Members of an interdisciplinary working group under the Danish Board of Technology have published the results of a detailed investivation into the usability of open-source software in public administration, including the economic perspectives in a change-over to open-source software.
The 91-page report Open-Source Software in E-Government "contains an economic analysis of open-source software and additionally analyses its usability and makes a number of recommendations on how the public sector can promote the use of open-source software." The document concludes that "switching from proprietary software to open source software in Danish public administration has an economic impact of several billion Denmark Kroner (DKK) every year. One reason the open source software is competitive is because it allows users to change, to correct, and to distribute the software and therefore to a greater extent leaves the user in control of changes."
The working group report recommends that the state "not put all its eggs in one basket" and that an "initial pilot project must be established in the near future in which open-source software such as StarOffice/OpenOffice is implemented in medium-sized e-government." A larger followup project should be designed "in which a number of administrative units use open-source software, for example switching over to StarOffice/OpenOffice, and utilize previously gathered experience to reduce installation and adaptation costs."
The Danish working group further "recommends that a standard document format be developed, firstly for problem-free exchange of documents and secondly for integration in systems used in e-government. A strategy for the introduction of an open standard for the exchange of word-processed documents is important, because there is no genuine competition at present in the desktop area, largely due to the fact that Microsoft formats also represent de facto standards for electronic document exchange."
Open-Source Software in E-Government. Analysis and Recommendations Drawn Up by a Working Group Under the Danish Board of Technology. From the Danish Board of Technology. Members of the working group: Mogens Kühn Pedersen (Professor, Department of Informatics, Copenhagen Business School), Jens Hørlück (Associate Professor, School of Economics and Management, Aarhus University), and Jan Opstrup Poulsen (Project Manager, The Danish Board Of Technology). October 2002. English translation supported by the European Parliament. 91 pages. Annexes: Glossary; MS Office/StarOffice document exchange test; Overview of Microsoft licences; Age of PCs that can be used in latest version of Office suites; Use and development of open-source software; Available reports on open-source software.
From the Report Summary
A Newsletter summary introducing the Report was published by the Danish Board of Technology on October 22, 2003 under the title "Potential for Major Public Savings in Open Source Software." Excerpts:
Switching from proprietary software to open source software in Danish public administration has an economic scope of several billion DKK every year. This is the conclusion in a report prepared by a working group under The Danish Board of Technology.
The working group has compiled a detailed analysis of the use of open source software in public administration in Denmark -- especially the economic perspectives. The analysis shows that open source software is a viable alternative to the proprietary software. One reason the open source software is competitive is because it allows users to change, to correct and to distribute the software and therefore to a greater extent leaves the user in control of changes.
The analysis shows good possibilities for using the open source software as desktop software, e.g. for word processing and there is a potential for lowering the cost of using desk-top software.
Open source infrastructure software (e.g. web servers, mail servers, and operating systems) already has a strong market position, caused by superior performance and lower cost. In relation to custom developed software, where the public administration is expected to perform massive investment for the years to come, the report discusses alternatives to the traditional ways of development.
Based on the analysis and the conclusions of the report, the working group lists a set of recommendations for a policy of creating more competition on the software market which could lead to a possible switch to open source software. The most important recommendation is on creating open standards for document storage and exchange. The group's consideration is that open source is "a real alternative for e-government", and that "it will be necessary for executives in the public sector to consider strategies for future it-investments, which includes open source software".
From Chapter 9, "Conclusions and Recommendations"
The "Conclusions and Recommendations" in Chapter 9 of the Danish Board of Technology Report summarize the working group's findings presented in Chapters 1-8. Excerpts:
Open-source software is a serious alternative: "There are therefore strong arguments for considering open-source products in the procurement and replacement of software in the public sector..."
Open source provides significant economic room for manoeuvre: "The economics in a large number of open-source installations has been shown to be better than comparable proprietary software installations abroad and in Denmark, in that savings are made on licence payment and hardware procurements..."
If e-government is to be put into effect as cheaply as possible, there is a need for a strategy: "Open source is based on open standards, where such standards are established and usable. Analyses show that in a mature software market such as that for office suites, competition does not come about of its own accord; initiatives have to be taken for this purpose, otherwise e-government would be implemented in a monopoly situation..."
Scenarios for the introduction of an open standard: "In order to illustrate the strategic considerations necessary in choosing one or more document standards, we have outlined below three possible strategies in the form of three scenarios for the introduction of an open standard:
- Scenario 1: A joint decision for electronic document exchange to preferentially use the XML-based format, which is used by StarOffice/OpenOffice.
- Scenario 2: A joint decision to utilise two formats, Microsoft's doc format and the XML-based format of Staroffice/OpenOffice.
- Scenario 3: Development of a new, XML-based format for office software, followed by its introduction/implementation. Development work of this kind could take place under EU auspices so that more weight could be put behind the standard in the form of many users and therefore a large market for future suppliers. Denmark would presumably have a good opportunity to ensure that the standard took account of all relevant requirements, but it is not certain whether or how quickly a usable standard could be brought about..."
"It is therefore not sufficient for us in Denmark to follow Britain and Germany, for example, in merely recommending that open source should be 'considered'. A more active decision must be taken in those areas where there is a de facto monopoly. It is necessary for decision-makers in the public sector to develop strategies for future IT investments that include open-source software..."
About the Danish Board of Technology
The Danish Board of Technology is an independent body established by the Danish Parliament (the Folketing) in 1995 and is the successor of the Technology Board, which was set up as a statutory body in 1986. The Board is supposed to promote the ongoing discussion about technology, to evaluate technology and to advise the Danish Parliament (the Folketing) and other governmental bodies in matters pertaining to technology. It was brought into being in order to disseminate knowledge about technology, its possibilities and its effects on people, on society and on the environment. Every year, after a specific stipulation in the nation's "Finance Law", the Danish Board of Technology receives an annual subsidy of around 13 million Danish kroner. The Ministry of Research is the supervising authority for the Board and the Parliament's Research Committee is the Board's steady liaison to the Parliament. Once a year, an annual report is submitted to the Parliament and the government." [from the 'About' document]
Related Publication: CCIA Report on CyberInsecurity
The Report from the Danish Board of Technology expresses concern about the effects of the Microsoft monopoly in terms of economic impact. An earlier report from CCIA highlighted security concerns arising from computing monoculture. Two references:
[September 30, 2003] "CyberInsecurity: The Cost of Monopoly. How the Dominance of Microsoft's Products Poses a Risk to Security." By Daniel Geer, Sc.D (Chief Technical Officer, @Stake), Charles P. Pfleeger, Ph.D (Master Security Architect, Exodus Communications, Inc.), Bruce Schneier (Founder, Chief Technical Officer, Counterpane Internet Security), John S. Quarterman (Founder, InternetPerils, Matrix NetSystems, Inc.), Perry Metzger (Independent Consultant), Rebecca Bace (CEO, Infidel), and Peter Gutmann (Researcher, Department of Computer Science, University of Auckland). Published by Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA). September 2003. 25 pages. "... As fast as the world's computing infrastructure is growing, security vulnerabilities within it are growing faster still. The security situation is deteriorating, and that deterioration compounds when nearly all computers in the hands of end users rely on a single operating system subject to the same vulnerabilities the world over. Most of the world's computers run Microsoft's operating systems, thus most of the world's computers are vulnerable to the same viruses and worms at the same time. The only way to stop this is to avoid monoculture in computer operating systems, and for reasons just as reasonable and obvious as avoiding monoculture in farming. Microsoft exacerbates this problem via a wide range of practices that lock users to its platform. The impact on security of this lock-in is real and endangers society. Because Microsoft's near-monopoly status itself magnifies security risk, it is essential that society become less dependent on a single operating system from a single vendor if our critical infrastructure is not to be disrupted in a single blow. The goal must be to break the monoculture. Efforts by Microsoft to improve security will fail if their side effect is to increase user-level lock-in. Microsoft must not be allowed to impose new restrictions on its customers -- imposed in the way only a monopoly can do -- and then claim that such exercise of monopoly power is somehow a solution to the security problems inherent in its products. The prevalence of security flaw in Microsoft's products is an effect of monopoly power; it must not be allowed to become a reinforcer. Governments must set an example with their own internal policies and with the regulations they impose on industries critical to their societies. They must confront the security effects of monopoly and acknowledge that competition policy is entangled with security policy from this point forward..."
[September 30, 2003] "Report: Widespread Use of Microsoft Poses Security Risk. Organizations Should Diversify Their Software Mix, Says Industry Group." By Stacy Cowley. In InfoWorld (September 24, 2003). "Whatever Microsoft's strengths or failings as a developer of reliable software, the mere existence of an operating system monopoly is a critical security risk, argues a new report released Wednesday at a Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) gathering in Washington, D.C. Written by seven IT security researchers, CyberInsecurity -- The Cost of Monopoly calls on governments and businesses to consider in their buying decisions the dangers of homogenous systems, and to diversify the software mix deployed in their organizations. It also urges the U.S. government to counterbalance Microsoft's user lock-in tactics by forcing the company to offer multiplatform support for its dominant applications, including Internet Explorer and Microsoft Office products... While Microsoft is a focus of the report, the company isn't solely responsible for the risky situation that now exists, the authors said... None of the report's authors were paid for their contributions, and the CCIA is merely acting as the paper's publisher and did not influence its content, according to the report's instigator, @stake Inc. Chief Technical Officer Dan Geer. The report's conclusions do, however, dovetail with CCIA's push for tighter regulatory controls on Microsoft and for greater diversity in the U.S. federal government's IT systems. The group plans to feature the report at this week's conference, and in its conversations with representatives of Congress and federal agencies. The report's authors said they hope it will aid corporate IT workers in efforts to convince executives at their companies that Microsoft's software shouldn't be deployed by default. 'There isn't a lot of talk about monoculture and security problems. Our hope is that we can bring this into the debate,' [Perry] Metzger said. Beyond recommending diversification, the paper suggests steps the U.S. government could take to mitigate the effects of Microsoft's monopoly position. Forced publication of APIs (application program interfaces) for Microsoft's Windows and Office software would help, as would requiring the company to work with other industry vendors on development of future specifications through a process similar to the Internet Society's RFC (request for comments) system, the report said..." Note: The "@stake Inc. Chief Technical Officer Dan Geer" mentioned above was fired in connection with his authorship contribution in this report. See: (1) "Security Expert Geer Sounds Off on Dismissal"; (2) "Former @stake CTO Dan Geer on Microsoft Report, Firing." Bibliographic reference for the report is cited below.
- Open-Source Software in E-Government. Danish Board of Technology Report. [cache]
- "Potential for Major Public Savings in Open Source Software."
- Danish Board of Technology web site
- "Denmark Urges Government Support for Open Source." By Matthew Broersma. In ZDNet News (October 24, 2003).
- "Invest in Open Source, Say the Danes." In InternetMagazine(October 24, 2003).
- "Danish Study Recommends Open Standards for EU." On SlashDot.