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- Adopt Public Software
Why should Government adopt Public Software?
Governments function on the same principles of free software - transparency/openness, putting public and community interest over private interest, public software should be actively promoted within the public (Government) system and specially the education system. Private software functions on principles of competition, non-transparency / closedness and 'for-profit' and these are aligned to the business world than to the Government or non-profit sector. Hence while private software definitely has an important role in the business world, the public sector should prefer FOSS. Given the similarites in the nature of the public sector and FOSS, we can even term FOSS as Public Software or Sarvajanik Software.
Secondly, government cannot purchase software whose source code is not provided to it. This has security implications. The vendor can insert code that can monitor the activities of the Government staff using the software and this can be a security threat to the Government. For this reason, the defence department of the US and many countries will not purchase private software and insist on open source. This threat is not an empty one – recent newspaper reports said that the World Bank has debarred Satyam Computers from contracting with them, since Satyam installed spy software in the projects they did for the World Bank.
Government need to clearly adopt and promote FOSS. As a first step, Government should launch a publicity campaign creating awareness of FOSS and its advantages to society and the economy. This is similar to public interest advertisements that provide vaccination to children, or encourage out of school children to join public schools etc. Such publicity will clearly promote public welfare. In addition, the Government should encourage and support the creation of a thriving eco-system for FOSS by
a. mandating that all Government software should be FOSS. Proprietary software should be prohibited. In case of popular software on the desktop/client side, this is easily met by opting for robust and superior quality FOSS applications already available. In case of server side products too FOSS software options are available and popular.
In case of custom applications, Government should insist that the vendor should develop the application using FOSS platforms and the source code of the application itself should be owned by the Government and not by the vendor. This will also allow the Government to freely distribute and share the application with other governments and other institutions.
b. Encourage government training insitutes to offer FOSS on the curriculum
c. Mandate that FOSS should form part of the curriculum of colleges, as a part of ICT curriculum. This will create a body of people familiar with FOSS production
d. Encourage college students to have localization projects. Support collaboration between colleges/universities and companies that work on FOSS platforms.
e. Prohibit the use of proprietary software on all website of the Government. All websites should be operable without issues using FOSS web browsers such as Firefox. Having a website or a download on the website which forces the user to purchase proprietary software is wrong. For e.g. if a web page can only be opened in Internet Explorer, it forces the user to purchase windows. Whereas if the site can open in Firefox or a similar FOSS browser, the user is not forced to purchase software.
Government offices must specifically ask for and insist on Free software when procuring computers, most hardware vendors tend to promote private software since they have business benefits from this and do not even offer a choice to the buyer to opt for free software. This is also required from a 'least cost' (L0) principle of procurement, since free software will save a significant part of the total purchase costs. In fact, the price of private software (operating system and Office) can amount to even about 20-40% of total cost of computers purchased, and this can be saved with Free software options.