National governments are increasingly taking an interest in free software
as a way to reduce costs, improve security, support local software
development industry, and decrease reliance on Microsoft. At least,
governments outside the U.S. are interested... Here we take a quick look
at recent events in Italy and India which give some hints of where this
trend is heading.
The Italian Ministry for Innovation and Technology has announced
(in Italian) the creation of the "Commission for Open Source Software
in Public Administration," which is charged with evaluating free software
for governmental use.
This committee is headed by Professor Raffaele Meo,
former president of the Italian National Research Council (CNR), and a
well-known free software advocate.
The scope of its work is to look at the "efficiency, effectiveness,
and cost savings" of free software. They are also supposed to evaluate
technology trends across Europe and other industrialized countries. The
group's final report, due in three months, should advise the government on
strategies for the evaluation and choice of free software.
This charge may disappoint hard core free software supporters, since it
seems to focus primarily on the economic arguments. The driving force
behind the establishment of this committee, however, is a proposed law (in
Italian, of course) being pushed by the (opposition) Italian Green
Party. This law would require government agencies to prefer free software
for their information systems needs. Agencies wanting to buy proprietary
software would be required to justify that choice. In situations where
"personal or sensitive data" (or data whose disclusure could impact
national security) is being handled, use of free software would be
mandatory. Public agencies would also be required to keep copies of the
source for software they use, and would be required to keep data in open
The long-term direction, thus, is toward strong support of free software as
a way of improving security and access to public information - along with
the usual economic reasons. Adoption of free software at this level in
Italy is still a fairly distant prospect, however; for now, we have to wait
to see what this committee has to say, early next year. (Thanks to Davide
Barbieri for the tip).
Meanwhile, events in India are worth a look. The country's Department of
Information Technology announced last month a new set of initiatives to
promote the development and use of Linux there. Linux obviously has a lot
to offer a country like India, but the cynical among us need not look too
hard for another motivation for this effort. After all, Bill Gates has
just taken a trip over there and talked about spending $400 million in the
country. The two events are unlikely to be unrelated.
India is an important country for both Microsoft and the free software
community. Its software market is relatively small, especially when
considering the size of the country as a whole. But India is rich in
highly educated software developers. If a substantial portion of those
developers were to start working on free software, the results would be
felt worldwide. It is an outcome that, for Microsoft, is worth $400
million to prevent.
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