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You are here: Home Bulletins 2016 spring Governments pay to reinvent the wheel, or buy a proprietary wheel

Governments pay to reinvent the wheel, or buy a proprietary wheel

by k054 Contributions Published on Jun 21, 2016 11:46 AM

We all know that free and gratis are not the same thing, and sometimes free software is also about money. In the global economic south, huge sums of money, in the form of public resources, are paid to develop proprietary software to try to overcome the gap between them and the so-called developed nations.

I think it is great that governments pay for software development. I am also absolutely convinced that it should all be free, especially if it is being developed with money coming from people's taxes. Unfortunately, local governments in the emerging economies do not use free software nearly enough; therefore they pay to reinvent the wheel, or buy a proprietary wheel, instead of taking advantage of the software that has already been developed and has the freedom to continue developing without restrictions or licensing costs.

As an example twelve years ago, the Mexican government spent twenty-four billion pesos (roughly about two billion US dollars at that time) to “develop” a platform called Enciclomedia that does pretty much the same thing Wikipedia does, but is based on the infamous Microsoft's Encarta and only adds a few interactive functions.

Eventually the entire project was abandoned due to its absolutely horrifying design and the prohibitive licensing fees the Mexican government was obliged to keep paying to use it, with more taxpayer funds, after paying for development.

In this case, one of the developers took the so-called “digital objects” and created a fork from it called Encicloabierta (coming from encyclopedia and abierta, which is the Spanish word for “open”). He kept maintaining it even after facing a trial for using “copyrighted materials,” but eventually stopped doing it due to lack of resources.

There are several other cases of governments paying for the “development” of the exact same piece of code in different counties, either for water and public services management or even public schools administration.

While free software is a widespread ideal among many developed circles, it is not in most emerging economies' governments. And that, mixed with ambitious salespeople, companies, and corrupt governments, makes a broth for “those who know” to make millions out of poor people's taxes instead of using those funds to do real development. The governments could both save money and make better use of the funds by getting it back to the community that started and supported the software development in the first place.

Spreading the existence of such free software among all people, but especially within non-governmental organizations who struggle to make government more transparent, can both reduce corruption and save millions of pesos, soles, quetzales, guaranís, bolivares, colones, lempiras and reales all across Latin American and the world's emerging economies. But furthermore, it will add some great stories to the book of a different history for humankind as a whole.

A lot of people around the free software movement are fed up with what government does, and especially about what is done with money coming from taxes, but this is a great chance to make it do the right thing. So, if you feel inspired by any of these ideas, look at “Measures Governments Can Use to Promote Free Software” and join the online LibrePlanet advocacy group focused on this issue.

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