The Government of South Africa has just adopted, via government policy, a FLOSS approach to software development for government systems. FLOSS is FOSS with Libre added.
I stumbled across this news item the other day and see that a lobbying process for FOSS adoption had been underway by a number of groups including the Open Source Centre of The Meraka Institute. The mission of the Open Source Centre is to facilitate and catalyse the process of changing the dominant culture from one of passive consumer of proprietary solutions, developed in the first world, to one of proactive producer of appropriate innovative solutions, tailored to the local needs. This will result in a Southern Africa based digital commons (Meraka) - an enabler for localised FLOSS, open content and related resources. Through the lobbying of this organization and others including Sangonet (one of very few NGOs in Africa involved in the field of information communication technologies) the government joined the movement!
On the 22nd of February the South Africa Government approved a policy and strategy for the implementation of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) in government. All new software developed for or by the government will in future be based on open standards and government will migrate all current software to FOSS.
What I think is fantastic about this is not just the move towards FOSS by government, but that they've listened to the lobbyists. Sounds strange that I'd say that since government and lobbyists go hand in hand in general, but here you have lobbyists fighting for an issue which has no mega corporate structure behind it, but is a movement supported by volunteer labour, non-proprietary orientation, collaboration and a very democratic spirit. It's a little inspiring that it worked.
On that note it also interesting to see what's happening FOSS wise in Europe as well and last fall the European Union released a report the "Study on the Economic impact of open source software on innovation and the competitiveness of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) sector in the EU"
The summary results of that study include that FOSS is growing quickly in Europe and the market share for FOSS systems is higher in the EU than in the US, that public sector organizations in the EU are heavily embedded with FOSS but may be soon overtaken by Asia and Latin America, that Europe is the leading region for collaborating FLOSS software developers, and leads in terms of global project leaders.
I think the policy suggestions by the group responsible for the report are worth noting.
- Avoid penalising FLOSS in innovation and R&D incentives, public R&D funding and public software procurement that is currently often anti-competitive
- Support FLOSS in pre-competitive research and standardization
- Avoid lifelong vendor lock-in in educational systems by teaching students skills, not specific applications; encourage participation in FLOSS-like communities
- Encourage partnerships between large firms, SMEs and the FLOSS community
- Provide equitable tax treatment for FLOSS creators: FLOSS software contributions can be treated as charitable donations for tax purposes. Where this is already possible, spread awareness among firms, contributors and authorities.
- Explore how unbundling between hardware and software can lead to a more competitive market and ease forms of innovation that are not favoured by vertical integration.
This continuing movement towards supporting free software (as in open) is very exciting and an adoption by governments of these policies could have a profound effect on how software is developed, distributed, used and who benefits.