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Manifesto on the role of Open Source Software for Development Cooperation
Waag Sarai exchange programme

 

Free, Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) [1] represent a new and growing phenomenon, which is much discussed these days as it implies a radically new method of production, co-operation and exchange. In this paper we argue that Open Source Software has a special importance when viewed, used and produced in the context of development cooperation. With this paper we want to encourage all stakeholders in the sector to pay more attention to Open Source Software, employ it wherever possible and to learn from the principles embedded in it. This manifest that has been produced during a workshop [2] on the role of Open Source Software in the development cooperation context that was organized by Waag Society and Hivos contains a number of recommendations aimed at increasing the use of Open Source Software in this sector.

The philosophy behind open source software

The knowledge that is embedded in operating systems and software programs to make them run, also known as the source code, can be either 'closed' and proprietary, or 'open', that is public and shared. Free, Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) is software of which the source code is available, that may be used, copied, and distributed with or without modifications, and that may be offered either with or without a fee.

Although the open source movement goes back almost forty years, Open Source Software has become a mainstream-topic only recently. Worldwide more and more businesses, organizations and governments are using Open Source Software. This ongoing adoption can be attributed to two reasons, namely the maturing of some key open source products like GNU/Linux and Office production software (Open Office) and the increased resistance to the effective monopoly of Microsoft on the worldwide software market.

The choice for either the open or the closed concept has very different and far-reaching consequences for users, developers and producers of software alike.

The (still dominant) closed format of software seems to suit corporate interests well, but at the same time it appears to be increasingly at odds with the current shift of "tangible' (concrete products and services), towards 'intangible'? (i.e. knowledge-based) production. Since the immaterial, in the digital age, is also very easily duplicable, the efforts to 'proprietarize' it have resulted in severe legal and political conflicts around the disputed concept of 'intellectual property rights'.

Open Source Software by putting knowledge (the source code) in the public domain? offers much more opportunities for sharing and co-operation between all players in the field, reduces dependencies, hinders the rise of monopolists, and fosters healthy competition. Contrary to widespread beliefs, Open Source Software is not adverse to commerce and business as Open Source based products and services can be sold by anyone.

Open Source Software and Development Cooperation

-The most significant advantage is the right to view and modify the source code as it enables anyone with the required skills to improve or modify such applications thus creating the possibility to tailor Open Source Software applications according to individual, regional or special needs. In the context of development cooperation this means that applications can be adapted to country specific circumstances (language or other special needs) regardless of the fact if this is profitable for a vendor or not.

-As Open Source Software applications are not the property of a single entity, using them makes the user less dependent. This is especially important in the South were organisations running on subsidised or pirated software face the risk of becoming dependent on essential infrastructure they cannot sustain should the subsidies end or intellectual property laws be enforced. Additionally Open Source Software does ensure that specialized knowledge that was generated with public resources is not kept as a protected secret of the North. The use of Open Source Software implies a willingness to share knowledge between North and South

-While it is disputed if Open Source Software is less expensive to run than proprietary software, it is undisputed that the acquisition costs are lower (some studies claim higher administration and training costs). In the context of development cooperation this means that little or no money has to be spend for goods imported from the North while local personnel in the South can carry out training and maintenance tasks. This effectively reduces the allocation of development cooperation resources to the North. Additionally Open Source Software solutions can be at the base of local distribution and support networks that can create autonomous economic activity in the South.

Open Source Software also has some weaknesses. The focus of most FLOSS-products is more on the technical user; this can be a hindrance for the inexperienced user. However, Open Source Software is gradually improving in this area. Furthermore, due to the fact that not a lot of people are using Open Source Software, in some places there might be a lack of training opportunities and support, although this lack of support is compensated by an extensive amount of Open Source Software-support on the Internet. The relatively small user base of Open Source Software also might give organizations some compatibility problems with organizations that use the "standard" proprietary software.

In the context of international co-operation and development, Open Source Software is a very promising approach, because it is far more conducive to its stated goals of non-dependent development, fostering of local knowledge, diversity and sustainability. Successful Open Source Software projects have shown that cooperation on an equal basis is possible between organizations and individuals independent of origin. This hints at the potential of the methods of production, co-operation and exchange pioneered by Open Source Software developers for cooperation in other realms.

Therefore, we believe that it is essential to consider, and if found appropriate, to advocate, and support the use of FLOSS and the philosophy that belongs to it.

Politics and Open Source Software

At the end of this year Geneva hosts the World Summit on the Information Society that is to result in a declaration and an action plan by governments on how to achieve a information society that is of benefit to us all. Numerous drafts have been published, some people centred, some market centred, all mentioning Open Source Software. It is mentioned for example as "basic elements in the development of a more affordable access to ICTs". And also "the development and use of open standards are particularly important for developing countries. In this regard the increased use of Open Source Software can contribute to increasing access and to adding to the diversity of choice of software for consumers".

Open Source Software development has already been recognised by Dutch Parliament as the way forward. In November 2002 Parliament accepted a motion on open source software. It stated that the current market conditions are not optimal (concentrated suppliers and high costs of switching) and that software plays a crucial role in a knowledge society. The motion called upon the government to make sure that all software used by the Dutch public sector in 2006 meets the open standards, stimulate the production and distribution of open source software in the Dutch public sector and set concrete and ambitious standards for this.

The Dutch political party GroenLinks proposed a strategy based on four elements: "buy open", "make open", "stimulate open" and "with(in) the EU if possible". We would like to adapt these elements, and internationalise them, link them to the WSIS and present them with a development angle.

Use open

- Organisations working in the development sector, both nationally and internationally (e.g. World Bank) and governments should start implementing FLOSS wherever possible.
- Organisations working in the development sector, both nationally and internationally (e.g. World Bank) and governments should be able to exchange documents in open (file-) formats.

Buy open

- By 2008 organisations working in the development sector, both nationally and internationally (e.g. World Bank) and governments should only buy software using open (file-) formats.
- In the meanwhile development projects and organizations that receive funding for software should whenever possible spend this on FLOSS.

Make open

- By 2008 organisations working in the development sector, both nationally and internationally (e.g. World Bank) and governments should set up a fund for southern initiatives for the production of FLOSS.
- The action plan that will be agreed upon at the WSIS should contain funding for southern FLOSS development.
- Software made with development funds, should be available within the public domain (and comply with OSI guidelines).

Stimulate open

- The action plan that will be agreed upon at the WSIS should contain concrete actions for knowledge sharing and training on FLOSS. (An international knowledge centre could be an option)
- By 2008 organisations working in the development sector, both nationally and internationally (e.g. World Bank) and governments should always advocate the use of FLOSS and other modes of knowledge production and sharing

Internationally

- The declaration and action plan that will be agreed upon at the WSIS should refer to FLOSS as a key element in developing an 'information society for all"
- Organisations working in the development sector, both nationally and internationally (e.g. World Bank) and governments should not wait for international consensus with using, buying, making and stimulating FLOSS but start right now.

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Free as in speech

While this manifesto focuses on the practical advantages of Open Source Software in the context of development cooperation it is important to stress that the FLOSS movement also has an ideological component. This includes that anyone should have the freedom to run, change, distribute and study software independent of outside interferences and limitations. In the context of development cooperation this ability to operate independent of external interests and interferences helps ensure that the focus is kept on the more important issues.

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FLOSS and the link with Good Governance and Local Ownership

In the field of development cooperation 'good governance' and "local ownership" have become important criteria for allocating resources. In contrast to proprietary software, key elements of what is considered to be 'good governance' and "local ownership" can be found in the FLOSS approach to software development, distribution and implementation: The principles of transparency and participation for example are embodied within FLOSS. This means that FLOSS provides tools that are in line with the goals and intentions of development cooperation projects

The Hague, 25 June 2003
Waag Society
Hivos

[1] "Free, Libre and Open Source Software" and "FLOSS", as well as "Open Source Software" and "OSS" are all used in this document and are interchangeable. FLOSS is more correct, OSS more commonly used.

[2] Organized by Waag Society and Hivos, 2-4 June 2003 in Amsterdam, with guests and speakers from The Netherlands, Costa Rica, India, Uganda, Italy and Iran.

http://sarai.waag.org/display.php?id=28














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