By Mr. M. K. Yadava
The Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) movement to me means adoption of GNU/Linux based computing devices and systems in all walks of life – in computers, handheld devices and even mobiles and tablets at home and workplace, educational institutions, and also in public places say shopping malls, ticketing windows etc. The target group, therefore, becomes very wide and touches almost all sections of society. Before, I proceed further, it would be appropriate to state that FOSS is not an issue in isolation and cannot be viewed just as “another initiative” in government offices. An individual must not be seen as an employee alone. He should be seen in totality a responsible human being first- a responsible employee, a responsible parent, a responsible member of some community, and thus a responsible member of the society. A responsible individual uses FOSS himself at workplace, ensures that his child uses FOSS at school and also sees that his family members, relatives and community members also use FOSS.
Foundation Footings of FOSS
There is a basic question that we must be able to face and answer: why one should adopt FOSS at all?
Is it that one would save precious financial resources by adopting FOSS or just make a fashion statement by being different or just adopt it as because, say, it is supposed to be less prone to “virus attacks”? None of these reasons are good enough reasons for adoption of FOSS. The root lies in “Freedom” and “Building of a Knowledge Society”. One should adopt FOSS because one believes in freedom, and one is a responsible human being and believes in a knowledge society. Knowledge should never remain the prerogative of the few, as it would be very dangerous for a growing society.
FOSS is good for society. Having said so much on FOSS for the society, let’s turn to governments. In government decision making, financial resources, limited as they are, play a crucial role. Hence, if FOSS reduces cost, so much the better. FOSS is better for the governments as it reduces the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of computing systems and infrastructure. On the contrary, there have been several studies, some even by the World Bank, which try and prove that the TCOs for FOSS are higher than that for proprietary and third party systems. The methods adopted to arrive at such erroneous conclusions should be definitely questioned. Here, let us once accept for argument sake that such TCO calculations do show FOSS costs to be higher.
The components typically included in such calculations are procurement costs, migration costs, risks, maintenance costs, diminished performance costs, security costs, training and capacity building costs, future upgrade and scalability costs etc. These studies do not take into account the social cost, the value of the knowledge repository that builds with FOSS and the local community capacity building that happens and above all the value of the 4 Freedoms (Richard Stallman, http://fsf.org: Freedom 0- Freedom to use software, Freedom 1- Freedom to distribute the software, Freedom 2- Freedom to modify the Source Code & Freedom 3- freedom to distribute modified source code) which are not accounted for in the TCO calculations. As a government agency, I am willing to pay Rs. 20, 00,000.00 (Rupees Twenty lakh) only for a single license of the LibreOffice Productivity Suite, if it comes with the 4 freedoms.
However, I would not even touch a proprietary Office Suite even if it is given as Freeware but without the 4 freedoms. The support and upgrade costs of FOSS which adds up to the TCO are generally shown to be lower for the proprietary software for a variety of reasons. Keeping everything else constant, if one were to evaluate and work out the Social Total Cost of Ownership (STCO), and social costs are very important for the governments, the proprietary software TCO would go many notches higher than that of FOSS. Secondly, when one goes for FOSS deployment, one should address the question of support and upgrades in terms of capacity building of organizations and communities. The capacity building of the local communities, office personnel, local institutions and local software groups should be a part of any FOSS adoption project. The product must be owned by a community. The aim of the governments should be to nurture thousands of such communities, especially the students. This brings me to the third focal point.
FOSS is the best for the students and educational institutions. The children are the foundation of the future of the society and the nation, and are best suited to imbibe the right values such as freedom. It is through them that a knowledge society can be built on the principles of the four Freedoms. This is how we come a full circle on the argument, what is best for the future of the society, is also best for the governments. Therefore, FOSS is best for the governments.
About the Author:
Mr. MK Yadava is a FOSS enthusiast and believes that spreading the light of FOSS is a very big task. Currently, he was Chief Conservator of Forests (M&E), Govt. of Assam. Currently, he is Managing Director, AMTRON.