ADVANTAGES OF OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE

PRIVACY

There is a constitutional right to privacy, and it is incumbent on government to set rules to protect the privacy of its citizens. Software that may transmit private data to, or allow control and modification of computer systems by third parties without the explicit consent of the user is a violation of the citizen’s right to privacy.

It is disingenuous to argue, as Open Source opponents often do, that the market will sufficiently protect the rights of citizens in these circumstances. Software follows the principle of "network effects" where, after a certain tipping point, all customers lose their freedom of choice and are herded into using the same product for the sake of interoperability. The existence  of monopoly situations in software also work to restrict freedom of choice, further limiting the protective effects of purely market-based solution. As a result, governments invention is appropriate to protect the privacy rights of its citizens.

COST

As outlined above, cost is many times the overriding factor for poor countries, and for the small and medium sized enterprises in these countries. It is an anomaly that software prices are increasing in the worst IT slump in decades, but it is happening, because with proprietary software, there are negative network effects and powerful monopolies that can extract ever-increasing monopoly rents even as many others are facing severe economic  distress.

Could software costs be cut, instead of government jobs, in an effort to reduce the deficit? It is a question that should at least be investigated. Replacing the software of some proprietary products with free Open Source counterparts would obviously eliminate the licensing costs of those products.

With the Kenya Government's recent initiation of an e-Government strategy, its clear that there is a lot of money to be saved by the adoption of open source platforms in the place of proprietary software.

RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AND TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER

The Open Source method is analogous to the scientific method, where researchers share information and results, and are not hampered by having to constantly "reinvent the wheel". Additionally, Open Source researchers do not have to deal with expensive and restrictive licensing terms, which arbitrarily preclude the involvement of talented people. This creates a very low threshold to get into research and development of projects, allowing smaller schools and even industrious individuals to participate.

It is acknowledged within the R&D community that non-Open licenses can hinder technology transfer, because the license holder controls what gets done with the research.

Sometimes, those licenses preclude sharing or even showing others the results of the research. Other times, the license holder decides not to implement the R&D themselves, and refuses to let anyone else to do so, either. As a result, the research gets buried, forgotten and  never used. This doesn't happen with Open Source.

EDUCATION

Open Source is a superior way to educate the next generation of IT professional. With Open Source, the developers see and study the actual code running real world systems, rather than working with stripped-down "toys" designed merely for educational purposes. Many developers have recounted that they learn best by trying and watching what happens in the program as it runs. This should not be surprising at all, since this was how developers learned the craft before the 1980's when the closed software industry arose. Open Source is just returning software to its free and open roots.

Also, it should be noted that Open Source software development is known to be more modular and more readily understandable from its very structure. It is developed in this organized way, because otherwise people would not be able to contribute effectively to the code base, since oftentimes there is no documentation but the code itself to study. As a result, self-education by looking at the code is an important feature of Open Source that is "baked-in" to the development model itself. For the lawyers in the audience this is similar to the "case method" of learning law, where struggling with real cases is generally expected to create better lawyers.

JOB CREATION

The business model for Open Source software is that of a specialized services industry, similar to law, medicine or engineering. As a result, moving government systems to Open Source software means that there will be more local, high paying IT jobs for integrators and consultants in Kenya. Furthermore, using government procurement to help create locally-based Open Source consulting jobs has a spin-off economic multiplier effect that will benefit many other local residents, too. Software dollars that are kept in Kenya, and not paid to foreign companies, will obviously increase the country's foreign exchange reserves.

SECURITY

The open secret in the defense and intelligence communities around the world is that Open Source is the preferred software for secure systems. These groups don't trust software that they can't study and compile themselves, because of concerns over bugs and "spy ware", and therefore would rather use Open Source software for their sensitive and classified systems.