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Friday, November 17, 2006

Thailand v. Philippines: Open Source Opposites?

When it comes to open source software, Thailand and the Philippines are heading in opposite directions. A change in government in Thailand has led to open hostility and backpedaling by the new Minister of ICT toward open source. At the same time, in the Philippines, Congress will begin hearings on mandating government use of open source.

In his first press conference as Thailand’s new ICT Minister, Sitthichai Pokaiudom referred to open source as buggy and useless. He added, "With open source, there is no intellectual property. Anyone can use it and all your ideas become public domain. If nobody can make money from it, there will be no development and open source software quickly becomes outdated."

Minister Sitthichai’s views on open source are 10 years out of date, and ignore or misconstrue a few basic realities:

o Open source and intellectual property are not incompatible. Open source simply involves a different approach to the use of IP, not its abandonment. It does not consign everything to the public domain; it is simply governed by a different kind of license. It offers a different balance between creators and users.

o Open source is not the enemy of profit. There are open source companies making money, lots of it. The fact is that open source requires new business models, ones that emphasize services over products. Entrepreneurs, enterprises and investors will struggle to learn what business models work. Some will learn the hard way. Open source’s creative destruction brings both innovations and business failures. In this way, open source is no different than other industries. Revolutions are usually messy, disruptive and divisive.

o All software is buggy, regardless of the software development model used. One need only consider the millions (or billions) of dollars and hours spent on Microsoft Windows over the past 20 years. It’s the nature of the beast. And here is another hard truth: software projects fail. The volume of proprietary software built that has failed surely exceeds the number of open source projects that have stagnated. That is hardly the basis for condemning either model.

o Open source offers more than just financial gain. As emphasized by the author of the FOSS legislation in the Philippines, open source gives small and medium-size enterprises greater access to ICT, enabling them to compete in new ways and new sectors. It allows for local customization that is often impossible with off-the-shelf, proprietary software. It gives organizations greater control over their ICT decision-making.

And yes Minister, open source sometimes saves money.

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