November 14, 2005, 12:00 GMT
Rishab Ghosh, programme leader of an open source research project at the Maastricht Economic Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (MERIT) in Holland conducted a study recently comparing licence fees with a country's gross domestic product (GDP) per capita.
The results, even after software price discounts, showed that the cost of proprietary software for developing markets is "enormous" in terms of relative purchasing power. Buying Windows XP and Office XP on Amazon.com in the US is equal to almost 3 months of GDP per capita in South Africa and over 16 months of GDP per capita in Vietnam. This is equivalent to charging a singleñuser licence fee in the US of $7,541 and $48,011 respectively.
Even if software is discounted to account for local pricing, it is usually still extremely expensive and there is no guarantee that this discount will be sustained in the long term, says Ghosh.
Much of the costs associated with open source deployments in mature markets are due to the cost of replacing a system, updating related applications and retraining staff, while in emerging markets technology projects are more likely to be new installations, which means that licence fee savings for open source software make more of a difference, since updates and retraining are not an issue.
Open source software also offers an advantage to countries through its potential to develop the local industry. This is particularly important in developing markets which often don't have a local software industry.
"Local companies are limited in the integration and support services they can provide for proprietary software. Deep support ó fixing software bugs, customising it to user requirements, or integrating extensively with other software ó requires deep access," Ghosh said recently at a free software conference in Brazil.
The availability of software in a local language can also be a factor in the deployment and support of open source software by governments. For example, the South African government has funded a project to translate Open Office into the 11 official languages of South Africa. This project is nearly completed, while Microsoft Office 2003 supports only one of the official South African languages, English, according to the Microsoft Web site.
"From an emerging markets perspective, open source is very effective at localisation, while Microsoft looks at how big the market is and how strategic it is before it makes a decision," says Redmonk analyst James Governor.
China: Local software for local people
Spotlight project: The Chinese government plans to deploy over 140,000 Linux PCs in primary and secondary schools across the Jiangsu province. The deal was announced by Sun Wah Linux in October 2005 and is thought to be the largest Linux desktop roll-out in Asia.
Until China joined the World Trade Organisation in 2001, pirated copies of Microsoft software were in common use, including in government agencies. Now it's part of the WTO, China must replace unlicensed copies of Microsoft software, and it is likely to replace at least some of these Windows installations these with Linux.
Chinese local and national governments have deployed open source software, and those migrations involving Linux have been given the most publicity. National government agencies using Linux include the National Ministry of Science, the Ministry of Statistics, and the National Labour Unit. Local governments using Linux include the municipal government of the Chinese capital Beijing, which is deploying 2,000 Linux desktops. Aside from Linux, other open source products are supported by the Chinese government, including NeoShine, a Chinese variant of OpenOffice.org, which is on the Chinese government's preferred list for government office productivity products.
The Chinese government has mandated the use of China-produced software in government departments, which has worked as a "strong driver" for open source, according to Andrea DiMaio, research director with analyst firm Gartner. However, this law does not prevent the use of Chinese proprietary software and does not appear to be strictly enforced ó Beijing has reportedly bought a "substantial quantity"of Microsoft software .
The Chinese government has spoken of its support for open source on numerous occasions and has funded a number of open source initiatives and research projects. Last year, the Chinese Ministry of Information founded the Open Source Software Promotion Alliance to encourage the development of China's open source software industry. The government is also working with a number of other countries on open source projects, for example, it is working with the South Korean and Japanese governments to develop open source alternatives to Microsoft Windows, and is working with the French Atomic Energy Commission to develop a Linux-based platform for online services and communication applications.
The Chinese government's enthusiasm for open source software is partly to lower cost, and partly to benefit the local industry, says DiMaio of Gartner. But, there are also cultural and political reasons for its pro-open source policy, according to analyst Governor.
"There is a lot of distrust of American imperialism in China," says Governor. "As Linux is not owned by an American company it appeals to them. China also has communitarian instincts, which open source plays into"
There is also concern among some members of the Chinese government that Microsoft software contains secretly embedded code that the US government could manipulate, which would allow the US to bring down China's computing infrastructure.
Madanmohan Rao, a research director at the Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC) agrees that anti-Americanism is a factor in China's promotion of open source. "The Chinese government is a bit paranoid about having proprietary code ó it is worried about a back door into its systems," he says.
India: Speaking your language
The Indian government is funding an initiative to distribute millions
of free CDs containing open source software. Around 3.5 million CDs
Tamil-language versions of open source applications and 3.5 million
Hindi-language CDs containing have already been distributed. And there
are further plans to distribute software translated into all 22
official languages of India.
Open source software has been deployed by both the national and state governments in India, although many of the large scale deployments have happened in states. However, researcher Rao says there is still a "lot of Microsoft" in use by the Indian government.
The government of Maharashtra, India's third largest state, has deployed OpenOffice.org on "thousands of desktops" and is using Linux in its treasury management and land record management departments, according to a recent article in The Times of India.
The state of Kerala is using open source software for "many" of its e-Government initiatives, Ajay Kumar, the secretary to the Keralan government said in a conference speech. A number of schools across the state are using open source software on PCs, including over 40 schools in the Kannur district.
Mandriva's chief executive, Bancilhon says it is in talks with an Indian government agency at the moment and expects to deploy Linux on between 10,000 to 100,000 machines.
The Indian national government and the majority of state authorities have a neutral policy around open source. Kerala is thought to be one of the few states to have a policy that formally promotes open source. "The Government wishes to encourage the judicious use of open source/free software that compliments/supplements proprietary software, to reduce the total cost of ownership of IT applications/solutions without compromising on the immediate and medium term value provided by the application," the Kerala government states in its IT policy document.
The Indian government has funded a number of initiatives to promote and research the use of open source, including the foundation of the Open Source Software Resource Center, which aims to develop open source software and training programs around such software, and the creation of a Web site to share the government's experiences with open source software.
The President of India, APJ Abdul Kalam, has advocated the use of open source software on a number of occasions. Last year, he called for the Indian military to use open source software to ward off cybersecurity threats and the year before he said it was 'unfortunate' that proprietary software, such as Windows, was so popular in India and called for the broader adoption of open source.
The Indian government's relatively neutral policy towards open source is driven by a desire to keep US companies happy, says Gartner's Di Maio. "The Indian government doesn't want to annoy its clients in US," he says. The technology outsourcing industry is of vital importance to the Indian economy, with the top 20 Indian IT services companies generating a combined $5.77bn from exports in 2003 to 2004.
Rao from AMIC claims the Indian government's attitude to open source has been influenced by "very strong" lobbying from Microsoft. The software giant has also been striking a number of partnerships with Indian outsourcing companies, including Infosys, with which it has jointly invested $8m to develop a portfolio of services.
Bancilhon from Mandriva disagrees that the Indian government is neutral towards open source. "The Indian government has a strong will to promote open source due to the potential to save costs and gain independence. India has a strong software expertise and wants to have the ability to control its own technology by being a partner rather than a customer," says Bancilhon.
Rao says the Indian public sector is more able to adopt open source than other countries in emerging markets due to its supply of skilled technology staff.
"There is a very good pool of IT talent in India. Other countries who
have tried open source don't have the talent pool or skill sets, while
in India there are a lot of good IT folks," says Rao.
Brazil: The spirit of community
The Brazilian government may distribute one million laptops running open source software to local schools. In January, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology launched a project to build low-cost Linux-based laptops for the developing world. The Brazilian government is considering building 2 million of these laptops, half of which will be distributed to local schools, and is investigating the finances of the scheme.
Open source software has been deployed by the federal, state and city governments in Brazil, although the states and cities have been more progressive, according to Ronaldo Lemos, the director of the Centre for Technology & Society at the FundaÁ„o Getulio Vargas law school in Brazil, which recently advised Brazilian government on the its open source strategy.
"Before the Federal government embraced free software, there had been initiatives at the city and state levels that helped to pave the way for a broader program," says Lemos.
There have been a number of large scale migrations in Brazilian states, for example, the state of Parana is migrating 10,000 government employees from proprietary software to a customised version of the open source collaboration application eGroupWare and S„o Paulo has deployed Linux on 16,000 PCs and 1,000 servers in schools across the state, according to Mandriva. Some federal government agencies have also migrated to open source software, with seven of the 22 federal ministries reportedly using open source. This includes a number of open source desktop deployments, for example, Open Office is run on 4000 seats in the federal government, according to Erwin Tenhumberg, a product marketing manager at Sun.
The Brazilian federal government has drafted a bill that would mandate the use of open source software by public departments. This decree would force government departments to migrate to open source software unless they can justify the continued use of proprietary software.
A few Brazilian states and municipalities have already passed laws that require public administrations to give preference to open source software, including the states of Espirito Santo and Parana, and the cities of Amparo, Solonopole, Ribeir„o Pires and Recife.
But Jaques Rosenzvaig, who was the chief executive of Brazilian Linux vendor Conectiva said in April that these laws have not affected the use of open source in these states as they are not strictly enforced. Bancilhon from Mandriva, which was formed from the merger of Conectiva and Mandrakesoft, agrees that in Brazil there is "more talk than action". "There is still a gap between what politicians want to do and what administrations are willing to implement," he says.
As well as legislative policies, the Brazilian government has also funded projects to research and promote the use of open source, such as CDTC, a technology centre that provides training and support around open source software.
The Brazilian government claims that the main reason for its adoption of open source software is to cut costs. "The number one reason for this change is economic," Sergio Amadeu da Silveira, the head of Brazil's National Information Technology Institute said to the BBC in an interview. "If you switch to open source software, you pay less in royalties to foreign companies."
Lemos, who advised the Brazilian government its free software strategy, agrees that saving money is a "very important" reason for the government. Other reasons for the government's support of open source include the educational benefits from being able to access the source code, says Lemos. For example, this was seen when the S„o Paulo government set up community centres, known as telecentros, where people could access free software.
"The interesting thing that happened at the telecentros [in S„o Paulo] is that people not only started to use computers to browse the Internet, but also a significant number of people started to learn programming, by tinkering with the source code of the programs," says Lemos. "Free software creates a community of skilled programmers, that later become an important asset for the country's technological development as a whole. So the 'educational' benefits are also an important factor leading the [Brazilian] government to adopt [free and open source] software."
The adoption of free software by the public sector has also been driven by a large and active free software community in Brazil, according to Lemos.
Redmonk's Governor says that the Brazilian government's enthusiasm for open source is partly due to a "strong distrust of American corporations" and partly for cultural reasons. "Brazilians are very community-minded and open source fits into that," he says.