Musing about purchasing and opensource and tenancy agreements

There’s something analogous to Stockholm Syndrome when it comes to the adoption of opensource, where people in IT departments prefer the perceived security of being held captive. This is something I’ve touched upon before here and here.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve tended to move away from concepts of ownership to concepts of stewardship in many contexts. As a human being, a citizen of Earth, I am a steward of natural resources. As a parent I am a steward of my children. As an employee I am a steward of corporate assets. As a member of society I am a steward of social and cultural values. In fact I think of everything I “have” as a consequence of God’s grace, even the mantle of stewardship.

Of late there’s been considerable debate, especially in Europe, about Government purchasing/procurement policies and opensource. As you would expect there’s more than one view, to put it mildly. And whenever I see such rampant polarisation, it makes me think.

And here’s where I’m at. What would happen if software vendors had to sign some sort of “tenancy agreement” as part of a delivery contract? Let me show you what I mean. Here’s an extract from a cookie-cutter tenancy agreement :

10.1 The Tenant shall keep the interior of the Property in good repair and condition and in good decorative order and in particular shall take all reasonable steps to keep the Property aired and heated and to prevent water pipes freezing in cold weather.

10.2 The Tenant shall be responsible for the professional cleaning costs at the end of the tenancy.

10.3 The Tenant shall not bring any hazardous materials into the Property and shall take all reasonable steps to avoid danger to the Property or neighbouring properties by way of fire or flooding.

10.4 The Tenant shall be responsible for cleaning and keeping free from all blockages and obstructions all baths, sinks, lavatories, cisterns and drains and in particular shall take all reasonable steps not to pour oil, grease or other damaging materials down the drains or waste pipes.

11 Communal Areas

The Tenant shall take reasonable care to keep any common entrances, halls, stairways, lifts, passageways and any other common parts clean and fit for use by the Tenant and other occupiers and visitors to the Property.

12 Garden

The Tenant is responsible for the maintenance of any garden areas and for keeping such areas neat and tidy and free from weeds, with any grass kept cut, subject to the Landlord providing and maintaining appropriate garden tools for this purpose.

13 Nuisance

The Tenant shall not (nor allow others to) cause nuisance or annoyance to the Landlord or his Agent or any neighbours.

14 Damage

The Tenant shall not (nor allow others to) cause any damage or injury to the exterior, structure or any part of the Property.

15 Alterations to Property

The Tenant shall not (nor allow others to) make any alterations, improvements or additions to the Property, including the erection of a television aerial, external decoration and additions to or alterations to, the Landlord’s installations, fixtures and fittings without the prior written consent of the Landlord. The Tenant shall not (nor allow others to) remove any of the items specified in the inventory (if any) or any of the Landlord’s possessions from the premises.

16 Repairing Damage

The Tenant agrees to make good any damage to the Property or the common parts

There’s something about this approach that really appeals to me. The software vendor becomes responsible for maintaining the area being tenanted; has to respect common areas; needs permission before carrying out alterations; must repair any damage caused; must leave the area as it was when he/she entered it in the first place.

I know it’s not perfect, but I think it can be worked on. I think it’s meaningful for proprietary as well as opensource software, I think it’s meaningful both in the specific procurement context as well as in general. I also like the idea of the environment being treated as a commons, even if we have to conjure up the concept of “private commons” and “public commons”. I know that it sounds unwieldy, but it’s a start.

We have to figure out what the common areas are, what needs to be cleaned, what needs to be kept clear, what constitutes a nuisance. What things should look like before and after.

Putting the onus of migration costs is not a new thing. I think I am proposing something more than that, I want the costs of decommissioning to be covered. Which in turn means people have to build stuff that is plug-and-play by design; not just plug-any-play, but plug-and-play while agnostic to the environment.

Enough blathering. Views? Comments? Am I on to something? Or has it all been done before? If so where and when?

14 thoughts on “Musing about purchasing and opensource and tenancy agreements”

  1. Bruce Schneier has advocated a similar thing, namely that software vendors should be liable for defects in their software:

    “Liability law is one way to make it in those organisations’ best interests. If end users could sue software manufacturers for product defects, then the cost of those defects to the software manufacturers would rise. Manufacturers would then pay the true economic cost for poor software, and not just a piece of it.”

    Schneier, naturally, focuses on the security aspects of software liability.

  2. Right on! Having seen some of the unplanned costs over the last few years, I’ve been suggesting that decommissioning costs should be included in any project proposal.

    I remember Dominic Sayers did some work prior to Vista’s release, to calculate that lock-in cost. One conclusion was that Microsoft could afford to increase the cost of the OS, and it would still be less than the conversion cost. And they did.

    Now if we take the tenancy agreement analogy to its conclusion, purchasers of products ought to withhold a deposit to cover those lock-in costs.

  3. Andrew, you’re on to something. I like the idea of the withholding of a deposit as in a tenancy agreement

  4. Interesting.

    I think this also applies very well to cloud computing/commercially hosted applications.

    In this case you really are physically renting rackspace from a company (be that directly or through sub-letting). You have certain expectations of the landlord (looking after utilties and major hardware appliances) and the landlord has certain expectations of you (not abusing the place and using communal areas responsibly).

    I got an email from my landlord this morning telling me of planned alterations to my property and giving me advance warning of their visit. They’re upgrading the RAM on my virtual server.

    I like your ethos of stewardship and I’m interested to hear about where cloud computing and Open Source intersect. It concerns me that a move to cloud computing may mean a move away from Open Source.

  5. In the construction industry you have a Retention sum that is only paid after a Certificate of Practical Completion is issued.

    If you want to build a nuclear reactor you have to take account of the decommissioning costs in your business case.

    Plenty of precedent for this practise.

  6. Stewardship – what a great word to remove the fear from IT teams confronted with change. I find this particularly visible in Operations teams, where stability is at a premium and protectionism is the way to prevent errors caused during change.

    Thanks for the article. :)

  7. Construction and real estate have independent inspectors that both customer and vendor rely on. You get a second pair of eyes on your contractor’s workmanship when the city inspector comes.

    Well-run Linux distributions do this for the software they bundle.

  8. The vendor/IT dept Stockholm Syndrome-esque scenario is frighteningly common. Thankfully, most of those who are scared of the freedom that F/OSS affords can be weaned-off their chemical dependency-like vendor addiction, by addressing the common major misconceptions. Of those who refuse to budge you have to question their competence, else where their loyalty lies…

    I like the idea of something akin to a software tenancy agreement, but worry that obligations contained within would be subject to varying interpretations. I’m sure such agreements would prove extremely popular with lawyers (they already have a field day with F/OSS licences, e.g. “is it a licence, or actually a contract?”)… I’d personally rather see that we reach a stage of transparency whereby vendor action against a customer’s best interests is a reliable path to failure. Where when a vendor creates lock-in or fails to adequately maintain software etc, it is the exception rather than the rule, and such action never goes unnoticed.

  9. “The software vendor becomes responsible for maintaining the area being tenanted; has to respect common areas; needs permission before carrying out alterations; must repair any damage caused; must leave the area as it was when he/she entered it in the first place.”

    You could think of this like a public park. It is about community, responsibility, and respect.

    With FOSS, there really isn’t a “vendor” as such. there may be an organisation which provides the facility or service, but the “consumer(s)” are either unknown and have individual needs and wants that are orthogonal to the provider, or are deeply involved with the community with which the facility or service supports.

    Either way, as a novice or sceptic, when you enter a new environment the trepidation is not unreasonable and needs to be empathised rather than scorned.

  10. Thanks for your comments.

    Doc Searls has been elaborating on the connections between software and construction for some time now. Here are some references:

    I think there are three key aspects to all this:

    1. Enterprises and homes are looking more and more like ecosystems in their own right, “private commons” as it were. This is above and beyond the “public commons” we have.

    2. People who provide services into these commonses need to be courteous in their behaviour, leave things as they found them.

    3. Opensource was a harbinger of this, so was plug-and-play, but it actually affects all software.

    I will be following this up with another post at the weekend.

    Open Sourcerer, I agree with you, trepidation is not unreasonable. We need to keep on educating people about this. Part of the reason I write. There is no point preaching only to the converted.

  11. You might be interested in some of the work being done to craft agreements between the provider of a virtual world and the virtual world residents. These agreements serve to define individual responsibilities and consequently end up shaping the culture of the world society. If you haven’t seen it, take a look at:

Let me know what you think

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