ITALY AND OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE

 

April 2002

The Greens Introduce a Bipartisan Bill

According to an article by Andrea Vitali at http://www.linuxvalley.com/columns/columns.php?IdCol=130&ts=1 (in Italian; the text of the draft bill is included), Green Senator Fiorello Cortiana and numerous interested parties held a press conference in March to explain the introduction of a bill into the Italian Senate in favor of the use of software libero (Free/Open Source software) into Italian public administration. The principles are computer pluralism and portability of public documents, the benefits are security and cost savings, and the national interests served are the democratization of public access to computerized public records, and the building of a local Italian software industry and market that will include small businesses.

The press conference gained added force because it showed a number of different sectors of Italian society united to back the introduction of Open Source software into public administration. Senator Cortiana has enlisted the sponsorships of parliamentary deputies both inside and outside the current government for the goal of providing "technological neutrality" in government computer matters. Besides the politicians, representatives of the academic world, the business world, and of course Linux fans spoke at the event.

IBM, a leader in the use of Open Source software for businesses, sent Gianpaolo Amadori, who gave the business perspective that although Linux was not entirely complete in high-end functionality, it was evolving at a rapid pace, thanks to the involvement of many developers, and that soon it would achieve the "highest standards." Like others, he emphasized security and interoperability. An Open Source-based telecommunications startup, Comunicando, likewise spoke in favor of the bill. The Linux User Group (LUG) of Rome was represented (Marco Presi), as was the Italian office of the Free Software foundation (Alessandro Rubini), and the Linux distributions SuSE and Red Hat.

The LUG representative called attention to the social and cultural aspects of Open Source movement, and these aspects were clearly implied in the largest motive given for adopting the bill: to enable Italy to catch up with the fast-moving world of modern software so that the state could escape the "arrested condition" of its technology, and so that the country could join the world as a peer among software-producing nations. The result would be a larger software economy and more native high-level software experts. Speakers pointed out that over 90% of Italian homes and offices used a single operating system, and that public documents on computers were locked up in a proprietary format. According to Mr. Vitali, no one present spoke the name of a large foreign software company that seemed to be on everyone's mind.

A Legal Obstacle to Open Source Businesses

Among the businesses represented was the proprietary software company Finmatica, whose representative said that it was studying the market and business models of Open Source software, and was particularly attracted by the security found in Open Source software. The report did not give any reasons for Finmatica's hesitation to jump into Open Source business as IBM has, but part of the press conference dealt with a unique legal obstacle to commercializing Open Source in Italy: the tax stamp required on physical copies of software used in business. While in the United States legislators must now think up laws to impede or eliminate Open Source software, such as the failed Security Systems Standards and Certification Act (SSSCA), now re-introduced as the Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act (CBDTPA), Italy already has its Law 248 of the Year 2000 (see http://lwn.net/2001/features/siae.php3 for a discussion). Ostensibly intended to protect the creators' rights in software commerce, the law has the effect taxing the transfer of software programs intended to be freely passed along. Because the law applies only to software that is sold or is used in businesses, it tends to confine Linux to the hobbyists. It is interesting that while the stamp (licensed under the copyright act and carrying the initials of the Society of Italian Authors and Editors, SIAE) used to be required on all books, that requirement has apparently been dropped, even while the stamp is now required on software.

The law provides for police searches under court orders, confiscation of unstamped computer program media, and onerous requirements such as arranging in advance to enter the country with a software program purchased abroad. As in the American bills, the hand of large software companies is evident in the legislation. Among its several aims, the Cortiana bill, "Norme in materia di pluralismo informatico, sulla adozione e la diffusione del software libero e sulla portabilità dei documenti informatici nella Pubblica Amministrazione," aims to make the necessary adjustments to Law 248/2000 to enable "the diffusion of free software."

As we have seen in previous columns, the move toward Open Source software is growing in Europe and around the world.

Elsewhere in European Governments

Finnish Government Offices

The Finnish state administration is considering a switch from Windows to Linux; it has some 147,000 computers and estimates its savings at as much as 26 millions euros per year. Currently 88% of all these machines are using Windows, while 13% of the servers are using Linux, brainchild of the Finn Linus Torvalds (see http://www.helsinki-hs.net/news.asp?id=20020311IE5, Finnish version at http://www.helsinginsanomat.fi/arkisto/juttu.asp?id=20020309TA10). The savings in licensing fees provides the main motive for considering the change, and officials are concerned that a partial instead of a total move to Linux would result in the added costs of running two instead of one system.

British Local Governments Take Interest in Linux

The Society of Information Technology Management (Socitm) in Great Britain is participating in a local-government study of worldwide scope regarding their readiness for the e-government framework envisioned by planners (http://www.vnunet.com/News/1130353). Socitm has criticized Microsoft's licensing policies and is evaluating Sun Microsystems' StarOffice as an alternative to Microsoft Office. Twenty local governments are already trying out StarOffice, and some 300 desktops at the Penwith (Cornwall) District Council have made the switch. As in Finland, lower licensing costs are given as the reason.

The British Office of Government Commerce, which acts for the central administration in Great Britain, is already set up to deliver orders of StarOffice to interested government units.

StarOffice now Costs Money

Indeed, saving money is given as a major motivation even though the newest version of StarOffice, 6.0, is not free (but the Open Office version, available at http://www.openoffice.org/, is still downloadable for free). The StarOffice price has not yet been set (release is in June), but is expected to be less than $100. Sun's pricing strategy provides reassurance to users that the company takes the product seriously, offers support, and is not merely offering hobby software. When dealing with business users, a reasonable charge is more reassuring and more likely to build business than is offering the product for free.

Sun's seriousness about the product and awareness of the growing Linux market is evidenced by their offering Chinese versions (traditional and simplified) as well.

Because StarOffice also offers a Windows version, it fits in with a strategy of a phased move from Windows to Linux, because users can become accustomed to StarOffice while keeping their familiar Windows, and later move over to the new operating system.

Articles and reviews of StarOffice can be found at DesktopLinux, a site specializing in "enterprise and end-user desktops."

Next month we'll look at new developments in businesses that are migrating to Open Source software.

Copyright © 2002 by Donald K. Rosenberg, Stromian Technologies (http://www.stromian.com)

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