Fw: Re: Fw: Re: [Web Comm] New content. Please review...

Jo Walsh 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and expanded on that, though still unpublished, there might be stuff to 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 
Economies' explains:

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).

Sustainability/Capacity Building

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... 
>To unsubscribe, e-mail: dev-unsubscribe at webcommittee.osgeo.org
>For additional commands, e-mail: dev-help at webcommittee.osgeo.org
>----- End forwarded message -----

Chris Holmes
The Open Planning Project

----- End forwarded message -----

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