There are three essential requirements of software being used in Government:
This is only possible using Free Software; using other, proprietary, software to do this just doesn’t work: not using Free Software is immoral as no other type offers these three requirements of security, transparency and persistence.
Personal details, and other information needs to be kept secure as it is confidential. Security means:
- Keeping people out from data
- Access to change data
- no unauthorised people should be able to prevent access to this data.
- handling data
- what is done to the data
- actions of the Public Administration
- equal access to the information
Software shouldn’t be able to prevent or stop procedures from being fulfilled. To ensure this isn’t possible you need to be able to examine the source-code of that software.
Software should not enforce requirements that aren’t needed by Law and should enforce requirements that are required.
Again the only way to ensure this is by checking the source code of the software.
There is a very long lifetime of data, especially rearding deeds of ownership of land for example. We need to ensure this information can be accessed in fifty, 100 or 200 years time.
The lifetime of software is much shorter so you can’t depend on specific software that won’t be around.
What is Free Software anyway?
Fedrico explained the four requirements or characteristics of Free Software:
- The software can be used for any purpose.
Some software licences [of propietary software] prohibit benchmarking, reverse engineering to ensure compatibility (also meaning that you can’t report problems that you find by doing this because it might prove that you were doing something that the license doesn’t allow). Fedrico recounted that at one stage you couldn’t use Microsoft Frontpage to create sites that criticise Frontpage!
- You are allowed to study how Free Software works and adapt it for your needs.
An analogy to this refers to the National Budget – it has to be available for people to analyse and understand it, to check that it’s legal and so on. With software you don’t necessarily know what it does, unless you can check the source code of the software and verify that code is what was used to produce the software].
Microsoft Word documents store a GUID (Globally Unique ID number) that can be used to identify who wrote a certain document. No one asked Microsoft for this, they have been asked to remove this or to even provide a means to disable it. They have not. This is a prime example of something happening that you don’t/aren’t aware of. So you must be able to find out what software does and make it do what we want.
- Freedom of solidarity, helping friends, brothers and family by giving them copies of the software should they wish.
Public Administration should lead by example.
- The fourth freedom is that users are allowed modify the software and distribute those changes.
The issue is not of cost but of doing the right thing.
Some software that is now Free has been found with back-doors [ways to secretely gain access]. There are programs that automatically install software during their update process and you don’t know what the new software is for. It might be checking if you are using unlicenced software – what else can they do that we aren’t aware of?
Imagine this in your Foreign Affairs Department: a third party, a private company installing whatever software they want…
The German Government was using Windows NT, which has errors that Microsoft won’t correct. Simply upgrading to another Microsoft operating system won’t work for them as other software was written specifically for Windows NT and won’t work on any other Microsoft operating system.
They are now using Linux and can fix problems when they want, either by themselves or others, and know it is completely secure.
“Trying to build security using proprietary software is like trying to build a prison with Merrangue!”
Persistence is important!
Persistence is possible with proprietary if you are careful to give it a Free Open format – but proprietary software’s versions of Free Open Formats mightn’t be readable without that proprietary software. The odd HTML produced by Microsoft Word is a good example of this.
Also proprietary companies extend these standards to “make it better”.
Proprietary software has an incentive to prevent interoperability.
Proprietary software is by definition opaque. Some companies might allow you to view a portion of source code – but can you be truly certain that code relates to the product?
If you can’t study what a program does then how can you be certain of what that software does?
Other Advantages to Free Software in Public Administration:
- You can use it as much as you can. For example what happens if you suddenly need to expand a social program that requires more of the [same] software to be installed? With Free Software you don’t need to renegotiate licenses etc.
- Free Software licenses are very easy to understand and comply with; no ‘per seat’ or per ‘CPU’ issues.
The more important points/advantages are still security, transparency and persistence.
Some governments have obligations to produce documents in more than one language due to legal obligations.
Proprietary software might not have support for the languages in question – adding support for these languages in free software is obviously possible.
Proprietary software cry foul regarding lobbying to have Free Software
They say: “Choose software for its merits and what it does, not whether it is Free or not.”
The licensing mode is the merit what’s the point in having the best program but it can’t let you do what you want it to do. You can add improvements to a Free Software according to your own priorities – with non Free proprietary software it is up to the author/owner of the copyright.
They say: “Public Administration should leave it to software developers to decide the best way to develop software”.
Proprietary software companies claim that Bills are discriminatory – this is not true. Bills say what conditions are acceptable – anyone is free to comply with this.
They say: “Bills are anti-competitive”
Monopolies are anti-competitive!
Free Software enables competition, competition regarding services etc. supporting some program customer can decide best service provider without changing the software, therefore Free Software enables competition.
They say it undermines local economy not allowing locals to sell proprietary software to Public Administration. This means the local software industry is relegated to a secondary role.
With Free Software local industry can provide higher values to customers by fixing problems. This provides a huge opportunity for selling add-on development.
This is money that stays in the local economy.
They say: “Migration costs to Free Software are high”
Even migrating from one version of proprietary software is high, but only because they are kept artificially high just for going from one version of software to the next.
This is an argument for going to Free Software ASAP.
No one is forced to sell to Public Administration.
They say: “This is important data, you can’t just entrust it to volunteers”
Discontinuity problems don’t exist just with Free Software – look at the number of proprietary software that’s not used anymore. FoxPro is a good example of this – it was bought up and discontinued. What happens if there’s a problem?
Informix is another example – IBM bought it and keep telling their users they can upgrade to DB2.
This can’t happen with Free Software – so long as software is used the users (and developers) can support each other. So long as there are users the software is maintained.
How are you to ensure security, transparency and persistence with proprietary
Only with Free Software can you preserve the citizens rights. Only with Free Software can the Public Administration do its job with out betraying its citizens.