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<nettime> Manifesto on the role of Open Source Software for Development
Paul Keller on Tue, 8 Jul 2003 22:40:03 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Manifesto on the role of Open Source Software for Development Cooperation


The following manifesto was finalized during a recent workshop on the role
of Open Source software in the context of Development cooperation that was
held in the context of the Waag Sarai exchange programme at Waag Society in
Amsterdam. The Manifesto has been presented to Dutch members of parliament
on July 1st. It is also available in its original layout at
http://sarai.waag.org/display.php?id=28

/paul

Manifesto on the role of Open Source Software for Development Cooperation

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. 

inline text box 1:

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.

inline text box 2:

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.

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