The Saga of Open Source in Government


So the Iceland government has seen the light:

1. When purchasing new software, free and open-source software and proprietary software are to be considered on an equal footing, with the object of always selecting the most favourable purchase.

2. Every endeavour shall be made to choose software based on open standards, regardless of whether the software in question is standard or bespoke (custom-designed). Generally, software which is free for anyone to use is also typified by open standards.

3. Public bodies shall endeavour to avoid any undue dependence on particular software manufacturers or service providers. The utilisation of free and open-source software is one means of this.

4. One goal for bespoke (custom-designed) software financed by public bodies, including software for research and development projects,
should be its reusability. Keeping the software free and open-source is one way to achieve reusability. Strategies shall be devised at the outset of such projects for ensuring reuse of the software.

5. Students in Icelandic educational institutions shall be given the opportunity of learning about and using free and open-source software on a par with proprietary software.

Of course, in some ways it's ridiculous that anybody needs a policy putting open source and proprietary software on an "equal footing", because this suggests that they weren't beforehand, which is a crazy discrimination against a solution that empowers users. But this is nonehteless an important move, because it confirms that there is something bigger happening here in the world of government platforms. For, last week, the EU made a surprisingly low-key announcement that:

the Commission will prefer Open Source software for its new IT projects: "For all new development, where deployment and usage is foreseen by parties outside of the Commission Infrastructure, Open Source Software will be the preferred development and deployment platform."

Now, the default assumption for governmental procurement across much of Europe is that open source is at the very least on an equal footing to proprietary software, and increasingly is viewed as the preferred option because it tilts the balance in favour of the user rather than the vendor. The great thing is that this is a one-way street: no government, having tasted freedom, is going to beg for the proprietary strait-jacket again.