Open source software makes sense to government

By   |  March 5, 2003

Government is enthusiastically supporting open source software (OSS) as a cost-effective alternative to proprietary offerings as it strives to improve government and public service delivery through the use of technology. This is an important step says Paul Kotschy, CEO of SevenC Computing and past chairman of the Linux Professionals Association of SA, who says the open source community has been eagerly waiting for the time when government policy took the value of OSS seriously. Kotschy will be speaking on the topic of OSS in government during the ICT in Government Convention being held at Gallagher Estate today and tomorrow. Opponents of OSS will also be there to voice their contrary opinions about proprietary software, including Microsoft, who are also a sponsor of the event.

According to Kotschy, the potential saving of billions of Rands is not the only benefit of going the OSS route. It also eliminates obligations to specific software vendors, serves as an ICT training aid and ultimately promises to contribute to growth and development, in the process strengthening government\’s ties with industry.

In contrast to the widely held public perception that OSS is reserved for the tiny percentage of the computer geek community who are the sworn enemies of anything Microsoft, several governments worldwide, such as Germany, the UK, China, Peru and Brazil, have adopted strategies to support OSS.

In South Africa, the State IT Agency (SITA), the Centre for Public Service Information and the Government IT Officers Council are working to overcome popular misconceptions about OSS by embarking on a process to educate stakeholders. A framework developed by these bodies, in consultation with industry, promises to finally lay a foundation for real development in OSS. Says Kotschy, \”One reason why the Internet took off so well was that it resulted in one, standard network accessed by different people across the world using a common system. This standardisation reduced complexity and increased interoperability. The greater the deployment of any system, the more widespread the benefits in terms of cost, and to individuals.\”

Looking at potential drawbacks to OSS, Kotschy insists the perception that the \”openness\” in open source implies lower security is misplaced and that the opposite is, in fact, true. \”When a large number of people have access to the source code, there are more people to dissect it and analyse the code base, thus identifying any potential weaknesses.\”

What Kotschy does, however, believe to be a drawback is the fact that the OSS industry in South Africa is relatively immature, and that the issues identified by government in terms of support accountability, training and certification, for example, are certainly relevant. \”These should be tackled by government, industry and professional bodies promoting OSS, together,\” he adds. \”The time is right to stimulate the growth of a structured open source support industry and government and industry must play an equal role in achieving this. Government needs to assist in growing this support, and the OSS industry needs to increase its visibility and present itself more professionally. To prepare itself effectively for applying an OSS framework\”, Kotschy says, \”the government should learn the OSS way: to know about the volume of existing software that can be exploited, and how to differentiate between the good and the bad among this; but also to understand the particular subculture that involves the worldwide collaboration and sharing among technical people without a commercial directive.\”

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