Subject: Re: Software as a public service
From: Santiago Gala <sgala@hisitech.com>
Date: Thu, 12 May 2005 14:04:33 +0200
Thu, 12 May 2005 14:04:33 +0200
El jue, 12-05-2005 a las 10:14 +0900, Stephen J. Turnbull escribió:
> Do you really think that the contractors are getting something for
> nothing?  This would dramatically raise the cost of software in the
> short run.  It is not obvious to me that the taxpayers should be asked
> to subsidize the software industry in that way.
>
> Given the benefits of open source, it's not obvious that they
> shouldn't, either, but I don't think it's a great idea.  The reason is
> that the government notoriously sucks at "marketing in the necessary
> sense", ie, telling people that the government has something that
> people might want and they can have it for free.  Do you know how much
> free money is left lying on the table every year?  By program count
> it's something like 20% of all available grants aren't applied for!
> By money, it's a small fraction but still runs to a couple billion $ a
> year.  Do you think that the government would be better at marketing
> free as in free beer software?  Uh-uh.

This part of the argument assumes that software is a scarce resource,
so it is fallacious for non-scarce goods, specially given that code can
be freely copied. The gov agency can get a non-exclusive right to use
the software, while the contractor gets exactly the same right on it.

I.e., the contractor can compete with the gov agency extending,
improving, customizing and marketing the product, while the government
agency can give it for free to third parties to do the same. Then you
really put the market forces at work, and free maintenance lock-ins, for
instance.

I have worked for the Spanish Administration in precisely those terms:
they required from me a non-exclusive source license to the source code
of the system, and I remained free to re-use generic portions of it.
This increases modularity as a whole. Further as I gave them the full
source code of the system (except the java JRE sources, SQL engine and
the OS sources, and this because it was java and MS SQL Server/Windows
NT), though parts of the tools had substantial re-distribution
limitations (the LGPLed parts of it). But had I gone the proprietary
way, they would have got even less from their money. The tools where
Apache, Apache Tomcat, and Jonas.

Basically this is the basic way to use the Apache Software License (or
any BSD-like license) to improve the development processes and keep
attribution of original work, which accumulates into "karma points"
while allowing the market forces to play.

Regards
-- 
Santiago Gala <sgala@hisitech.com>
High Sierra Technology, SLU


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