Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Government initiatives regarding open source and their successes and failures

Executive Summary

This paper provides information regarding various government open source initiatives, such as in Munich, India, Japan, South Korea, China, and Brazil .

Munich, the first government to make a large switch to open source, experienced major benefits such as improved security and forced competition in the software market. India currently works on implementing open source in schools, banks, and the military. India believes the benefits of open source will include tighter military security and modernization of the country technologically.

Japan proposed an Asian open source system mainly to compete with Microsoft's and the United States' dominance of the software market. To achieve success, Japan will need cooperation from China and Korea. China's government has shown support for open source so far by not responding to Microsoft's demand that it crack down on piracy. Korea's government also supports open source, but it could be hard to get Japan, China, and Korea to work together and make the open source industry a successful rival of Microsoft.

Brazil currently has two government agencies that have started using open source. Brazilian businesses such as food chains and public computer centers also use open source. Brazil's president wants all government agencies to use open source to help bridge the technological gap between Brazil and countries like the United States. The major benefit of open source for Brazil is the cheap cost, since Brazil cannot afford Microsoft software.

Challenges include strong opposition from Microsoft and fear that open source will give governments excessive power.


In the last few years, open source software has burst upon the computer industry as a new and innovative alternative to traditional software programs and companies. Open source allows users to see and modify its code, enabling them to improve the software and then redistribute it (Open Source Initiative). Traditional software companies such as Microsoft use closed source software, meaning no one outside of the company can alter or even view the code (Stanco).

Open source provides a cheaper alternative than Microsoft. Due to these factors, governments around the world are considering switching from Microsoft to open source. A more secure system results from the ability to see and change software codes . Many governments do not like using closed source software because of hackers, and the governments have to depend on programmers of the commercial vendor to fix the problem (Stanco). Another reason governments do not like closed source software stems from the fear that Microsoft, a U.S. company, might purposely put backdoors into other countries' software. Open source, on the other hand, allows all users to find and get rid of bugs, therefore causing greater security. “Users are wonderful things to have….Because source code is available, they can be effective hackers. This can be tremendously useful for shortening debugging time. Given a bit of encouragement, your users will diagnose problems, suggest fixes, and help improve the code far more quickly than you could unaided.” (Raymond).

Governments also like open source because by using it, they do not get locked into a contract as they would with a company like Microsoft, and they will not depend on a large commercial vendor to keep their programs up-to-date and secure (Stanco).

While Microsoft still controls most of the software and operating system industries, open source and Linux continue to increase in popularity, and some governments have already passed policies regarding the use of open source (Stanco). Below are some of the initiatives various governments have taken with open source, and their successes and failures.

Munich Implementation

The city of Munich proposed and voted to migrate 14,000 Microsoft computers to Linux, making it the biggest Microsoft customer to make this size of a migration. Although Microsoft remains one of the most successful computer software corporations, open source has begun to slowly gain popularity (Microsoft at; Bass). In fact, according to Chris Stone, vice chairman of network-software maker Novell, Munich has become “the poster child for the desktop Linux movement” (Bass).

Successfully accomplishing a migration from Microsoft to Linux proves a difficult task. Because types of software differ from company to company, the switch will require intricate strategic planning and long hours. Munich formed project groups to determine types of clients involved, testing procedures, training programs, formats needed, costs of implementation, and methods of spreading information. These plans for migration will only succeed if every software manager in the city agrees to use them (Linux-the).

Munich has decided to use a “soft” migration, which involves creating an intermediate system to gradually switch applications to open source. Migration teams inform business employees of the new open source system through the use of seminars, flyers, demonstration systems, and personal discussions in order to “decrease employee fears and reservations about the use of open source software” (Linux-the).

Part of Munich's main motivation for this large migration stems from the lack of security proprietary software such as Microsoft gives. The computer systems hold important files such as birth certificates and criminal DNA records. In addition, increasing technology allows for filing of information and records online. Governments have doubts about the amount of security commercial vendors can provide. In order to compete with some of these security issues, Microsoft has begun to open more of its software to individuals and has made some portions of code available to users (Microsoft at).

In response to the security issue, open source provides transparency on its software, easily exposing bugs and “backdoors” (Microsoft at; Raymond). Open source software producers such as Linux offer their product for free to their customers; however, some of the specific licenses entail a small fee. Not only does Linux cost less, but open source also has the advantage of allowing users to modify it to “suit clients' needs” and to upgrade it as desired (Bass).

Munich's government officials support open source software because it encourages competition in the software market and ensures them that they do not have to rely on a single vendor (Microsoft at; Linux-the).

Although open source software continues to spread rapidly, it does not currently work with all applications. In Munich, over 28,000 educational licenses remain in use because Linux offers no alternative at the moment. Some sources say other Microsoft applications such as spreadsheets allow for easier use than open source software (Bass). However, Open Office compares closely to Microsoft Office and not only includes all the same applications, but is compatible with Microsoft Office as well. “It includes the key desktop applications, such as a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation manager, and drawing program, with a user interface and feature set similar to other office suites. Sophisticated and flexible, OpenOffice.org also works transparently with a variety of file formats, including those of Microsoft Office” (About us).

Microsoft officials have tried to discourage the use of Linux, saying that “its openness makes it insecure and therefore vulnerable to terrorism” (Microsoft at). The power given to the government through a migration concerns citizens. Once a government decides to implement the software, all citizens and businesses must adopt and use it as well (Microsoft at).

Far East Asia Implementation

Open Source has rapidly built momentum in Far East Asia. Japan led the way in adopting this policy and many other countries in Asia followed suit once they saw the benefits of open source. Currently, Japan has an open source system based on Linux and has recently proposed an Asian open source operating system platform as an effort to rival North America . This new system especially targets the Microsoft monopoly and the operating system industry. Hitachi and Fujitsu have attempted to shift the overall computing business to Japan and experience the same success that they have achieved in the consumer electronics market (Enderle).


The Japanese believe their endeavors in open source will ultimately lead to a power shift in the software industry. According to Reuters news agency, other Asian countries such as China and South Korea verbally support Japan's efforts and have followed suit in adopting an open source operating system based off of Linux (Enderle). The Mozilla Foundation and Mozilla Japan Today recently launched a Mozilla-Japan.org website, a non-profit organization that promotes, develops and deploys Mozilla products throughout Japan. Services include migration support and product deployment and technical assistance. According to Mitchell Baker, Japan has a large concentration of Mozilla users. “We are delighted to support the creation of Mozilla Japan . Mozilla Japan will play a vital role in ensuring that Japanese users have access to the highest quality products and to the full range of services needed for broad end-user and enterprise adoption” (Mozilla Affiliate).

Following the example of Japan, China has also adopted an open source policy. Compared to Microsoft's Windows and Unix operating systems, which are based on proprietary programming, Linux appears widely safer and cheaper. People's Daily Online reports that China has already prepared a 200 page scheme for the Linux standard, through which Japan, China and South Korea will presumably offer “the Asian version of desktop Linux (China Denies). In Asia, Microsoft's success diminishes due to the amount of illegally copied software. In China, approximately 97% of their software gets copied. Microsoft officials attempt to crack down on these piracy issues; however, without the cooperation of the Chinese government, very little can be done. If Linux flourishes in China, it could pose many dangers for Microsoft. “The real value of open source to a country like China is developing a public infrastructure for a software industry. It's a reasonable and cost-efficient way for China to compete globally,” says Kevin MacIsaac, an analyst with the Metagroup in Sydney (Leander).


In order to expand success, Asia must overcome many obstacles. In Japan, Hitachi and Fujitsu failed in their endeavor to acquire IBM's intellectual property because of the technology and channel gap. Their efforts only gained partial success due to IBM's virtually vulnerable direct sales channel (Enderle). Initially, Japan had a large hand in the PC industry. Unfortunately, once the Japanese company NEC crumbled under its attempt to take on Packard Bell, a US company, Japan lost all chances of gaining a significant market outside Asia. Japanese companies Sony, Fujitsu, Hitachi and Matsushita Electric have all made runs in the software market, but have had little success.

Microsoft does not worry about the triple Asian threat. They believe their pricing policies which adapt to regional and political changes will hold more effective in the long run. While initial efforts have failed primarily due to complexity, analysts believe that Japan, China and South Korea working together will ultimately cause disaster (Enderle). Historically, these three countries have shown significant problems collaborating and sharing power.

India Implementation

India's first implementation of open source occurred with the signing of two Memorandas of Understanding with IBM by the government of Uttaranchal (Indian state). Soon after, India's president and supreme commander of the armed forces, Abdul Kalam, revealed open source as a defense mechanism against cybersecurity threats in the military. In talks with the Indian Navy's Weapons and Electronic System Engineering Establishment, Kalam expressed his impression with the usefulness of the new technology in defense training. Open source gave him the ability to talk to people in North America using voice internet, which he found remarkable. Kalam wants open source to help India “achieve self-reliance in software needed for critical weapon system development” (Sharma). Also, due to its cost effectiveness, India has started to implement open source in various state and private banks such as the Central Bank of India and the treasury department in West Bengal state (Sharma).


Open source will bring India into the heart of the IT revolution by forcing the country into the market. President Kalam states that open source “offers developing nations the best opportunity to modernize” (Becker). The use of this technology will improve interaction with citizens who no one can contact due to India's rough terrain. In addition, open source avoids “duplication of effort across government departments” (Indian state).

While citizens see the software as a tool for Indian language computing needs, governments see it as “a way to cut back on non-productive expenditures so that they can focus on more critical issues such as health, employment, and education” (Indic-Computing, Indian state). Joseph Koshy states in his paper, “Design Axes for the Indian Language Computing Market,” that “computing in local languages remains unavailable to the common man in the Indian subcontinent” (Koshy). “We shall bring the government to the door of the citizen. We believe that this will help drive greater transparency, agility, better citizen service and quality education" (Indian state).

Open source allows operation between new and old software and provides easy to use instruction for all non-skilled officials. Several colleges even provide training programs to encourage the growth of open source. IBM, the company selling open source software, will work closely with India to build the newest technologically sound applications which relate to India's most important issues such as taxes, social security, and healthcare (Indian state).


In trying to defer customers from buying Linux, Microsoft describes the software as one that “is risky and undermines innovation” (Becker). Microsoft has also offered government users access to some of its source code for Windows in order to further adapt to new technology (Sharma). President Kalam worries that the “further spread of IT, which is influencing the daily life of individuals, would have a devastating effect on the lives of society due to any small shift in the business practice involving these proprietary solutions.” He argues, “It is precisely for these reasons open-source software needs to be built….open-source code software will have to come and stay in a big way for the benefit of our billion people” (Becker).

Brazil Implementation

Similar to Munich and Japan, Brazil stands as a role model for other governments in its region who are looking to migrate towards open source. Currently, two small government agencies in Brazil have shifted from Microsoft to Linux. In addition, Brazil signed a letter of intent with IBM Corporation to encourage other government agencies to switch to Linux as well (Brazil Gives; Clendenning). President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva enthusiastically advocates open source (Clendenning). Amadeu, former economics professor and the head of Brazil's National Information Technology Institute, says, “We have some islands in the federal government using open-source, but we want to create a continent” (Brazil Gives; Clendenning). Amadeu pushes to implement open source in the country's electronic election process.

The Brazilian government has set up 86 open source software computer centers in Sao Paulo, which provide low income citizens with a place to work. Brazil businesses such as the fast food chain Habib's also use open source to allow customers to order their food through Linux and have it delivered to their homes (Brazil Gives; Clendenning).


Linux offers an effective substitute for costly Microsoft products that the Brazilian government and the general population cannot afford. Open source software allows for free computer centers, which benefits the average Brazilian citizen who cannot afford a home computer. One citizen who utilizes the computer centers said, “If this was a rich country, it wouldn't matter and we could buy Microsoft products, but we're a developing country and Linux is just a lot more accessible, so we're heading toward a Linux generation” (Brazil Gives; Clendenning).

Supporters of open source claim that government efforts to increase the use of Linux will create a larger job market. Similar to Munich, India, and Far East Asian countries, Brazil's government feels that the added benefits will include high security and the low cost of Linux (Clendenning).


Microsoft plays a dominant role in deterring more Brazilian government agencies from switching to open source. Microsoft officials claim that by switching to open source, Brazil will actually spend more money because of added service costs the migration will require. Microsoft officials worry that Brazil's government will require a switch to open source, thus diminishing citizen's right to choose. Luiz Moncau, Microsoft's marketing director in Brazil, states, “We still think free choice is best for companies, the individuals and the government” (Brazil Gives).


Increasingly, governments around the world look to open source as a cost-effective, high-security solution to their problems with Microsoft. Many countries also see open source as an opportunity to catch up in the technological revolution, especially countries that cannot afford Microsoft's pricy software and operating systems.

Many governments have already initiated switches to open source and have benefited from doing so. They use open source on government computers and in schools, the military, public workstations, and businesses. However, many governments hesitate to take the leap and would prefer to wait until they observe more successes from other governments.