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Subject: [NYLXS - HANGOUT] Europe and the US philosophically divided on open source?
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Europe and the US philosophically divided on open source?
November 08, 2005, 11:15 GMT
Deciding what lies at the heart of some countries' almost-zealous uptake of
open source is not as simple as looking at the cold, hard costs - politics,
national security, anti-Americanism and innovation all have a part to play.
Despite the hype generated by Microsoft's unavoidable 'Get the Facts' ad
campaign, the reality is that government agencies often see the actual cost
of open source software as less important than other factors - such as
adopting open standards, avoiding vendor lock-in and encouraging the local
The actual cost of software is less important in the West than in the
developing world. Experts claim that proprietary software fees are
relatively low compared with the potential labour costs associated with
migrating to open source software. Licence fees generally account for 5
percent to 10 percent of the total cost of ownership in wealthier countries,
while maintenance, integration, support and training represent 60 percent to
85 percent of total costs, according to Rishab Ghosh, programme leader of an
open source research project at the Maastricht Economic Research Institute
on Innovation and Technology (MERIT) in Holland. The remaining costs are due
to the cost of related hardware and software, he claims.
So, if it's not about the money so much, why have governments in Europe,
particularly France and Germany, apparently leapt on the potential of open
source so enthusiastically?
One reason may be that governments are tired of being held to ransom by
proprietary software makers and armies of consultants. Open data formats are
more open and avoid vendor lock-in, says Ghosh. "It is no longer considered
to be acceptable for the public to pay money to read information from the
government," he says. "Also, with proprietary software, organisations tend
to be locked into vendor-driven upgrade cycles. This is something that
governments and IT managers are increasingly unhappy about."
Also open source is often way below the governments' radar, but promoting
its use can be a relatively simple and populist measure. "Politicians love
open source - they can make a lot of statements without spending any money,"
says François Bancilhon, the chief executive of Linux distributor Mandriva.
When it comes to the apparent gulf between US and European adoption of open
source, things are not clear cut. Red Hat, the largest open source player in
the market is, after all, American. But so far high-profile uses of open
source software in US government have been isolated, with Massachusetts
leading the charge most recently.
Some analysts claim the French government's interest in open source is
driven by anti-Americanism but French officials claim that it's actually
down to a fundamental difference in philosophy.
A good look at how different states in Europe have approached open source,
compared with the historically technically advanced US, reveals that
"getting the facts" isn't as straightforward as some companies would have us
The UK: Confused but enthusiastic
United States: Open source too close to socialism?
France: Liberté, égalité... open source?
Germany: Munich leads the desktop charge
Norway: Fjording the open source rift
Spain: Extraordinary Extremadura
Poland/Eastern Europe: Community equals communism?
The UK: Confused but enthusiastic
Birmingham City Council, the largest local authority in Europe, is moving
1,500 desktops and all the associated back-end servers in its library
service to open source software for a year-long trial.
The UK public sector has generally been slower to adopt open source than
some neighbouring countries. Only 32 percent of UK local authorities use
open source software, which is less than half the figure for France and
Germany, according to a survey by MERIT.
There have been few high-profile adoptions of open source by local
authorities, although this may change if the pilot project at Birmingham
City Council proves successful. The London Borough of Newham considered
migrating from Microsoft to open source desktops, but later changed its mind
and was accused of using a Linux trial purely to force a better contract
At an event earlier this year, MERIT's Ghosh described the UK government's
policy towards open source as "confused". He points out that an OGC report
said that using open source can generate "significant" cost savings in
government, but many government departments are still determined Microsoft
users. The NHS, for example, awarded a nine-year software contract, worth
£500m, to Microsoft last year.
One area where the government has been more supportive about the use of open
source software is in schools. Earlier this year, the British Educational
Communications and Technology Association (BECTA) said that primary schools
could cut computer costs by nearly half if they stopped buying, operating
and supporting products from proprietary software vendors. The government is
also supporting a number of projects to encourage the adoption of open
source, including a wide-ranging initiative known as the Open Source
The UK's Labour government is to blame for the limited open source adoption
by the public sector, says James Governor, an analyst at RedMonk. "We've
been pathetic as a nation in supporting and understanding open source.
[Tony] Blair's Labour has dragged us away from it - there was more support
for open source products such as Apache [Web server] before Blair," says
Governor. "In the UK, Bill Gates has been given a knighthood, I can't
imagine him getting a Légion d'honneur in France."
Ghosh agrees that there "seems to be less political support" in the UK.
There is little impetus for the government to support open source as the UK
has a strong economy, according to Andrea DiMaio, a research director at
In August the Central Scotland Police force decided to migrate from Linux to
Microsoft due to "interoperability issues". Ghosh says this example shows
that public sector organisations need to collaborate to increase the
adoption of open source in the UK.
"Interoperability is important - organisations are not just locked in
individually, but are also locked into networks of organisations. That
requires a push that is beyond the level of individual organisations, which
is not happening in the UK," says Ghosh.
United States: Open source too close to socialism?
The commonwealth of Massachusetts recently decided to standardise its
desktop applications on the open file format OpenDocument. State agencies
must now migrate to OpenDocument-compliant applications by January 2007, a
change that will affect about 50,000 desktop PCs. Microsoft Office does not
support the open file format, but OpenOffice.org does, which means that
Massachusetts is likely to migrate to an at least partially open source
Every state across the US uses some form of open source, although some
states are "more progressive" than others, according to Tom Rabon, a
vice-president at Linux vendor, Red Hat.
The central US government also uses open source, but primarily the operating
system Linux, says Michael Goulde, a senior analyst at Forrester Research.
"At the Federal level you have to draw a distinction between Linux and open
source software - a lot of organisations [in the Federal government] are
using Linux, but are not using other open source software," he says.
Recent examples of open source public sector deployments include the
educational sector in Indiana, which is trialling the use of desktop Linux
in schools in a project that could lead to 300,000 Linux PCs being deployed
across the state. In the state of Mississippi, three counties and 30
agencies are reportedly using an open source management system to
administrate all law enforcement and homeland security forces.
Both the federal and state governments in the US have neutral policies
regarding open source. But some states are encouraging the increased
adoption of open source indirectly, says Goulde.
"State governments will generally not mandate that open source is used, but
are setting policies that agencies must provide equal consideration for open
source software. There are also policies that encourage agencies to
demonstrate that they have made best-value decisions," Goulde says.
Two years ago, the state of Oregon discussed a bill that would have mandated
state agencies to consider open source software when deciding to procure new
software, but the bill was pulled after pressure from industry lobby groups.
The states of Texas and California also tried to pass similar laws, but
neither was successful.
Although Massachusetts has mandated open file standards rather than open
source, it could have a similar impact, as Microsoft has said it will not
Goulde claims that there is a "growing recognition" among state governments
of the benefits of sharing applications or code. Last year, Massachusetts,
Rhode Island and several other US states launched a software repository to
let government agencies make more efficient use of open source software. A
number of states and Federal government agencies are using the repository,
known as the Government Open Code Collaborative.
The main reason for the adoption of open source in the US government is open
standards, although avoiding vendor lock-in and driving down cost is also
important, according to Goulde.
Rabon from Red Hat attributes the varying level of adoption between US state
governments to the different attitudes of senior government officials
towards open source. "A lot of it depends on the progressiveness of people
who run organisations in states. Every cause needs a champion," he says.
For example, the chief information officer of Massachusetts, Peter Quinn, is
a well-known advocate for open source software.
France: Liberté, égalité... open source?
The French tax agency has migrated to the open source application server
JBoss, which runs a number of mission-critical applications, including an
online tax return application that was used by 3.8 million people last year.
The agency is using a total of 150 open source applications at present and
has mandated the use of open source in future projects, according to
Jean-Marie Lapeyre, chief technical officer at the French tax agency.
The French public sector has enthusiastically adopted open source, with
three quarters of French local authorities using open source software,
according to the MERIT survey. A number of ministries are also using open
source, including the Defence, Culture, Agriculture, Equipment and Finance
"In the central government in France the open source phenomenon is very
strong," says RedMonk's Governor.
For example, the police are migrating to OpenOffice.org on up to 80,000 PCs
and the French military is planning to install a high-performance Linux
cluster for technical and scientific work. The Ministry of Equipment has
replaced Windows NT servers with Linux equivalents and have issued a tender
for the replacement of 65,000 desktops with Linux, according to Mandriva's
The French government does not have a policy that advises organisations to
give preference to free and open source software, according to Gartner's
DiMaio. But the Prime Minister's IT agency, ADAE, has issued guidelines for
using free and open source software, which include information on how
government authorities can issue tenders mandating open source without
violating competition laws. Adullact, which is an association of French
local authorities, aims to develop a community around open source in the
public sector for example, allowing local authorities to share open source
Gartner's DiMaio says the French government's enthusiasm for open source is
partly driven by the desire to boost the local software industry. "The
countries that are most vocal about open source are those who have had
troubles with own software industries, such as France and Germany - they are
trying to recreate their software industries," he said.
Another reason for using open source is cost-cutting. Last year, the French
civil service minister Renaud Dutreil said the agency wanted to use open
source software on some of its almost one million state computers to save
money. "My estimate is that we can cut the state software bill at least in
half," he said at the time.
But, part of the reason for the French government's interest in open source
is anti-Americanism, according to RedMonk's Governor.
"There is a mistrust of American companies in the French government and they
are doing what they can to support anything that's not American," says
Lapeyre, of the French tax agency, disagrees and claims the main reason for
the difference in the French and British governments' enthusiasm for open
source is cultural.
"It's not anti-American; it's a cultural difference - we think differently,"
says Lapeyre. "The English focus is on action, while we [the French] are
more reflective. Open source needs a long term policy to be economically
credible. In English countries this is not a natural way of doing things -
they do things with short- or mid-term objectives. In France we are not
focused on immediate action."
Germany: Munich leads the desktop charge
Munich, Germany's third largest city, is migrating 14,000 desktops from
Windows NT 4.0 to Linux and from Office 97 and 2000 to OpenOffice.org. This
migration was considered so important by Microsoft that its chief executive,
Steve Ballmer, reportedly interrupted a ski holiday in Switzerland to visit
Munich's mayor to dissuade him from migrating.
The German public sector has embraced open source with a similar level of
enthusiasm to the French, although the majority of the deployments have
happened in local rather than central government. Nine out of every 10
German local authorities are using open source software, according to the
MERIT survey, and OpenOffice.org is being run on more than 50,000 PCs in the
German public sector, according to Erwin Tenhumberg, a product marketing
manager at Sun.
A number of German cities are using, or planning to use, open source
software, including Schwäbisch Hall, Mannheim, Treuchtlingen, Leonberg and
Isernhagen. Schwäbisch Hall switched to Linux on more than 400 workstations
and Mannheim plans to deploy Linux on 110 servers and 3,700 desktops.
Some German ministries are also using open source software, including the
Federal Finance Office at the German Ministry of Finance, which has shifted
its back-office operations to two large mainframe computers running Linux,
and the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is using a predominantly
open source system for the global German embassy network.
The German government promotes the use of open source through migration
guidelines that have been published by the Ministry of Interior. These
guidelines are in favour of open source, suggesting that government agencies
should consider open source where it is feasible.
The government's enthusiasm for open source is for similar reasons to the
French government - anti-Americanism and to encourage its software industry,
according to analysts Governor and DiMaio.
Florian Mueller, a software developer and political campaigner, says that
one of the main reasons for the German government's support of open source
software is due to its political leaning and warns this may change in the
newly elected government.
"The German government took a lead in OSS adoption in recent years under a
Social Democratic and Green coalition. Those parties have an ideological
affinity with OSS," says Mueller. "There's a good chance that the German
government's favourable perspective on OSS will continue [under the new
administration], but it will depend upon the level of priority that this has
to the Social Democrats. In a coalition you have to enter into compromises
all the time."
Norway: Fjording the open source rift
Bergen, Norway's second largest city, is partway through a large-scale
migration to Linux. It has migrated many of its city administration and
educational servers to Linux and is moving to open source desktops in 100
schools across the city. These desktops are used by a total of 32,000 pupils
and 4,000 teachers. Once this project is completed, it plans to migrate all
desktops in the city administration to the open source operating system.
The adoption of open source software in the Norwegian public sector
originated in the educational sector, due to the lack of local language
support in Microsoft products, according to MERIT's Ghosh.
"The move to open source started off in the education sector and is now
increasingly formalised by the Norwegian government," he says. "A few years
ago all the schools in Norway threatened to boycott Microsoft if it didn't
support Nynorsk [Norway's second language]. Microsoft supported it, but many
schools moved to open source anyway."
Over 100 schools in Norway use Skolelinux, a version of Linux that has been
customised for schools. Although Bergen is one of the best known cities in
Norway to migrate to open source, the city of Sarpsborg, in the southeast of
Norway, is already running Linux on all its systems, according to Ole-Bjørn
Tuftedal, the chief technology officer of Bergen.
The Norwegian government announced in June that all public sector
organisations must have a plan for how they will use open source software by
2006, although Gartner's DiMaio says this does not necessarily mean that the
organisations will migrate to open source. "The plans may well be, 'we're
not going to use open source,' but they must have clear plans," says DiMaio.
Eirik Chambe-Eng, the president of Norwegian software company Trolltech,
says the Norwegian government's adoption of open source has been stimulated
by the introduction of new IT systems over recent years.
"There has been a big push to modernise the way the government uses IT in
Norway," says Chambe-Eng. "Starting fresh means that there is a possibility
to change course and look at the advantages of new approaches."
MERIT's Ghosh says the Norwegian government's encouragement of open
standards has impacted the adoption of open source in the public sector, as
open source applications often use open standards, while proprietary
applications may not.
The announcement in June by the Norwegian government also spoke about open
standards, calling for all public sector IT systems to use open standards
for documents by 2009.
"Proprietary formats will no longer be acceptable in communication between
citizens and government," said the Norwegian Minister of Modernisation,
Morten Andreas Meyer, at a press conference in Oslo, according to an EU news
Spain: Extraordinary Extremadura
The Spanish region of Extremadura is using Linux on 70,000 PCs and 400
servers in schools and is now deploying the open source operating system on
14,000 PCs and 34 servers at hospitals and health centres across the region.
Open source software is more popular in Spanish local authorities than in
any of the other European countries surveyed, according to the MERIT survey.
The survey found that 98 percent of Spanish local authorities are using open
Although Extremadura was the first Spanish region to migrate to open source
on a large scale, a number of other regional authorities have also started
migration projects including two of the largest Spanish provinces, Andalusia
and Valencia, as well as one of the smaller provinces, Castile-La-Mancha.
Valencia reportedly plans to migrate its entire regional administration to
open source software. Spain's second largest city, Barcelona, is running an
open source pilot project in its social services department and plans to
migrate other departments at a later stage.
The Spanish central government has also adopted open source, including the
Ministry of Public Administrations, the Ministry of Housing and the Ministry
Although there have been a number of large-scale public sector
implementations of open source software, the Spanish government's policy
towards open source is neutral, according to Gartner's DiMaio. "The policy
is similar to the UK - it says consider open source alongside proprietary
solutions and make a decision according to TCO," he says.
The political support for open source within Spanish regions is greater, for
example, the regional president of Extremadura has shown "strong political
support" for open source, according to Ghosh.
The main reason for the Spanish regional government's interest in open
source is to bridge the digital divide. "They want to provide access [to
technology] to all and the only way to provide access to everyone is by
having open source software," says Ghosh.
Extremadura's regional government has repeatedly stated that open source
software is key to the region's economic and social development. "The time
of the industrial era, when discoveries were abusively capitalised and
unfairly monopolised, is over," they declare. "A new model is necessary; a
model which would allow the improvement of the lives of all citizens in
Other reasons for the widespread adoption of open source in the Spanish
public sector are cost and the encouragement of local businesses, according
to Pop Ramsamy, a project officer at Fundecyt, one of the organisations
supporting Extremadura's use of Linux. Cost was more of an issue in
Extremadura than in other European regions as it is one of the poorest
regions in Europe.
Francisco Huertas Mendez, the technical coordinator of Extremadura's Linux
project says that proprietary software was not an option due to cost. "For
us, software libre (open source software) was the only choice. We were able
to stretch our budget very far," he says.
Poland/ Eastern Europe: Community equals communism?
Warsaw, capital of Poland, is running the open source operating systems
Linux and FreeBSD on a total of 30 servers and plans to adopt open source
software for more servers and to run services related to its intranet.
There have been few well-publicised open source migrations within the Polish
government. As well as the Warsaw administration, the Polish Ministry of
Finance and the Polish city of Gdynia are reportedly using open source
No country in Eastern Europe, including Poland, has developed an official
policy on open source software yet, according to Gartner's DiMaio. The
Polish government has shown tentative interest in open source through
funding research, which will be used to produce an open source migration
guide for the public sector and through funding a translation of
DiMaio says that Poland is "very unlikely" to come up with its own policy on
open source and is more likely to simply follow any EU policies that are
The situation regarding open source software is unclear in Eastern Europe,
according to MERIT's Ghosh. He says that some Eastern European companies
have already decided to go with Microsoft, such as Macedonia, which recently
signed a contract with Microsoft for it to equip the entire public sector at
a cost of $300 per seat.
"Countries where there is a relative lack of awareness about technology can
get swayed by sales forces," says Ghosh.
Overall, cost is a "strong driver" for the adoption of open source software
in Eastern Europe, due to budgetary constraints, according to DiMaio.
But Governor says many Eastern European countries are likely to opt for
Microsoft as they "don't want to be seen as commies [sic]". "A lot of
Eastern European countries look to UK and US for guidance," he says.
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