Governments and open source

opensource_compWith the current LinuxCon on its last day and an enthusiastic as well as overwhelming participation by the largest of the tech giants (Intel, IBM, Cisco, Samsung, HP, to name a few), it’s quite clear that the latest surge in the open source development is not going to decline any soon. Open source has never been this powerful before and it is continuing to grow. While historically Microsoft has dominated the desktop market, right now, it doesn’t have any strong answer to open source alternatives. While there was a time when you could get away with hiding your source code and users were happy just using just the service, today more and more users are getting aware of the concerns of using something that they can’t control; for which they always need to go back to the vendor when they face problems. They are realizing that they are paying for something which they themselves could have handled if they knew how it works or they could have got help from others who know how it works… for free! Today, hardware companies like Intel, NVIDIA are weighing options like which one to support – Wayland or Mir (both open source) as a part of their business strategy. Things did change!

This brings forth a vital question on growth in individual consumer adoption vs. mass adoption of organizations like governments. The latter is slow though there is a recent change in the trend. Germany, Argentina, many countries in Africa etc. are changing it. The respective governments have started recognizing open source as a viable and better alternative to closed source software. There are many reasons behind that:

  • open source has many more alternatives today, if you don’t like one, use another
  • you don’t just use it, at some point you start contributing and making it suit your needs better
  • you don’t pay fortunes in support, you get help from active and strong communities
  • your IT experts can verify that your data is not being sniffed at
  • the hardware vendors are supporting open source more actively than they ever did

However, exceptions are many more. While one reason is that governments, just like many individuals out there, are used to closed source products, the second reason is that government money is actually money from the taxes. No one cares about the expenditure as long as the supply is there.

In the developing and third world countries, if a government actually wants to change the state of affairs when it comes to information technology and reaping its benefits, they should head for open source. It can cut costs in the government administrative offices, schools, hospitals, military to a great extent. It can ensure that even the remote schools can have internet facility and at least a few computers with the money saved from not using commercial closed source software.

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