Legislation is becoming necessary world wide as the use of open source software (OSS) increases in domestic and foreign governments. Proprietary software in many countries has caused an economic boom in the software industry that open source is threatening. However, government use of OSS in other countries gives governments a chance to join the world market and boost their own economies. A few countries have already begun the process of legislation for regulation of the industry, but others will soon follow as the popularity of OSS increases.
Domestic and Foreign Economics of Open Source Software
Open Source Software is Economically Beneficial
The existence of open source software is beginning to have a dramatic and important impact on our economy. The demand for open source software grows every year and determines the market share for closed software from big businesses like Microsoft. In government open source is becoming increasingly popular because it is much less expensive and can be upgraded as their programmers see fit; instead of buying new software every year. With open source also comes security, because bugs are easier to catch, hackers have no “backdoors” to get into, and there is no risk of getting locked into one vendor. Government purchase is expected to grow by 9% every year for the next five years (Economist 1). Economically there is a substantial benefit to the United States and foreign governments using open source software because it will create jobs for consultancy firms, systems integrators like IBM, Red Hat or another Linux provider, small technology firms that can tailor the software, and many others.
In the United States, we operate under a free market economy, which assumes that in exchange for a product open source authors should be receiving goods or services. There are several goods and services exchanged in the open source community, such as advertising for other services or products, filling an unfilled demand, debugging and enhancement, and prestige (Green 2). From this idea spawns an economic benefit to the programmer as well as the user. A popular question surrounding open source development is: what does the programmer get from it? The motivation for open source software (OSS) programmers is not solely contingent upon money, so programmers look to the other benefits.
There are Several Benefits to the Open Source Programmers
The main reason programmers contribute to open source software is the need for a specialized function. As the need for more specialized programs increases, so do the number of programmers, which leads to a larger contribution than any proprietary company can make. This filling an unfilled need occurs in many different programs and makes them very attractive to governments who need a wide range of specialized functions. Advertising is another motivator for programmers because it can lead to profit from other programs. Netscape Communications, for example, has an open source browser called Mozilla, which they use to advertise web servers and web portals where they make money.
The last major benefit to open source programmers is prestige. For many of them, contributing to open source projects gets their name out there and promotes their skills. It also creates a sense of personal pride. Another economic benefit of open source code is reverse engineering. By looking at an open source program, it can be broken down into specific functions and they can be used as necessary in another program, for instance. Linu's’s Law of Software Engineering states that, “Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” This means that with OSS engineering, because there are so many people looking at the code, bugs are found and disposed of very quickly (Varner3). With the rise in terrorism, security is a big political issue right now (Economist 2). The easy removal of bugs from government run systems makes it harder for hackers from other countries to infiltrate our systems and leave viruses. It also gives us an advantage where advancement of the functionality of the programs is concerned, and creates markets for many smaller companies as far as advances and maintenance are concerned.
In developing countries, OSS is becoming popular because it provides local jobs and the chance for profits in exports. For example, currently, the proprietary software industry in India accounts for 16 percent of all exports, not including related non-software Information Technology (IT) typically boosted by advancements in software. It should also be noted that Microsoft, IBM and others are outsourcing programmers to countries like India because it is more profitable. This encourages the world market development of the software industry and the stimulation of a local economic boost of jobs.
Open source software has a lower total cost of ownership, which is its largest economic advantage over proprietary software. The acquisition, maintenance, and transition of open source systems are quicker and cheaper, which makes them advantageous in the market (Daffara 2). In the last three years approximately $25 billion in Linux revenues have been recorded worldwide. Linux programs generate revenue from technical support packages and licenses, which are not free. Much of this has occurred in governments where there are many benefits to using Linux, such as building an IT infrastructure under constrained budgets, nurturing the possibility of the software industry producing an export growth, security of the systems, or the ability to optimize the software.
Effect of Open Source Software on Big Business
Open source software is challenging the market and causing a decrease in demand for proprietary software. For example, in 2002 government purchases of software totaled nearly $17 billion globally and Microsoft controls only a small part of the market with government sales around $2.8 billion (Economist 1). Microsoft is desperately trying to discredit the use of OSS because it endangers the near monopoly over the industry.
Software development is driven by the size of a market, and its maturity (Varner 1). Right now Linux and other open source software programs are too small and too young to be equivalent to Microsoft or IBM, but it grows in popularity consistently both in the U.S. and other governments. The increase in market share for open source software is paving the way for a dramatic increase in legislation and regulation of development and deployment of such programs worldwide.
Open Source Software on the Domestic Front
Open Source Software serves as competition for Proprietary Software
Open source software has become huge on the domestic front as the debate between open source software and proprietary software rages on. According to Statskontoret, the Swedish Agency for Public Management, “free and open software gives the user the freedom to use, copy, distribute, examine change and improve the software” which means that by using open source the user has more control over the software product unlike using proprietary software (Statskontoret 4). This means that proprietary software has more competition. According to Statskontoret, “Free and open source software entails a new kind of competition, separated from that of traditional business in that the product generally is not owned by any single company and therefore cannot be purchased of the market. Furthermore, the software itself is not constricted by any cost or fee. It can be obtained free of charge on the internet” (Statskontoret 4).
Microsoft’s take on Open Source Software Usage
The debate against open source usage centers on the fact that open source is free; this is the reason why top open source programs like Linux, are seen as a threat to proprietary software providers like Microsoft. According to Microsoft the use of open source software would be a “disruption in the software ecosystem” (The Economic Times 4). According to an article in The Economic Times, Microsoft feels this way because proprietary software and commercial software have “co-existed” within the “software ecosystem” for four years. Sanjiv Mathur, Head of marketing for Microsoft in India, had this to say about Microsoft’s take on open source. “We are not averse to sharing our source codes with our customers if it will be beneficial for them, however we are concerned about the potential implications of GPL (General Public License)” (The Economy Times 40).
The GPL, according to Microsoft, is important because it plays a huge role in “discouraging the development of commercial software that threatens to undermine intellectual property, stifle innovation, and limit entrepreneurism while reducing choice in the market” (The Economic Times 3). Although Microsoft is clearly not in complete favor of using open source software, there are people around the domestic sphere that think otherwise. The big issue on today’s domestic front is not whether open source software should be favored over proprietary software, the issue, is whether or not governments should even use open source software.
Government and Political Use of Open Source
The biggest argument in favor of open source is its cost efficiency on the part of the government. According to the Economic Times:
The money saved in the service-oriented model of open source is then also normally spent within the economy or the governmental organization. Unlike proprietary software situations where they are paid out as a pure license fees to large monopolistic multinational organizations (The Economic Times p 2).
The government is able to spend less money and it stays within the provider’s services rather than being distributed as pure license fees to proprietary giants such as Microsoft. The government is not the only organization that benefits from open source, business’s benefit from it as well. According to Jason Walsh, author of Open Source Reality Check, “business use of Linux offers credibility and financial gain, No general purpose operating system can survive if it is not adopted in some form of business” (Walsh p 2). Open source has also been spotted in use on a political front. Howard Dean and Wesley Clark former democratic candidates for the presidential election used open source efforts as a way to help their campaign. Although the two democratic candidates both used open source, neither seemed to be in complete favor of it. According to Josh Lerner, director of technology for the Clark campaign, they have no “bias in favor of, for or against any particular model, we can’t afford to be religious about it” He also stated that that the Clark campaign only used open source out of “expedience” (Brokmeier 1).
The Dean campaign had this to say this via email after being asked why they chose open source software for DeanSpace, whether cost was a factor or if proprietary software wasn’t up to the task: Zephyr Teachout, the director of Internet Organizing and Outreach:
Cost is only one of the factors in our use of open source software. We also greatly value the reliability and security that is inherent in mature open source software…DeanSpace itself was built on top of the open source Drupal community system. This is just one example of how open source software has allowed us to focus our energy on getting Howard Dean elected (Brokmeier 2).
Open Source Case Study in State Governments
Although both of the former candidates used open source neither would comment on their view on open source as opposed to putting it into action within the government. The matter of instilling it into the government has become controversial because if implemented within the government it may seem that the government is favoring open source software over proprietary software. An example of this debate can be seen in Oregon. In April of 2003 a huge debate stemmed up in Oregon over the use of open source software. In Oregon they wanted to implement the first bill in the United States that would “encourage the use of open-source software by a state government” (CNET News p1). According to Staff Writer Lisa M. Bowman, “the bill would require the state to consider using open-source software when buying new programs” also stating that open source cannot be excluded from the process in when proprietary software is concerned. The outcome of this argument would be the stepping stone for future use of open source since has become a huge debate around the world. Since open source often promotes itself as “cheaper and more flexible than proprietary versions” it is looked upon as the essential software to many worldly “cash-crunched” governments. The court decision on enacting this bill has become such an issue because many countries look to see what the United States are going to do before going full throttle into a program. According to opponents of the movement to rid open source protections said, “We’re concerned about the presidential value of this, “other countries and (European Union) members might look to this as a model.” So the debate rages on not only about domestic use of open source software but also about international use as well.
Open Source Software in International Affairs
There is Increasing Interest in Open Source from Foreign Countries
While open source software is making headway into governmental use in the United States, internationally it is flourishing. Many countries have been introducing legislation to promote the use of open source software within their government or even demand it. The most notable of these is China’s open source movement. Now that China’s economy is growing rapidly, especially in the high tech field, the government decided that the nation shouldn’t be subject to another country’s software (read: Microsoft). To escape using Microsoft software, China is sinking millions into a national version of Linux, dubbed “Red Flag Linux”, referring of course to the Chinese national flag. (Nohora 1) There are a few reasons for this. Primarily, China and the rest of east Asia do not want to be stuck using proprietary software in security sensitive situations, such as military applications. The Ministry of Information Industry believes, like many Linux backers, that the open software is likely to be more secure than proprietary software is. National pride is another issue here since the country currently relies on virtually all imported software, primarily Microsoft, IBM, Sybase, and Oracle. To fight in the desktop arena China has teamed up with Korea and Japan to develop a Linux based desktop for their countries. (Nagaraj 1)
Whereas these projects are just getting started in the Far East, there has been a good amount of activity in Europe regarding governmental pressure to use open source software within the government. In late 2001, France’s Agency for Information and Communication Technology in the Administration was given the assignment of ensuring government projects use open source whenever possible to cut costs. The other reason is that the people are generally very wary of e-government. By using all open standards and making use of open source wherever possible, the people can determine for themselves how the software goes about doing what it does, which will inspire trust in the people. In governmental projects, the reason for going with open source software, like China, is one of security. By having access to the source code, the government can determine how secure the software is, and if necessary, modify it. (Perera 1)
The UK is has been pursuing an open source policy as well. In 2002, the office of the eEnvoy published the UK’s first paper on the open source software policy of the government. It does not give direct preference to open source software since it states “UK Government will consider OSS solutions alongside proprietary ones in IT procurements. Contracts will be awarded on a value for money basis.” But given the requirement to use products that support open standards and that the paper states they do not want to be locked into a proprietary vendor, the use of open source software is obviously wanted. Similar to other governments, the UK openly states that security is one of the foremost requirements for the software and that “Properly configured OSS can be at least as secure as proprietary systems, and OSS is currently subject to fewer Internet attacks.” (Office of the e-Envoy 1)
In 2002, Denmark’s Board of Technology published a paper on the economics of open source software in e-government when compared to commercial alternatives. This paper covered the use of open source software in desktop and server environments, taking into account ease of integration, standards support, price of support, and ease of use. The report does not give a recommendation to use open source software but merely states that open source software is an excellent alternative to commercial software. (Danish Board of Technology 77) This is primarily because of the open standards that OSS supports and the lower cost associated with it, especially when upgrading. Like the other governments mentioned, a primary concern of the paper is security, and like the others, it notes that the security of OSS has been better than most proprietary software.
The Peruvian government has recently introduced a bill regarding the use of open source software in government. This bill basically says that while a company may charge for software and support, the code MUST be open source to be used in any governmental application. There are three reasons for this stated in the bill. First is to guarantee a citizen’s access to data. This is accomplished, according to the bill, with open source software since the data is tied to open standards. Applications can be easily written to support these formats. Second is to guarantee the long term usability of data. Since the code for applications is open and so are the formats, if the vendor providing the support and code goes under, another group or company can take over support of the software easily without having to decipher anything. Lastly, in a theme common among these studies and legislations, is security. By having the code open, flaws and holes can be identified by the large and ever growing open source community. There is another advantage touched upon by the bill but not stated outright. This is guaranteeing the government does not use their citizens’ data inappropriately. By opening the source code, the public can determine for itself if the software uses the data the government collects appropriately. The Peruvian government is also interested in using open source software as a means to create jobs for local programmers. Whereas most software bought in the US is written here, it is another story in most small counties such as Peru. By going to open source software many new applications will need to be written and many existing open source applications will need to be localized. (Open Source Initiative 1)
Besides these countries, there are about two dozen others that are actively looking at having legislation regarding the use of open source software. These include South Africa, where the bill is a hard preference, Ukraine, Portugal, and Bulgaria, who have also introduced bills though they are not quite as far along as those in Peru and China. Other countries that are strapped for money such as Estonia have hinted at introducing a bill but have not followed through as of yet. The EU, although it will most likely not introduce legislation, has published papers on the advantages of using open source in egovernment as well. (McCallagh 1)
The international adoption of open source software has been extraordinary in the past few years and considering the growing acceptance it will likely only increase. What is very interesting about these reports is that the common theme among them is that the adoption of open source software is driven not by monetary concerns, but security ones. This is not limited to the oft quoted “can it be cracked?” type of security, but the long term security of data. More specifically, “if something happens to this company or they refuse to give support, can the data and application be maintained?” Combine this increase in security, tightening budgets, and the desire to be less reliant on foreign software, one can only expect more governments, both domestic and international, to adopt legislation encouraging or even demanding the use and regulation of open source software.