18 January 2011

Open source governments


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Video: The DoD makes it official: open source IS commercial software.photo © 2010 opensource.com | more info (via: Wylio)

In the course of my work I am here and there asked to advise on open source software (OSS) matters. But for whatever reason, since the beginning of 2011 I had to almost daily read, write or listen to something related to OSS. In the most cases, the OSS in question was somehow connected to a use in the public sector. So, I decided to write a blog article on that.

For the mere sake of clarity and for those readers not familiar with what open source software is – take a look at the definition issued by the Open Source Initiative (OSI).

Most people hardly know it, but open source software is everywhere: it is in computers, smartphones or even refrigerators. The industry discovered it long ago and has successfully deployed it since then. As a consequence of the commercial success, as early as 2001 governments started demonstrating their interest in using OSS. In 2003 the municipality of Munich, being the first worldwide, started the LiMux project that aimed to migrate that city’s 15.000 desktop clients from Windows to Linux. The floodgates opened wide and many others followed the Bavarian approach.

Now, some years after that event, OSS is present on the realms of numerous governments around the world. Not only that, many countries have issued legislation to even foster the spread of OSS. Likewise, the European Commission considers it the digital fuel behind their e-government projects. Very recently, Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin instructed the federal government agencies to switch to free and open source software by 2015.

An interesting development, is it not?

Besides, the OSS triumph has raised several legal questions. Legal writers have spent tons of both, analog and digital ink to determine whether “government’s acquisition of OSS is subject to public procurement law” or “the installation of OSS within different offices of the same agency constitutes a distribution or a conveyance in the sense of GNU/GPL“. The most of those questions have still not been satisfactorily answered or tested in court.

Either way, I am happy as to governments’ decision to embrace and endorse OSS. Still, there are many steps to take. But in a decade, one might turn around and say “wow, what a giant leap for mankind”.

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