FOSS Government Policy/Why is a FOSS Policy Needed
Under ideal circumstances, a specific policy favouring FOSS is not required. However, policy-makers have turned to FOSS policies in order to solve specific problems within their countries. Related to the benefits of FOSS as described earlier, some common indicators of these problems include:
- Local software economy dominated by monopolies
- Pressure from foreign trading partners to reduce copyright infringements
- Large foreign exchange outflows to import software
- Inadequate and stagnant local ICT capacity
- Lack of ICT tools in local language
The question has been raised before that if FOSS systems have so much promise, then why is it sometimes necessary for governments to intervene and level the field or even actively promote FOSS systems? The answer to this lies in the very nature of FOSS and the current computing environment.
Because FOSS systems are available to almost anyone, it is hard for any single company to claim ownership and thus gain competitive advantage from promoting FOSS. A company that spends millions of dollars promoting GNU/Linux would benefit all the companies that offered GNU/Linux products, including fellow competitors. This is one of the reasons why there are limited commercial efforts to promote the benefits of FOSS.
FOSS being a relatively new development, many decision makers are unaware of the full benefits that it brings or the issues related to implementing it. The lack of publicity also makes it somewhat vulnerable to the Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) that may be produced by competing proprietary software vendors.
Among the FOSS benefits described in the previous section, only three of 10 (Total Cost of Ownership, Vendor Independence and Security) were favourable to most commercial entities. Since most decisions on software purchases and implementation are based on the “best value” basis, free market choices may result in a non-optimum choice for a nation.
Policy Justification: Denmark
A report produced by the Danish Board of Technology notes:
- “Ordinary market conditions for standard software will tend towards a very small number of suppliers or a monopoly. It will only be possible to achieve competition in such a situation by taking political decisions that assist new market participants in entering the market.”
Full report available at:
Entrenched Legacy Systems
Even in most developing countries, there is an existing ICT infrastructure, no matter how minimal. These investments in hardware and skills development greatly impact future procurements, since decision makers are likely to stay with the systems that they are familiar with and that their staff already have the capability to support.
Additionally, a significant number of proprietary software integrates poorly with other software, be they proprietary or FOSS. This makes the cost of changing as well as introducing new infrastructure extremely expensive. In many cases, poor interoperability is deliberately introduced by the software manufacturer to dissuade customers from switching to a competitor. Proprietary and secretive document standards and communication protocols are commonly used to limit interoperability.
A FOSS policy formulated by a government, even one that simply makes FOSS a choice equal to proprietary software, could facilitate a wider uptake of FOSS and consequently allow the economy to take advantage of its unique benefits.
- A common acronym used to describe the marketing tactics often used by companies to dissuade potential purchasers of competing products. Tactics such as issuing misleading reports, exaggerating problems or making extravagant promises for products that are not delivered in a timely fashion are commonly used.