The world of 2020 to come could be full of promise: greater distributed prosperity and welfare, more sharing of information capital, reduction of the digital divide... It could equally pose numerous challenges: How to sustain economic development to ensure the welfare of 8 billion people? How to cope with the scarcity of resources and energy? How to reconcile economic growth and sustainable development? How to create synergy between social progress and economic prosperity? FLOSS could have a key impact in all these fields. The FLOSS arena is where new applications serving citizens needs are designed, experimented and matured. Innovative applications that would never have been developed in a proprietary software world because the immediate business models were not clear have been developed and deployed as FLOSS. This happened for the Internet itself, the Web, or in the fields of democracy, co-operation, access to knowledge and culture and collaborative media. These applications have in turn enabled significant economic growth. Public policies are a key tool to realizing the potential of FLOSS, for existing organizations and companies as well as for society and the economy as a whole.
Today, FLOSS is not only recognized as a way to reduce the digital divide and sustain education by giving everyone access to free IT software and knowledge. It is also starting to be widely recognized as a decisive lever for innovation and economic growth. According to surveys, FLOSS could account for 4% of the European GDP in 2012. It is also recognized as a way of ensuring independence from monopolies, whether corporate (liberation from the dominance of some IT giants) or geostrategic (enabling the development of local IT industries), and of preserving the sovereignty of nations.
As a result, public authorities from countries all over the world are building FLOSS and its many advantages into their strategy. Some European countries, Brazil, Russia, India and China are showing a strong determination to realize the potential of FLOSS, through their innovation policies, public procurement and the development of FLOSS usage in both professional and domestic uses.
The Brazilian authorities, for example, consider FLOSS to be a lever for a social project already in progress: since 2003, they have developed FLOSS ecosystems for public administrations, and for businesses as well as to promote digital inclusion and e-citizenship. They foster the development of FLOSS models and communities, and encourage the adoption of FLOSS by public and private organisations and by individual users. The benefits of this public policy already include a significant reduction in government costs, and the development of national products and services that work together for the country's economic progress.
Another example is India, where FLOSS is increasingly used in both public and private sectors. While a comprehensive public policy on FLOSS is still to be unveiled in India, the government departments concerned have been working on it, and these should be in place very soon, providing strong encouragement for the use of FLOSS in the public sector applications arena. Public sector bodies are indeed aware of the potential of FLOSS for India. That is why, in 2005, they funded the National Resource Center for Free/Open Source Software (NRCFOSS), with a dual mission for the competitiveness of India in the IT sector, and digital inclusion. NRCFOSS is now planning to explore ways to foster innovation through education and training in the use of tools, techniques and methodology of the FLOSS Movement, jointly with the Indian FLOSS Community, the Academic and R&D Community, etc.
In Asia, several FLOSS projects are increasingly supported, from FLOSS related projects in China's 863 program to Japan's Information-technology Promotion Agency (IPA).
In Europe, several states and major local authorities have shown themselves to be concerned by FLOSS and open standards. In Spain for example, several regions have developed their own FLOSS distributions, which are now widely used in schools and public administrations, but also on home computers for private users. Another example is the Netherlands, with their «Open Connection» program, which aims at using FLOSS and open standards in Dutch public sector bodies.
Africa is also extending the use of FLOSS, with the creation of an African FLOSS Foundation, FOSSFA. Founded under the auspices of the Bamako Bureau of the African Information Society Initiative within the mandate given by African Governments in 1995 to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), FOSSFA promotes FLOSS in Africa and coordinates African FLOSS initiatives, creativity and industry.
Unfortunately, too many public authorities still tend to neglect the potential of FLOSS, and often pass laws that could threaten its development. Preventing discrimination against FLOSS developers and users is a start. But only a voluntary policy that fully adopts FLOSS and develops it for the benefit of society, the nation state and its economy, can realize its potential.
The function of public sector bodies is not only to favour and establish the best conditions for growth, welfare and security for all citizens. It is to foster and manage all the shared resources needed that will sustain them, from education to infrastructures. FLOSS, by its very nature, is at the heart of such shared resources.
Just as common infrastructures (transportation, energy...) were essential to economic growth and the industrial revolution, digital infrastructures will be key to the digital revolution of the future and the emergence of a knowledge society.
Our vision, looking ahead to 2020, is that FLOSS will be considered as an essential shared asset by public authorities, and managed with the same care as material physical infrastructures are managed today.
To realize the potential of FLOSS, we need a policy aimed resolutely at achieving four main objectives:
- establish a clear, stable legal context supporting interoperability and free competition in the software & services industry;
- encourage mutualization, the use of shared resources and interoperability in public procurement and e-administration;
- acknowledge and support FLOSS innovation, and use innovation policies as a lever for developing the FLOSS economic sector;
- promote active participation of citizens in the information society thanks to FLOSS.
To meet these objectives, we make the following predictions and recommendations.
The first thing FLOSS requires for its development is a stable and neutral legal context, as it relies on licenses that give every user four essential areas of freedom:
● the right to use the software ;
● the right to study it thanks to its open sources ;
● the right to distribute copies of the software ;
● and the right to modify it (to enhance it or adapt it to personal uses) and publish the modifications.
FLOSS cannot develop if these four freedoms cannot be guaranteed by the license alone.
The main threat to FLOSS currently in the area of legislation is software patentability. Experience shows that software patents bring rigidity to innovation, reinforce dominant positions and work against the four freedoms of FLOSS. In the United States, where the principle of software patentability was validated in 1998 by case law, software patents have generated many costly procedures and trials, and the system has been shown to be prejudicial to the software industry. The «Patent troll» companies cost even the biggest software publishers (of both proprietary software and FLOSS) vast sums of money. In order to side-step any risk of legal proceedings, FLOSS-user companies have created consortia to pool their defensive patents and free-license each other. In any case, software patentability is currently under review both by companies and the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
In Europe nevertheless, the debate continues. A community directive aimed at legalizing software patents was rejected in 2005, but software patent defenders continue to fight for this legislation. The US situation might inform the debate and, if software patentability is repealed soon enough, enable the European Union to make a decision favourable to the development of the software industry in general, and FLOSS in particular.
Recommendation #1: Unambiguously prohibit the patentability of software and have the patent offices apply the subsequent doctrine: software may be part of an invention but shall not constitute the inventive step of the patented invention.
Interoperability is a fundamental issue for FLOSS and free competition on the software market. FLOSS developers need to be able to legally 'reverse-engineer' any software or format, so as to create independent software that can interact with other solutions and offer alternatives to their users.
Building in a right to interoperability is a good way to both legally secure FLOSS development and encourage free competition. The right to interoperability can be implemented thanks to three main elements:
a. the right to reverse engineer proprietary software for interoperability purposes;
b. a definition that acknowledges as «open standard» any communication, interconnexion or exchange format, and any interoperable data format, for which technical specifications are public and not subject to any restriction to access or implementation. Such a definition is also very important regarding web services, and the right of users to access and use their personal data;
c. an obligation for software publishers to provide third parties with their software's application programming interface (API) and any documentation needed for interoperability, without any counterpart but the cost of the support and its transport if appropriate. Revealing the API does not mean revealing the software, and thus does not violate the publisher's copyright; but it does enable competitors to create independent, compatible software, and thus encourages competition and innovation.
Without a right to interoperability, the use of proprietary formats acts as a vendor lock-in and restrains users from trying other equivalent solutions. Proprietary formats lock in the users' data; they threaten data durability and favour the emergence and maintaining of dominant positions.
Recommendation #2: Establish a right to interoperability, including a right to reverse engineering, a definition of open standards and an obligation of non-commercial cooperation for interoperability for all software publishers.
A major hindrance to the popular adoption of FLOSS is bundled sales of computer and software. These are not only counter-productive to free competition, they also obscure FLOSS to the general public by enabling dominant proprietary editors to preempt the software supply. They represent a first step into vendor lock-in mechanisms that prevent users from knowing about, and switching to, alternative solutions – among them, FLOSS. Moreover, they artificially increase the cost of household equipment, and result in a poor levels of quality and diversity. This is true for operating systems as well as for common applications such as web browsers, media players or office tools.
Recommendation #3: Firmly support competition in the area of operating system and mass distribution application software (avoid bundled sales and other monopolistic mechanisms) to enable diversity, quality improvement and lower prices for household equipment.
Web services and cloud computing are an important present and future issue. End users and companies have recourse to web services and cloud computing solutions in order to outsource their information system administration. Without an effective right for all users to migrate their data from one solution to another, it will create new vendor lock-ins similar to the ones that emerged in the 1990's. The most effective solution is the use of open standards, that will give the users back their right to administrate their data and enable free competition.
Recommendation #4: Require Web service providers to offer their customers open-standard based solutions with practical and effective solutions for exporting data, and encourage the open accessibility of FLOSS solutions and open access data infrastructures (for instance for geographical information) needed to instill true competition in the field of Web services.
Free and Open Source licenses are the basis for the four freedoms conveyed by FLOSS. That is why legislation should also include protection for free-licensed software equivalent to that of proprietary software. This would guarantee the four freedoms for all users, and respect for the software developers' aims and intentions.
Recommendation #5: Legally acknowledge any license that FULLY recognizes the rights of users, including those licenses that protect FLOSS against reproprietarization.
FLOSS favours the creation of common resources and so should be preferred in public procurement. Public authorities should therefore set up regulationary measures so as to favour FLOSS in public administrations, obliging public administrations to prefer FLOSS to proprietary software for a similar function. In addition to the financial, technical and independence advantages, this will encourage local industry and propagate FLOSS usage.
Recommendation #6: Introduce FLOSS preferment in public administrations procurement.
Finally and in general, public authorities should include FLOSS when creating new legislation, and especially at international level. FLOSS economic players, as well as civil advocacy groups, should be consulted before new legislation is drawn up. International treaties, as well as national legislations, should not discriminate against FLOSS, and thus unfairly penalize their private, business and public users and developers.
Recommendation #7: Elaborate IT-related legislation taking care to protect the legal ecosystem of FLOSS.
A clear and stable legal context is an essential condition to the development of FLOSS communities and the FLOSS marketplace. It should be the first step in establishing FLOSS public policies.
Public procurement and electronic administration are major levers for developing FLOSS. Public administrations are the first entities concerned by FLOSS-related stakes, from the control of costs to data durability and technological independence. Moreover, its inherent transparency gives FLOSS an advantage for security issues. This is why FLOSS is used by the National Defence in France for highly sensitive applications, and also by many other government bodies. In France, the National Assembly, as well as the National Gendarmerie were convinced by the advantages of FLOSS to the extent that a decision was taken to switch to full-FLOSS environments for all their desktop computers. FLOSS is also much used in ministry information systems, including some of the most sensitive ones such as the Ministry of Finance.
The use of FLOSS in public administrations makes it possible to pool resources. It contributes to the development of sustainability, and favours data durability thanks to open standards.
Open standards are a major advantage for public administrations, as they are responsible for handling and storing data intended to be conserved for several decades. They therefore need to ensure that present-day data will still be accessible when their software publisher no longer exists. Only open standards (or, failing this, open formats) can guarantee such data durability.
FLOSS also enables technological independence for public administrations. Some essential software tools can be used by proprietary software vendors for their network effect. Lock-in mechanisms can also be used to discourage users from switching to a rival solution. This is the case, for example, with Microsoft's Office Suite, that uses proprietary, closed formats not compatible from one version to another; users therefore need a specific version of the software to read their old data; and their partners need to use a compatible version of the software to read the documents they produce. The integration of such software is an aggravating factor in the propagation of lock-in mechanisms, because it forces users to call upon the services of a specific, licensed supplier. This also causes discrimination against FLOSS in procurement, since public administrations specify the proprietary technology they use. It perpetuates their dependency and blocks competition.
Recommendation #8: Avoid any discrimination against FLOSS in public procurement by avoiding requests for compliance with closed standards and technologies in public invitations to tender.
Thanks to FLOSS, public administrations can access a wider range of suppliers. The openness of technologies facilitates free competition. Moreover, they can switch from one technology to another, and migrate their data to a new information system more easily.
FLOSS and open standards are also the means to guarantee access by all citizens to e-administration services. The use of proprietary technologies in e-administration often results in social and technological discrimination, excluding users because of the cost of proprietary software and their possible incompatibility with FLOSS environments.
Recommendation #9: Give priority to FLOSS and open standards in procurement procedures.
However, public administrations need to know that they can specifically request FLOSS in procurement. They should be guided in their procedures by documentation such as that published by the French Ministry for the Economy and the European Open Source Observatory and Repository (OSOR) in 2007 and 2008.
Recommendation #10: Publish guides and recommendations to help public administrations articulate their demand for FLOSS in procurement procedures.
In order to pool resources and make procurement more cost-effective, public administrations should consider group buying. This enables new applications to be designed specifically for public administration needs.
Recommendation #11: Encourage group purchasing in public procurement.
When FLOSS projects are used by public administrations or local authorities, a technical or financial contribution to the projects should be considered. FLOSS ecosystem works on a collaborative and contributive basis, and public administrations may remunerate, or 'give something back' to FLOSS by contributing to the projects they use. Contributions help enhance the software, and users benefit from one another's contributions.
Recommendation #12: Encourage public administrations and local authorities to contribute to the FLOSS projects they exploit for their own use
More generally, whenever software is produced with public money – except when security requires secrecy, as for national defence applications – it should be released under a FLOSS license. FLOSS licenses enable software to be published as a shared asset while protecting it from exclusive appropriation.
The Brazilian government creates public software with public money via their Public Software Portal. Initially designed for public administrations to pool resources and find suppliers, this portal is now used by private users that can thus benefit from the developments and enhancements achieved thanks to public procurement.
Recommendation #13: Publish software developments undertaken with public financing under a FLOSS license.
By applying such a policy, public administrations can thus contribute to FLOSS while benefiting from the many advantages it offers. This is what the Netherlands and Sardinia are trying to implement with their «Open Connection» program, and a recently passed Italian law, respectively.
To fully realize the potential of FLOSS, a voluntary public policy also needs to take FLOSS into account in innovation policies, in order to develop and support a high potential economic sector, promote interoperability and free competition, and encourage local companies.
In the first place, public authorities should set about changing innovation evaluating criteria, so as to encourage private actors to change their views too. They can set an example by acknowledging the interest of free/libre licenses and FLOSS business models.
A first point concerns public research. Researchers in public laboratories are often urged to publish their works under proprietary licenses, that are considered to be a means to hallmarking the value of their work. The main effect of this, however, is to privatize publicly funded research conducted by publicly employed researchers. It prevents public laboratories from contributing to common resources in general, and FLOSS in particular. This is why public laboratory researchers should be encouraged to publish their works under licenses that guarantee the four freedoms, enabling in the process the establishment of common resources through collaborative working and knowledge sharing.
Recommendation #14: Promote the use of free/libre licenses for the publication of public research results.
Another point concerns support for FLOSS R&D. R&D incentives or public funding often exist to encourage investment and innovation. But the criteria are rarely compatible with FLOSS collaborative development and FLOSS companies' business models. Whereas proprietary software companies can benefit from fiscal advantages for investment, private investment in FLOSS projects is rarely acknowledged as a contribution to innovation. It thus creates a discrimination that penalizes FLOSS in comparison to more classical economic sectors.
Recommendation #15: Create or adapt fiscal R&D incentives for FLOSS companies. Grant FLOSS financing the same advantages as are enjoyed by patronage or business investment. Use FLOSS-compatible criteria for public R&D funding.
Attracting private investment can turn out to be very challenging for FLOSS businesses, as the RoI-based business models for FLOSS do not really exist yet. However, FLOSS entrepreneurship can be fostered by a public fund dedicated to help young entrepreneurs to set up SMEs that supply and support FLOSS solutions and applications locally.
Recommendation #16: Create a FLOSS Promotion Venture Fund that is accessible to young entrepreneurs to help them set up their own FLOSS businesses.
In addition, public authorities can support FLOSS innovation while using it for public interest.
FLOSS can indeed be a lever for improving IT usage. For example, SMEs lack suitably proportioned software solutions for customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP) and more generally for all applications that large companies have computerized for many years. FLOSS projects to fulfil these needs can be supported by public investment; this would support SME IT equipment and usage, and thus contribute to improving SME competitivity. In the meantime, this public investment would allow new services complementary to the software itself to be created, and help local companies develop and gain in stature.
Recommendation #17: Support public interest FLOSS projects, software and services, and thus support the development of both IT usage and the «digital economy».
FLOSS projects bring together different kinds of contributors and users. For public interest FLOSS projects, public authorities may encourage partnerships between all constituent members of the ecosystem: the public sector, companies, communities and professional users.
Recommendation #18: Encourage partnerships between the public sector, professional suppliers and users, and communities.
FLOSS should also be used to enable SME's to compete on new, emerging markets, and enable them to innovate independently from the dominant actors. Public authorities should anticipate IT market evolutions and provide, together with the private sectors concerned, open-standard-based public platforms and infrastructures. Competitiveness clusters can be the vehicle for such initiatives. This helps guide new markets towards free competition, and contributes to data durability and the preservation of users' rights with regard to their data. The development of «cloud computing» services and the consequent threats of major lock-ins should encourage public authorities to actively promote competition and the emergence of open-standard-compliant services.
Recommendation #19: Create open-standard-based public platforms and infrastructures for new markets so they develop in a way that fosters competition and preserves users' rights.
The development of «Internet of things» (or «ambient computing») should likewise be guided by public authorities in order to ensure that interconnection, interoperability and free competition will remain possible.
Recommendation #20: Impose the use of open standards for the development of «ambient computing» network infrastructure and services.
A voluntary innovation policy is essential to develop the economic aspect of FLOSS. But the social aspect must be taken into account, as the greater benefit of FLOSS is for society and the individuals within it.
FLOSS is software that gives the user the freedom to share, study and modify it. It embodies and conveys values essential to freedom in the information society. It fosters a healthy informational infrastructure, favouring the sharing of knowledge, know-how and progress within the whole of society.
To promote FLOSS is to make a political and ethical choice asserting the right to learn, and share what we learn with others. Free software has become the foundation of a digital earning society where we share our knowledge in a way that others can build upon and enjoy.
FLOSS licenses use copyright laws cleverly in order to share software with all human beings while protecting them against any attempts at appropriation. Eben Moglen, one of the authors of the most popular FLOSS license – the GNU GPL – often declared that this license allows “the creation of a common resource to which anybody can add, and from which nobody can remove”. The other author, Richard Stallman, likes to remind us that Free Software can be defined by three words: “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”.
Free Software can be copied legally by anybody, and can almost always be downloaded from the Internet. This free-of-charge access means less privileged populations can avoid resorting to illegal copying of software in order to benefit from technological progress. Free software is intrinsically a tool that reduces the “digital divide”. This is why the Brazilian authorities have decided to use FLOSS as standard for government programs for digital inclusion. Some public Internet workspaces have also chosen FLOSS for their training courses: it enables trainers to deliver media containing the software they use, so that trainees can continue using it at home. The popular use of FLOSS in devices for digital inclusion, such as the OLPC or netbooks, also bears witness to this potential.
Recommendation #21: Promote FLOSS for popular access to IT, especially in educational and training structures.
Education is a major issue for the information society. FLOSS values include the fact that all users are empowered to master information technologies, which implies they must possess a basic knowledge of computer science in order to be a full citizen in the information society. However, children are too often taught how to use a computer and browse the Internet, instead of being taught what a computer is, and what software is, and how all this works. All pupils should also learn basic programing techniques to better understand and use information technologies and become autonomous users.
Recommendation #22: Provide basic computer science teaching in schools for all pupils.
FLOSS empowers users to control their personal data and avoid lock-in mechanisms. Beyond computer science teaching, being a full – and free – citizen in the information society indeed requires the individual to be aware of fundamental issues like personal data protection, open standards and vendor lock-in prevention.
Recommendation #23: Use popular education to raise citizens' awareness about their rights and freedoms in the digital world.
FLOSS's inherent multilingualism is an advantage to exploit for emerging and developing countries. IT users in these countries rarely have at their disposal software in their native languages because these are not considered profitable enough for a classical, proprietary software market. On the contrary, FLOSS's multilingualism makes it possible to publish software in the languages of the populations who will use them. It is thus a lever for the development of IT usage and the reduction of the digital divide to which public funding can easily contribute.
Recommendation #24: Contribute to FLOSS's multilinguism to develop IT usage in emerging and developing countries and reduce the digital divide.
FLOSS is also a tool dedicated to acquiring computing skills. Since it is shared along with its source code, this code can be studied to understand the techniques it implements so they can be reused and transmitted, even outside the usual training and educational fields. In school and university courses, the use of FLOSS is thus obviously profitable to the gain and transmission of computing skills. Moreover, it favors a teaching style that conveys adaptability to the student, in contrast to the «black-box» approach conveyed by proprietary, closed-source software.
Recommendation #25: Use FLOSS in school and university courses. Create specific FLOSS courses in addition to general computer science courses.
The way free software developers cooperate through the Internet simplifies the transfers of expertise beyond borders. The collaborative development model of FLOSS enables students to acquire experience in programing and participating in a project.
Recommendation #26: Encourage students to take part to FLOSS projects.
Increasingly, "author-user" teachers produce quality educational resources using cooperative approaches similar to those of FLOSS developers. They choose Open Source and free licenses for their achievements, which may give rise to co-publications with both public and private publishers. From these points of view, the case of the French association Sésamath, a group of teachers who create and maintain free/open/libre mathematics textbooks, is exemplary.
Recommendation #27: Encourage the creation and use of free/libre/open teaching resources by the teachers themselves.
Free Software is not a merchandise, and those who develop it are contributing to the transmission to many people of scientific knowledge, technical expertise and technologies, providing them with access to Knowledge. Moreover, the GNU project – a keynote Free Software project – was incorporated into the UNESCO-supported «Friends of the World Treasures» list. UNESCO’s 'Heritage World Treasures' Programme assumes a dual role of conservation and valorisation of patrimony, both tangible and intangible, and the integration of development in a social and local economic perspective.
An application was filed to register FLOSS into UNESCO's «Memory of the World» programme, which aims at preserving and disseminating valuable archive holdings and library collections worldwide.
« UNESCO has always supported the extension and dissemination of human knowledge and recognizes that, in the domain of software, Free Software disseminates human knowledge in a way proprietary software cannot do. UNESCO recognizes also that the development of Free Software encourages solidarity, collaboration and voluntary community work amongst programmers and computer users. » Abdul Waheed Khan, UNESCO Communication and information department, 2002.
Recommendation #28: Support the registration of FLOSS into UNESCO's Memory of the World program.
- 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 – Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, UNU-MERIT, November 20th, 2006
- The Netherlands in Open Connection – An action plan for the use of Open Standards and Open Source Software in the public and semi-public sector – Ministry of Economic Affairs of the Netherlands, November 2007
- The Evaluation of the Brazilian Public Software Portal – Christiana Freitas & Corinto Meffe
- Many software tenders in EU maybe 'illegal' – Gijs Hillenius, OSOR (the Open Source Observatory and Repository in IDABC, the European Commission's e-government services programme) – October 24th, 2008
- OSOR Guideline on Public Procurement and Open Source Software – public draft v1.0 (Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, Ruediger Glott, Patrice-Emmanuel Schmitz and Abdelkrim Boujraf for Unisys Belgium and UNU-MERIT) published by the European Commission's IDABC, “Dissemination of Good Practice in Using Open Source Software (GPOSS)”, October 10th, 2008
- Practical guide of free software usage in administrations (Guide pratique d'usage des logiciels libres dans les administrations) – Thierry Aimé, DGI, Ministry for the budget, public accounts and the civil service (CC-By-SA).
- Bill on the “Initiative for the promotion and development of the information and knowledge society in Sardinia” (Disegno di legge concernente "Iniziative volte alla promozione e allo sviluppo della società dell'informazione e della conoscenza in Sardegna")
- What is free software and why is it so important for society? – Free Software Foundation, last modified 2008-04-14
- Free Software : what is at stake? – association April, Candidats.fr initiative, may 2007