One of the recurrent recent themes of IT in the UK has been how moves to open source by local and central government have been stymied by Microsoft – the most famous example being the Newham Council saga. Of course, that's not a problem unique to the UK: it's a pattern repeated around the world, as some recent stories highlight.
Here, for example, is something similar in India's state of Tamil Nadu:
The Jaya government's IT arm – the Electronics Corporation of Tamil Nadu (ELCOT) - has taken out a tender for the supply of 9,12,000 laptops to be delivered this year. Over the next five years, close to 7 million laptops produced at a cost of over Rs 10,200 crore [about $1.3 billion] would be distributed. Jayalalithaa has sent a memorandum to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking for central funds to implement this scheme.
With so much at stake, the IT intelligentsia in India is accusing Microsoft of using a mixture of American diplomatic offensive and its ‘embrace, extend and extinguish' strategy to make 7 million poor students of Tamil Nadu dependent on its products with their free laptops.
ELCOT's repeated changes in the tender have forced out free software and pushed in Microsoft products, a move that in the words of former ELCOT MD C Umashankar could ‘end up putting unproductive laptops with Windows in the hands of poor students'. This would entrap them in Microsoft's proprietary web of licences, renewals, updates and upgrades.
What's truly extraordinary is how that was achieved, given that Microsoft Windows was inevitably more expensive to acquire than GNU/Linux:
Not only had ELCOT booted out open source by only allowing Microsoft Windows OS on the systems, but it also removed vital hardware to accommodate the high cost of the Windows OS . The new tender removed the webcam and Wi-Fi adapter from the system while reducing the hard disk capacity to half (160 GB as opposed to 320 GB in the June tender). So ELCOT which wanted to reduce costs by about Rs 3000 [about £40] on the base price of Rs 15,000 [about £200] chose to dispose of hardware, which would benefit the students instead of shaving off the costs by including free software with extra hardware. Considering the growing penetration and relevance of internet in today's times, without the Wi-Fi adapter, how beneficial is a laptop (defined as a personal computer for mobile use) to students?
So the end result is that students receive a hobbled machine – no wifi or webcam and a smaller hard disc – running proprietary software that condemns the state to further expenditure on costly Microsoft in the future.
No wonder, then, that the government of Paraguay has decided to use only open source (via Google Translate):
An ambitious project which involves several branches of the Government seeks to provide free software only from government offices. The goal is to complete the project in 2012.
"The first and most obvious intention is to save resources," said NicolÃ¡s Caballero, coordinator of Technological Innovation of the Presidency of the Republic in conversation with ABC Digital. The free software campaign now came to the Ministry of Health, where an estimated savings of U.S. $ 4 million, only in that state dependency.
"I do not spend anything, is to save resources to address them elsewhere. The Ministry of Public Health are doing the calculations, we are seeing how many machines there but it would be roughly about $ 4 million dollars that is being saved only in the MSP, "said Caballero.
The official affirmed that are leading the project about 25 people, excluding technicians and all those involved.
Free software is all that can be modified, copied and distributed to users without charge, unlike the closed source software, which are normally developed by multinationals and that can not be modified. "The goal is to complete the entire 2012, the goal is to have technological sovereignty, which the State is to decide which programs are used and how they are used. The State must be the welfare of its citizens, "said Caballero.
The expert said that with the implementation of free software in all that money is spent on training of officials. The Ministry of Public Service and the National Career Development (SNNP) are responsible for making these trainings.
This looks like an important win for free software – not least because it could give impetus to similar plans elsewhere in Latin America. No surprise, then, that the FUD had already started appearing even before this decision was made public – for example this article on the "risks" of free software - which calls for "technology neutrality" and "interoperable standards".
But isn't it interesting that the same groups never called for such "neutrality" and "interoperability" between open source and closed source when it was the former that was completely locked out by biased procurement specifications? Strange that....