Government-funded Open Source Development
by David Sklar
Related link: http://www.kroupware.org/concept-1.0.1/index.html
The German Federal Agency for IT Security has commissioned an open-source groupware client and server to provide email, contact management, appointment tracking, and task lists.
What are appropriate roles for government in software purchasing and software licensing endorsement? On one level, funding development of custom software (open-source or not) may make economic sense independent of ideology. The cost of the development can be weighed against the cost of purchasing the required number of seats of an existing commercial product. (With support and upgrade costs factored into the mix for both.)
But does a government's responsibility go further than just a cost-benefit analysis? When a government is paying for software, that money is (usually) coming from its citizens. Should those citizens expect to get something more for their dollars or Deutschmarks than just the ability of government administrators to process words and crunch numbers? They should expect the government-funded software to be available for public use under open-source licensing schemes.
In the United States, drugs that result from federally funded pharmaceutical research must be licensed to the Federal Government (for use in public assistance programs like Medicare) at more favorable terms than what's available to private companies. Something similar can happen for software research as well.
Commercial developers argue that this is a government subsidy for open-source developers. Perhaps, if intellectual property laws can be construed as a subsidy for closed-source software developers. Open source software, and especially government funded open-source development, isn't appropriate in all circumstances. But, if you believe that it's the government's business to create and nurture resources for the common benefit of its citizens, perhaps funding infrastructural open-source software products should be one of those resources.
What should a government's role be in open-source software development?
I don't know if you sometimes also read non-computer related news but there are no Deutschmarks in Germany's budget anymore and you don't even pay your taxes in Deutschmarks.
Occasionally I do read non-computer related news. I just get nostalgic for obsolete currency sometimes, too.