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What is Public Software?

Public software is all software that is essential for participating in the digital society and thus needs to be provided to everyone as a universal right and entitlement. It includes operating system, text / image / audio / video editors, email, web browser, search engine etc. Public software needs to be free software, providing the freedom to use, study, modify and share, to ensure universal access as well as participation in its creation and modification.

As in the case of public education or public health, public institutions are responsible to ensure universal access to public software as well as support public participation in its creation and sharing.

Software developed for public service has a unique context and objectives deriving from those of public service; with its imperative of providing public goods and ensuring equity and social justice. It is well known that private and commercial actions have very different context, motives and considerations than public actions. For instance, the largest possible reach and diffusion, as well as transparency of actions, are basic to public service, which is not necessarily values espoused by private and commercial players. Thus public software would cater to the requirements of universal access, transparency and participation.

Public Software being publicly owned, allows for its free sharing as well as modification by all. Public Software is thus Free Software. In addition, public software is also a public good. While Free Software requires the freedoms of the individual user to use, study, share and modify the source code, in addition to this, public software emphasises its ‘public good’ nature and vests on government the responsibility of ensuring that basic software required for negotiating the digital world is freely available to all.