To go ‘open source’ or not
November 16, 2006
The filing of House Bill 5769, the Free Open Source Software (FOSS) Act of 2006, sponsored by Bayan Muna Representative Teodoro Casiño fueled once again the raging debate on the use of proprietary software versus open source systems. The Bill follows the experience of countries like Brazil, China, Vietnam, and Malaysia which have legislated FOSS laws.
The proposed Bill mandates government entities to use open source software. They are only exempted from using open source software under “extraordinary circumstances.” Universities and training institutions are also mandated to shift to FOSS. The Bill makes it unlawful for these institutions to only limit certification and training courses to proprietary software.
What is open source anyway?
Let me just borrow the meaning from Wikipedia:
“Open source describes practices in production and development that promote access to the end product’s source materials—typically, their source code. Some consider it as a philosophy, and others consider it as a pragmatic methodology. Before open source became widely adopted, developers and producers used a variety of phrases to describe the concept; the term open source gained popularity with the rise of the Internet and its enabling of diverse production models, communication paths, and interactive communities. Subsequently, open source software became the most prominent face of open source practices.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_source#History)
Technology Change Management Challenge
The proposed measure undoubtedly will be a big challenge to the government in terms of changing the current IT practices and culture. To help in the migration to open source software, the Bill creates the Office of FOSS Migration, attached to the CICT. The following are the Bill’s objectives:
- In 3 years: 90% of government IT professionals, and 65% of the country’s IT professionals are to be proficient in FOSS systems.
- In 5 years: 75% of all existing government systems shall use and employ FOSS.
These ambitious goals require a technology change management framework, not to mention a change of mindset. My experience in implementing system change and what I have learned from my TM Class on Change Management tell me that this would not be as easy as it may sound. Although we have case studies on FOSS implementation from the countries mentioned above, the Philippine political culture as we know it would play a big part in the implementation.
Open Source Experience: Project POSITIVE
The Philippines experience on open source software is not without a success story. Take the case of Project POSITIVE (Philippine Open Source Initiative). Project POSITIVE was conceived by European IT Service Center Foundation (EITSC) in partnership with the German development organization Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) and the wireless service provider Wireless Services Asia (WSA).
The project originally targeted 100 schools, but to date an additional 115 colleges and universities has integrated an open source courseware designed by a consortium of open source advocates. A total of 265 professors of computer courses have participated in a hands-on train-the-trainer program.
FOSS getting momentum across ASEAN
In 2003 the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) initiated the International Open Source Network (IOSN) to “promote the adoption of free/open source software, open standards, and open content for sustainable human development in the Asia-Pacific region”.
In time for the public discussion on House Bill 5769, the IOSN held the Southeast Asia’s first FOSS@Work: An International Conference-Workshop for Small to Medium Enterprises in the IT Industry in Manila last November 11-15, 2006. The conference was attended by open source developers from across Southeast Asia.
Opposition to the Bill
An expected strong opposition to the House Bill 5769 would come from the representative organization of the Philippine software industry, the Philippine Software Industry Association (PSIA). They fear that the Bill will affect the local software industry’s target to generate revenues and employment for the country by 2010. According to PSIA, the local software industry generated over $200 million in revenues and 14,000 jobs in 2005. They aim to increase that to $1 billion and 100,000 jobs by 2010.
PSIA says that government has no expertise in mandating the use of one technology platform over the other. The group believes the creation of industry skills across various platforms are the responsibility of the government and that the government should collaborate with the private sector and academe to foster “correct skills” required by the market.
What’s in it for us?
My personal take on this recent development is that, notwitstanding the technical, implementation and compatibility issues, the adoption of FOSS by both the government and private businesses is a positive step towards the general adoption by the Filipinos of alternative (and free) software. This will not only lessen the burden on the bottom line of most SMEs but will, hopefully, give rise to a responsible citizenry able to avoid proprietary software that they cannot afford. This will somehow help resolve the lingering problem on the use of pirated software by SMEs and ordinary Filipinos by educating them that FOSS is equally excellent as proprietary software.