Open Tech Today - Top Stories

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Open Source Debate at World Bank

When people come together to discuss open source software, it does not take long for the discussion to sharpen into a debate, especially when governments face off with vendors like Microsoft and Sun.

Yesterday the World Bank webcast an event - Open Systems for e-Government in Developing & Transition Countries. Officials from countries including Azerbaijan, Moldova, Georgia, Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania participated by video conference.

While the discussion was thoughtful and cordial, the issues sharpened quickly. ODF vs. OOXML. What counts as "open" when it comes to standards. The influence of multinational IT companies in developing countries. The economic model for open source.

But the question asked most often about open source was: If I have a problem, who do I call?

The belief (or fear) that no support exists for open source software remains a major obstacle in the minds of many governments. The "no support" myth (and it is a myth) persists.

Andy Stein, Director of Technology for the City of Newport News, Virginia shared his experience finding external support for his city's open source apps. His answer: Your ICT ecosystem will include many options for support -- ranging from commercial companies and consultants to online communities and other governments. (My response is here.)

The bottom line: Open source does require an agency or enterprise to take responsibility for its IT decisions. There are many options in the market for open source products and support, but the buck stops with you.

Open source offers real value, but it is not a free ride.

Categories: opensource, WorldBank


Anonymous said...

The answer to the "Who are you gonna call?" question is simple -- "Anyone you want....You have the source code and no-one can *ever* take it away from you or blackmail you into accepting a feature you don't want (e.g. DRM, downgrades, forced upgrades) or paying more money for support."

Anonymous said...

Though I haven't seen a transcript of the meeting, I would hope that the impact of OSS on local economies was mentioned. When code and standards are open, opportunities for local businesses to provide support abound. In this way, OSS mitigates the influence of those multi-national corporations based in countries other than one's own.

Canuk said...

I've heard several times "Open Source is free. Free as in free puppy - you still have to pay to care for it, pay for training, cleaning, etc"

It's no different with your support... Who are you going to call? Well, the yellow pages doesn't have an "Open Source Support" section yet, if the market keeps going the way it does, that will be the answer - look it up in the phone book.

Right now, how do you determine who is going to support your electrical? Your office cleaning? You phone around, get bids, and write a contract. Open Source is heading to the exact same place.

Jeff said...

As I mentioned during the World Bank event, who you call depends on what you need and what resources you have in house. If you have internal expertise/developers, you call their extension. If you don't, there are choices out there in the market already for the more mature open source solutions -- consultants, freelance developers, active participants in the relevant community supporting that software, and even commercial open source vendors.

And I certainly agree that the open source market will become more organized and accessible for support services.

Separately, yes ... the issue of OSS creating opportunities for local companies. However, the issue was only discussed in general, as it often is -- without specific ways to enable growth of local businesses.

Randall said...

Well, at least the issue of local opportunities was discussed. I think that this is the biggest sell for OSS in emerging markets and developing countries. One of RMS's basic premises is that the software is free and geeks make money on services and support. Does anyone know of any discussions/sites/papers discussing OSS enabling economic opportunity?

Jeff said...

True, but I do not think people have adequately described exactly how to promote development of local industry and market based upon the promotion of open source. It does not happen by magic.

For example, what can a government do to leverage open source to enable growth of opportunities for local companies?

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