Gov’t official says pro-open source software law ‘untimely’
By Kerlyn G. Bautista, Reporter
The Philippine government is “sympathetic” to the cause of the open source (OS) software community but warned that laws ordering use of OS in public agencies may be “a little ahead of its time”.
Airing his personal sentiments, an official of the Commission on Information and Communication Technology (CICT) said that government and the private sector should first labor to develop a pool of OS certified professionals and conduct massive grassroots manpower training on the software.
CICT commissioner for human resources development Emmanuel C. Lallana acknowledged the savings that OS migration offers to the cash-strapped government.
However, he warned that an abrupt migration might result in less productivity of public employees that are not trained in OS and even difficulty in accessing data stored in proprietary or commercial platform.
Unlike proprietary software, OS is freely distributed, used, copied and modified among users. Users are often not required to pay the product’s license fee that runs in thousands of pesos.
To date, the Philippine government is highly dependent on proprietary and commercial software, with over 70% of its information systems running on non-OS platforms like Microsoft Windows.
A United Nations report called International Open Source Network (IOSN) noted that countries that migrated to OS from proprietary software incurred huge savings. IOSN reported that savings from moving to OS increased with the size of organizations involved. The UN study “Linux vs. Windows: The Bottom Line” also said that companies with 50 users saved as much as $87,908 when they used OS rather than proprietary software. Those with 100 users saved $136,654, while those with 250 users, $282,974.
“My belief is that even if there is a policy, it can end up just like many other laws that are not properly implemented. It is important to first develop competency and capability in open source,” Mr. Lallana said.
OS groups have been urging the Philippine government to end its long-standing neutrality in use of software by adopting foreign policies that encouraged or ordered OS use in the public sector and required participation of OS companies in bidding for all government-funded ICT projects.
Last week, advocacy group Computer Professionals’ Union (CPU) formally asked members of House of Representatives to sponsor a bill that will provide for the use of OS in public schools and government agencies. CPU wants the congress to replicate in the country some provisions of Brazilian laws on OS.
A province in Brazil called Pernambuco passed the first law regarding the use of free open source software in March 2000, prompting passage of similar policies in other provinces. By October 2003, the Brazilian government has outlined its long-term approach in OS with the publication of the Free Software Implementation in the Federal Government. This year, 80% of Brazilian government’s computer purchases were aimed to support OS.
Reacting to the increasing clamor of OS groups, Mr. Lallana said his committee will outline projects that will raise awareness on OS and better facilitate mass-based training on OS. He said he is mulling the review of IT training curricula offered by the National Computer Institute, the Telecoms Institute and the Department of Foreign Affairs, and see if they give weight on OS education as much as on the proprietary software.
Currently, only a sub-body of the Department of Science and Technology is promoting applications based on OS. Also, only the National Computer Center is conducting training of public employees on OS.
“I can be convinced that a policy should be put in place. But now, we have to create a cadre of people that will come to our rescue if anything goes wrong with open source. Right now, I don’t think we have enough of them,” Mr. Lallana said.
Philippine Linux Users Group (PLUG) said that local education institutions have yielded at least 7,966 open source literate individuals that may serve as technical support for OS deployment. Schools offering trainings on OS include Bluepoint Institute, Q- Linux, Asia Pacific College, Informatics and Meralco Foundation.
Big foreign technology companies like IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Fujitsu, Sun Microsystems and Dell have allocated specialized websites for OS training.