do some serious soul searching: has the need for an Open Source Society in NZ has diminished?

Upon reflection, I (and I think most of us) have come to the realisation that the NZOSS still has a major role to play - perhaps more important than ever! Open is winning from the grass-roots on up... but there's a new and rather subtle threat. In the past, the enemies of open were completely lacking subtlety or tact. Now, however, the nuance of the debate has shifted and many of the old problems of "proprietary" still exist... now, however, they're mostly built on open source, even if they're not open themselves. International existential threats from corporations via the TPPA, and the attempts - mostly by corporations - to capture open source communities using techniques like "open washing" software products, data sets, and developer events mean that our community must maintain constant vigilance. It is our responsibility to explain these nuances and to identify and call out the fauxpen when we see it.

Nurturing the new generation

More importantly, we have to engage with the new generations who are cutting their teeth on free and open source because it's as ubiquitous as the air around them... but who didn't live through the historical struggles some of us older folks did and fail to appreciate how much work went into getting us to the relatively optimistic place we are today: we need to tell the stories so that they understand why we're sceptical of some of these band wagon jumpers, and reject their seemingly positive overtures.

Principle over practice

We old-school types also need to avoid falling into the trap of demanding complete openness from everyone involved in the NZOSS - that judging approach serves to intimidate, not engage... We need to help the rest of NZ understand that, regardless of where we personally site in the continuum between open and closed, if we hold "openness" up as our goal, because it's inherently better in principle than closed, then we can unite rather than fragment, and we can all move in the open direction at our own pace, enriching our shared commons as we go.

Reviewing the past year

So, what did we get up to this year since our last AGM (here's my 2013-14 report)?

Open Standards NZ Initiative

Last year, I wrote:

"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."

This year, based on encouragement from people (some working inside government) at the Open Source // Open Society conference, the NZOSS has created the OpenSource.NZ initiative which makes a compelling case for the NZ government to mandate the use of open standards within government communication with the private sector and citizens, and makes it a requirement for government software procurement.

The website supporting the initiative allows those in support of our requested mandate to "level the playing field" for all software, correcting the status quo in which dominant proprietary software suppliers control the primary file formats used for all digital interaction within government and between it and the rest of NZ.

Note, we expressly not requesting the government to mandate open source software adoption - we believe that open source competes very compellingly on its own merits if the artifical advantage of proprietary software being in control of the dominant formats is removed.

This is an ongoing effort. We are working with the Commerce Commission and the Government Ombudsman to resolve the current inequity.

The Spectre of the TPPA

With NZ's participation in the 5 Eyes network and the Government's decision to grant additional powers to the GCSB (NZ's spy agency tasked with online surveillance) the threats to our freedom are increasing.

The Government's further insistence that we participate in the top secret Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement or TPPA - which we now know is not really a "Free Trade Agreement" at all, but rather a power grab by US-based multinational corporations that challenges NZ's sovereignty, we feel our government is not working for us, its constituents.

Many of us in the Society have been working hard, in many channels, from the grass roots through to Ministers' offices, in an effort to reverse this disconnect between our government's ambitions and the best interest of our people. We want the ability to protect our commons from exploitation. We want to stop the trend of commercial interests privatising profits and externalising costs.

Being sensible about Online Voting

Along with our support for freedom and enriching our commons, many of us in the NZOSS have both a strong appreciation of the hard-won democratic process, a blunt instrument though it is, that allows us to affect our country's leadership and policy through an orderly process that allows good ideas to emerge from the general population.

A number of open source proponents and I have worked alongside others to ensure that the democratic process is not compromised by the politically attractive "tantalising mirage" of online voting.

Just a week ago, I participated in a deputation to the Christchurch City Council who were considering taking part in a "trial" online vote for 2016. It wasn't actually a trial, but rather a "pilot", because the online vote was intended to be binding. The deputation, with Jonathan Hunt acting as our main spokesperson, presented a compelling, evidence-filled case with the final recommendation that the Council decline to take part in the trial.

The submission was so strong that following the meeting, a number of councillors told us that they had intended to vote in support of the Council's participation but had been swayed to change their vote. In the end, the Council declined to participate in the "trial" with 12 of the 13 councillors voting against the trial. You can see how it went down for yourself.

Because Christchurch was the largest council invited to participate in the trial, its decision not to participate cast substantial doubt on whether the trial would go ahead with a number of smaller councils around the country who had all already agreed to participate. We have received substantial media coverage, and we are working with others to make similarly compelling presentations anywhere that local and national government agencies seem to think that online voting is a good idea.

Affinity with other organisations

In the past year, we have built and reinforced a number of interesting relationships with other communities whose values are well aligned with our own. The Open Source // Open Society conference saw us forge a strong connection with the Enspiral Group and its broader collective of social entrepreneurs. We are already in discussion with them to take a larger role in repeating the conference - this time without the aid of GitHub, in 2016. 

We have also developed closer ties with other organisations like the Insitute of IT Professionals (IITP) - some of us are actively participating in their ICT Connect programme, bringing IT pros' stories to secondary students. We are discussing their idea of creating a mega-conference, combining their semi-annual ITx conference with a number of other interest-group conferences, including one dedicated to free and open source.

Our relationship with Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand (CCANZ) continues to be strong (disclosure - I am on their advisory group) - they are a natural complement to the NZOSS in the content and creator space, particularly in the "GLAM" sector (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums)- promoting the use of less restrictive, reuse-friendly content licenses.

We continue to work with NZRise who represent the interests of NZ-owned IT businesses.  Although not specifically focused on open source software, NZRise's membershp and leadershp features many knowledgable open source champions - former NZOSS president and Catalyst IT director, Don Christie is co-chair. They are doing excellent work lobbying government on more sensible procurement practises and keeping them honest with regard to the TPPA.

Similarly, we share and affinity for openness with Internet NZ who are working to ensure a free and uncapturable Internet in NZ.

FOSS Services

Some of the work going on behind the scenes:

  • developing resources for the Society and members - making use of our Rimu Hosting-sponsored hosting infrastructure, we have added a number of new services including:
  • and we have finally moved our main "Open Chat" mailing list, from the venerable Mailman instance managed by Mark Foster for many years (many thanks Mark, for your years of service to the Society! Mark continues to provide other email and domain name services for the domain) to a newer and more flexible FOSS platform created by NZ company OnlineGroups.Net. In addition to our new Open Chat service, we've created a number of other public lists for communities of interest related to the Society's aims - please have a look and if any strike your fancy, sign up to participate!
  • Councillor Brent Wood has been busy in his specialist area of open GIS (Global Information Systems) - he's working with a team who are busy implementing an NZ-specific Open Street Map (OSM) server!

One area where we haven't (yet) made progress is with revamping our somewhat tired main website. This is an ongoing project. We will be looking at incorporating the following (and there are many other ideas besides):

  • online payment capability (we have a Kiwipay, account which we have not yet used. We are planning to integrate it with our new site and ensure that the integration is FOSS, and available for use by other organisations around NZ wanting to integrate Kiwipay!).
  • a membership management functionality that is more polished than our current somewhat creaky bespoke solution (which generally works, but could be a lot more usable).
  • an evolving plan for engaging business and organisational members as well as individual and student members to help increase our community and financial resources - and our ability to lead events rather than simply lend them our support.

Community Sponsorship and Support

In the past year, we have contributed some of our modest financial resources towards some great open source-friendly events and those that we knew would appeal to the kiwi FOSS community including:

  • the 2014 NZ Open Source Awards (November, Wellington)
  • the 2014 NetHui South conference (November, Christchurch)
  • the 2015 Multicore World conference (February, Wellington)
  • the inaugural Open Source // Open Society conference (April 2015, Wellington)
  • the 2015 NetHui conference (July, Auckland)
  • the inaugural GovHack events, which were strongly supported by NZOSS people in Wellington and Auckland in August 2015
  • a number of open GIS-related events, including training in QGIS (which is used by most councils in NZ, a refreshing thing to hear!).

The NZOSS Council 2014-15

I would also like to recognise the current council as we come into this year's AGM and (possible) election. This year we had 13 councillors, 11 of whom have served at least one previous term on council, and two new councillors, Liz Quilty and Marek Kuziel, both of whom provided very helpful new dimensions to our team. Liz has a broad system administration capability and helped us to make smart decisions on our infrastructure, and support our relationship with Rimu Hosting, who generously provide us with sponsored hosting for our NZOSS systems. Marek increased our South Island representation and provided links to the maker, CodeClub and Python communities:

  1. Don Christie  (Government Liaison)
  2. Nicolas Erdody
  3. Peter Harrison (Vice President)
  4. Matthew Holloway
  5. Marek Kuziel
  6. Dave Lane (President)
  7. Tim  McNamara
  8. Jaco van der Merwe
  9. David Nind (Secretary)
  10. Vik Olliver
  11. Liz Quilty
  12. Daniel Reurich (Treasurer)
  13. Brent Wood

Many thanks to David Nind, who stepped up last year to take the role of Secretary, which he has performed admirably, and Daniel Reurich who has served us well as Treasurer for yet another year. Peter Harrison, who is the NZOSS' founder, former president, and current vice president - and is also president of another national organisation - has decided to step down from that role and, if he is re-elected to council, instead focus on the crucial task of membership management for the Society in the role of Secretary.

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.