Fw: Re: Fw: Re: [Web Comm] New content. Please review...
jo at frot.org
Fri Aug 11 11:43:28 EDT 2006
re the 'why use open source / support open standards' material...
----- Forwarded message from Chris Holmes <cholmes at openplans.org> -----
A couple more (on vacation, you can pass on to webcomm).
(I wish I could finish that introduction, but alas). There's also some
and expanded on that, though still unpublished, there might be stuff to
lift from here:
Building SDI's on Open Source Software
The establishment of a Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) involves a
significant amount of software, but relative to the procurement of more
traditional Information Technology, such as operating systems,
databases, or word processing tools, the cost comparison of open source
software versus proprietary is not nearly as dramatic. One reason is
that a majority of costs are spent on the implementation, buying the
hardware to run the infrastructure, paying the consultants to analyze
the needs and configure everything properly. Even though GIS software
can be incredibly expensive, more money is made on consulting, training,
installations, and support - indeed research by the IDC shows that
initial license fees can account for less than 10% of the costs of
server software1. These costs must all be covered when using Open
Source software as well. There is still much debate about the Total
Cost of Ownership (TCO) for open source versus commercial software234.
But in the context of an SDI implementation the initial costs represent
a very small slice of the pie.
Set against the backdrop of cost in the context of building SDIs, it
would appear that Open Source has little to offer that proprietary
software can not also provide. But there are properties in the nature
of open source software that have additional benefits for II's in
developing economies, centered around independence, sustainability, and
adaptability to change.
Using FOSS allows countries to avoid reliance on a single software
provider. Steven Weber, in his 'Open Source Software in Developing
Nations are interested not only in the potential long-term cost savings
of OSFS solutions, but in precisely where the expenditure on information
technology is actually going. Countries around the world have been keen
to minimize their reliance on single suppliers who may not be focused on
the country's interests, and to avoid opportunism by suppliers the
country has locked itself into through proprietary software purchases.5
With open source costs can be contracted out to just about anyone, as
the source code is available for all to learn and provide services on.
If an SDI is set up with proprietary software then the original vendor
is the only one with access to the code to perform tasks such as
upgrades, feature requests, bug fixing, and the like. Some of these
jobs, like day to day support and training, could be performed by
others, but proprietary vendors can additionally use copyrights and
other legal mechanisms to block others from truly competing.
The flexible contracting of services not only has the potential to save
money on upkeep, by creating more competition among providers, but also
gives software consumers more control over where their money goes. If
there are local providers of the same services than the money can stay
within the country, advancing their own economny, instead of just lining
the pockets of a foreign corporation.
Another form of independence is found in the translation of software.
There are only a certain number of languages for which it makes economic
sense for a proprietary provider to translate their product. Many times
this is one or two, the upper limit seems to be about 15. This
unfortunately misses out on a huge number of indigenous languages. With
open source software the code is open, and often geared towards making
translation easy; already there are far more translations of Open Office
than the proprietary Microsoft Office. A group in Tanzania recently did
such a translation, into Swahili. The technical leader of the project,
Alberto Escudero-Pascual, said after completion of the first version,
'we clearly show that with free and open source software we can do in
four months what proprietary software has never done for the Swahili
speakers.'6 Other groups in Africa have made similar localizations, in
Uganda and South Africa, primarily focused on Open Office and the open
source Mozilla web browser (bridges.org 2005).
The open nature of FOSS additional creates opportunities to develop
local IT industries, ensuring that there is always a local base to
sustain an information infrastructure, even if outside expertise was
initially relied upon to build it. The process of translation and
localization discussed above also has 'the indirect benefit of creating
a group of developers who are familiar with the source codes of key OSS
products, thus empowering them to move on to deeper adaptations/
improvements of those products.'7 Beyond localization local firms can
also be contracted for support. But in a proprietary model, local
technicians 'who provide support for proprietary software produced by
transnational companies do not have the possibility of fixing bugs, not
necessarily for lack of technical capability or of talent, but because
they do not have access to the source code to fix it.' With FOSS an
intelligent government policy could contract local firms, who initially
might heavily initially rely on the expertise of the original foreign
contractor who built the infrastructure, but in doing so they would
learn the code and would start to be able to perform the tasks
themselves. Capacity in local firms is built organically, they are
given the incentive to perform more of the work, to keep a greater
portion of the money for themselves, but they can also rely on those
with more expertise when needed. Sustainability is achieved as locals
become the experts on the systems, whereas if the government were to
rely on a foreign provider they could be priced out of being able to
afford services, or worse, the firm could go out of business and no one
would be able to modify or upgrade their software.
Adaptability to Change
The fact that locals are the ones performing initial support and
eventual upgrades and system improvements also looks towards a key of
successful Information Infrastructures. The free diffusion of
software tools leads to an environment where 'the degree to which a
software tool can be utilized and expanded becomes limited only by the
knowledge, learning, and innovative energy of the potential users; not
by exclusionary property rights, prices, or the power of countries and
corporations.'8 This expansion and innovative use of tools is indeed
essential in the ability of an Information Infrastructure to adapt to
change, it is the ?cultivation?9 approach to design of IIs, creating a
process of development characterized by ?unanticipated effects?10 and
The ability of citizens to adjust to their tools is incredibly limited
with proprietary software. They can only improvise to the extent
imagined by the original author. With open source the pieces that
compose the original tools can be recombined into another tool, for
unanticipated uses. This is simply not possible with the black box of
proprietary software. Even if the software implements open standards,
users have no leeway to innovate with the protocols, they are set in
stone, instead of flexible guidelines. This tinkering with protocols is
actually essential to well functioning open standards: 'the ongoing
subordination and (re)articulation of the [standardized] protocol to
meet the primary goals of the actors involved is a sine qua non for the
functioning of the [standardized] protocol in the first place.?12
Additionally this opening of tools to innovation creates a culture which
does not merely take hand-me-down technological solutions from the first
world, but one that allows developing countries to chart their own
course. A segment of the population can turn into what Von Hippel terms
'lead users', those who 'are currently experiencing needs that will
later be experienced by many users in that market.' and who 'anticipate
relatively high benefits from obtaining a solution to their needs, and
so may innovate'13. Each developing economy will have unique problems,
for which a segment of their population can become 'lead users'. If the
tools are open, then they can easily innovate, and those innovations in
turn may be at the leading edge of the global market, so a developing
country can capitalize them in a way that's not possible with
proprietary software. Indeed, research on information systems in
developing countries shows that not only is this type of improvisation
desired, it is in fact necessary for success in a field where design
versus reality gaps lead to the failure of the majority of projects14.
(I can forward on references if they're desired).
Jo Walsh wrote:
>hey - i don't know if you're on the webcom list - i meant to cc you on
>this - jason working on some 'why open source geospatial' propaganda
>for the website - i pointed him at some of your old material.
>----- Forwarded message from Jo Walsh <jo at frot.org> -----
>Reply-To: dev at webcommittee.osgeo.org
>Date: Thu, 10 Aug 2006 14:16:29 -0700
>From: Jo Walsh <jo at frot.org>
>To: dev at webcommittee.osgeo.org
>Subject: Re: [Web Comm] New content. Please review...
>On Thu, Aug 10, 2006 at 03:51:20PM -0400, Frank Warmerdam wrote:
>>Based on a quick skim, I think the project pages look good.
>>I found the "how can I help" document great, but very project oriented.
>>It doesn't really talk about how people can help OSGeo - instead coming
>>across in a very project-community oriented way.
>Nod; i really like this narrative; i think it tells most of the story
>really well; it could be linking through to the project pages and
>connecting from those to project lists, trackers etc...
>The 'how i can help OSGeo' aspect - i would like this to comprise
>links to the committee pages - a quick overview of 'what this group of
>people are doing and what they are focused on' and then each committee
>(chair) is responsible for producing 'how can you help us' section.
>(and http://wiki.osgeo.org/index.php/Why_Open_Source_Geospatial )
>I think that cholmes has some of the most convincing narrative on this
>subject that i've heard. A couple of pointers:
>(see also http://wiki.osgeo.org/index.php/Location_Intelligence )
>This is a doc that Chris and Ned Horning did a lot of writing on.
>Maybe it's a lot more data-oriented than it is software-oriented and
>not so relevant to this - i think you could strengthen the interop.
>point from this, though.
>Keep it up! More to follow RSN...
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>----- End forwarded message -----
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