Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?
GNU is Not Unix Software Linux

Free Software as a Public Good 445

acone asks: "Have any national governments taken measures to subsidize open source projects? I'm aware that many have endorsed Linux in particular, and free software in general, but I was wondering about actual funding. I ask because the notion of a good built and maintained by the community almost inevitably suggests that such be treated as a public good. Many of the public goods we now take for granted--such as police, public libraries, and public fire departments--were historically provided either by private enterprises or by loosely-organized volunteers, neither of which have proven nearly as effectively for the common goods as their current government-run equivalents. An excellent example is the organization of the police force, libraries and fire department in colonial Philadelphia, in which these services became established in a very grassroots manner, then gradually gained acceptance as something that the state should provide. This pattern looks temptingly applicable to free software. In addition to the current, community-based mechanisms in which free software is developed, wouldn't it be beneficial to have dedicated groups of professional free software developers, paid by national governments to serve the overall interests of society? Seems to me like such would be a Good Thing."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Free Software as a Public Good

Comments Filter:
  • by nordicfrost ( 118437 ) * on Friday August 08, 2003 @04:53PM (#6649714)
    School Linux has recieved a grand from the Norwegian educational ministery. The grant was for USD 27,673.81 and funded a fundamental research into the feasibility of Linux in schools.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 08, 2003 @04:53PM (#6649719)
    But you will see various governments writing or commissioning code for their own needs. The important thing is to get that code licensed appropriately (BSD or GPL or whatever your particular views are) so that the populace can use it freely.
  • KDE and Germany (Score:4, Informative)

    by Nick of NSTime ( 597712 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @04:53PM (#6649727)
    I remember reading something a year or so ago about the German government subsidizing KDE development. I may be wrong on that.
    • Re:KDE and Germany (Score:5, Informative)

      by cabalamat2 ( 227849 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @05:11PM (#6649982) Homepage Journal

      The German government is funding open source email encryption software under project Aegypten. Some of this is KDE software, for example work on the kmail mail client.

      See Project Aegypten Home Page [gnupg.org] for details.

    • Re:KDE and Germany (Score:4, Informative)

      by phoenix_rizzen ( 256998 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @05:12PM (#6649993)
      Yeppers, that would be for the Kroupware project, which includes the Kolab server, Kolab client (KMail + KDEPIM integrated together), and other related projects. The funding was to create an Exchange Server replacement.
      • The funding is to scratch an itch for email, calendars, and that sort of office groupware thingie. While Exchange Server is the best known example of this, please don't think it is the only one. Lotus Notes has scratched this itch for quite a while, and I think Novell has something that does this too. In the 80s IBM had PROFS for VM/CMS that did much of the same thing.

        I'm not trying to be pedantic here, I'm just trying to avoid the impression that Free/Open development always chases Microsoft's tailligh
    • The German "Innenministerium" directly funded the development of gnupg. However, after seeing the small success of the project (in terms of adoption rate), and maybe other reasons, the ministery finally decided to stop direct funding of OSS development, and instead relying on other means to support OSS.

      The other high-profile project funded by the German government is Kollaborate. This was done by the "BSI" (Federal Agency for IT security), which is known to be very Linux-friendly (and equally MS-unfriendl

  • by madMingusMax ( 693022 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @04:54PM (#6649730)
    Haven't they? And for good reason, this is basically what a good portion of his book "The Future of Ideas" is about....that is, a commons for everyone which enriches society, and how corporations are taking it over to the detriment of society in general. Read this book.
  • It seems to me that the very idea of paying someone to write free software is the very antithesis of what free software is all about. (Not to mention the practical problems of managing the stable of programmers, ensuring that work actually gets done etc...)

    Far better would be something like the Ford Foundation giving grants to folks after they have a track record.
    • Not so!

      The FSF got its start by selling tapes of the Emacs source code and precompiled binaries! You could also get GCC+binutils+stuff tapes and X11R4 stuff.

      They were $150+ a pop for a while. [geocrawler.com]
    • Despite what Microsoft might say, there is a great deal of value in Free.

    • It seems to me that the very idea of paying someone to write free software is the very antithesis of what free software is all about.

      It seems to me that you've no idea what free software is about. Rerhaps reading this [gnu.org] will help.

      • It seems to me that you've no idea what free software is about. Rerhaps reading this will help.

        I agree that grandparent was a tad confused, but sending him over to the GNU page probably isn't going to give him the sort of clarity on the issue that he seems to need.

    • by FreeUser ( 11483 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @05:08PM (#6649935)
      It seems to me that the very idea of paying someone to write free software is the very antithesis of what free software is all about. (Not to mention the practical problems of managing the stable of programmers, ensuring that work actually gets done etc...)

      Then you don't know much about free software. Free software is about freedom, not price. GNU and the FSF have sold free software since the 1980s, on magnetic tape and later CD ROM. Some of their products were quite pricy (and available for gratis download besides), but they still made some money selling the media, as the convinience was worth it to some.

      Government funded public works is a Good Thing(tm), whether it is highways, the last mile of connectivity (which alas, is privately owned by local monopoly barons in most, but not all, of the US), or basic software infrastructure used to hold and manipulate public data.

      We would never tolerate our highway system being held hostage by a single company. Why on earth would we tolerate such a thing with our public information?

      As for private funding, that is all well and good, but private funding has limitations (such as the profit motive, which works sometimes but, contrary to right-wing myth, does not always work or yeild the best results). Public funding has its limitations as well, but pulling projects that are serving the public interest because of no immediate exploitable profit generally isn't one of them.

      Indeed, the best public goods are those which include both private and public funding, where the limitations of one are generally countered by the strengths of the other. Examples include, but are not limited to, academia and university research.
      • Government funded public works is a Good Thing(tm)...

        Government funding is like crack--it's nice at first, but eventually you end up prostituting yourself.

        The Free (beer/freedom) model has worked well so far. Would you really feel better if the government had a bigger hand in it?

      • Then you don't know much about free software. Free software is about freedom, not price.

        And where exactly is the freedom on a goverment funded project? Or do you think they will pay for just any ol' program for any purpose?

        We would never tolerate our highway system being held hostage by a single company.

        We tolerate it every day. The company frequently uses it's influence to withold money because the company doesn't like how local folks are behaving. The company also curries favor by building highways

  • Government Subsidy (Score:2, Informative)

    by Egonis ( 155154 )
    I am in the process of obtaining a government subsidy for the development of a Client Management System for Youth Shelters in Ontario... things are looking good, very good.

    So yes, if you present your plan to the Canadian Government, anyway, in good terms, showing that it will benefit all; it is easy to obtain a subsidy.
  • What is this? You mean there are still some public goods someplace that haven't yet been privatized? Wait 'till the Republicans hear about this!

    (It's a joke, Republicans. I promise, if you learn to laugh at yourselves, I will learn to laugh when you call me a dirty longhair commie-pinko pervert.)
  • Government funding (Score:5, Interesting)

    by KillerHamster ( 645942 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @04:56PM (#6649774) Homepage
    I'd be happy to take their money, it's their influence I don't want. As I see it, part of the freedom associated with free software is freedom from corporate or government bureaucracy deciding what goes into the software. I doubt most governments would agree to sponsor something if they could not exercise tight control over it.
    • by eggnet ( 75425 )
      And the difference between that and private funding is?

      Everyone has an agenda.
    • by drfireman ( 101623 ) <dan@nospAM.kimberg.com> on Friday August 08, 2003 @05:13PM (#6650005) Homepage
      Government influence over software isn't likely to work by government heavies leaning on you to make your software do this or that. It's much more likely to work by the government deciding to fund the people who do what they want, and not to fund others. If what you want to do isn't in line with what the government wants, you probably weren't going to get funded anyway. If it is, it's hard to imagine the government investing heavily in micro-managing your project.
    • Then do something that isn't government sponsored. If I were financially supporting something, I would want it to line up with my goals too.
    • by Traxman ( 444480 )
      I agree that the development process would be tainted by the influence of goverment money. However, if the software is truly open sourced, how much influence could they have over it? True, those that took the money could be influenced, but anyone could contribute.

      I would go so far as to argue that the freedom from corporate and goverment influence is one of the most essential notions surrounding the development of free software. Although, if a government is willing to concede that open code is of higher
    • I doubt most governments would agree to sponsor something if they could not exercise tight control over it.

      Aparently you've never heard of DARPA and this little thing called the internet. Yes, the government usually funds things that are in its best interest. However, agencies like DARPA have historically funded very long range visionary and exploratory research.

      It is difficult for the government to have tight control over something like that.

  • already have too much to fund to worry about getting in the business of software development. Be satisfied with the tacit endorsement provided when the software is used.

    You mentioned police, fire departments, teachers, etc. Why not give these folks a raise instead?

    • Software is developed in the process of basic research. The government either owns outright, or reserves the right to use in most cases, all software developed under contract paid for by public funds.

      That is how my employers contract is written. That is a basic understanding for government contracting.

      Now service contracts with the government where software is developed may be another matter. That is a grey area that is usually negotiated with the vendor before the contract is let.

  • Maybe... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by r00zky ( 622648 )
    Have any national governments taken measures to subsidize open source projects?

    Don't know for sure, but it would be a clear candidate to subsidize

    Another case is Germany paying for that KDE project... how was it kalled? Kroupware? But that's not subsidizing...
  • when we'll wake up and realize that our computing infrastructure is just as important to our modern society as roads, schools, and hospitals.

    Does that mean that the populace, through the means of the government, will ever arrange for public funding to develop and maintain an operating system and telecommunications infrastructure? Unlikely in my lifetime.

  • DARPA (Score:2, Informative)

    by Megaslow ( 694447 ) *
    Was funding OpenBSD and OpenSSL, for a little while until they changed their minds [theaimsgroup.com]
  • Business (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Quill_28 ( 553921 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @04:58PM (#6649799) Journal
    Yes, software companies love to pay taxes and then the money used to create software to drive them out of business.

    On the other hand, I do think it can be used for to help society in general.
    But I feel it should be written under BSD-like(public domain) license, putting under a GPL-like license is just wrong for this situation.

    • Yes, software companies love to pay taxes and then the money used to create software to drive them out of business.


      But I feel it should be written under BSD-like(public domain) license, putting under a GPL-like license is just wrong for this situation.

      Yes, I love to pay taxes to develop software so that $COMPANY can appropriate it so that I have to pay to use it.

      Either way, someone loses. If the $PUBLIC_SOFTWARE is GPL, then $COMPANY can choose to not use it.

      • I fail to see how either way someone loses.

        If there is public domain software, then a company can sell it cheaper because much development has already done.

        I am a little dense so please explain.

  • America's Army game? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Thinkit3 ( 671998 ) *
    That's what America's Army game essentially does now. Try it out, it's a great example of government making software that is freely copyable (read the license).
    • Uhm....America's Army is a cheap form of recruitment...think of the millions of dollars the military spends on commercials people zap through on their TiVos and VCRs, or they simply visit the restroom when the commercial is playing. It is a far better allocation of recruitment dollars to spend the money on developing a highly addictive videogame that is pro-military than mindless commercials... Now if only the Air Force would bring out a decent multiplayer flight sim on some of their fighters since the fl
  • G-Men and OSS (Score:3, Interesting)

    by luzrek ( 570886 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @04:58PM (#6649801) Journal
    I'm wondering what the mechanism would be for government support. About the only thing that I can think of would be something equivalent to the way the government funds art. AKA small grants to private individuals.

    Basically I would worry that if a burocracy was added to the development process, it would end up mucking the development process up.

    However, I'm pretty sure that some OSS softwares are directly descended from various government projects that were developed under the GPL or made open source after completion. (can someone help me with examples, or tell me I'm wrong).

  • by brentlaminack ( 513462 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @04:59PM (#6649807) Homepage Journal
    Check your history. Guess who funded most of the BSD development? Right. The US Government. Who funded development of TCP/IP? Right again. Are these open source? Yes. Were they funded by Government for the Common Good? Yes. This is nothing new. This has been going on for a couple of decades now.
    • by Jungle guy ( 567570 ) <brunolmailbox-ge ... com.br minus her> on Friday August 08, 2003 @05:05PM (#6649892) Journal
      Very good point. It is also intersting to note that BSD and TCP/IP can be used by private companies any way they want (like, putting it on free software or on a proprietary software). An interesting point would be: shuold government fund GPL-licensed software? Only OSS software companies may benefit from it. Microsoft oposes it strongly, but professor Lessig thinks this kind of funding is OK, as governmenta also funds proprietary software and software patents, that can't be used on OOS.

      One day, though, governments might find interesting to fund software that are essential to the internet (like, servers and clients for DNS, http, e-mail, etc).

      • by Mr. McGibby ( 41471 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @05:18PM (#6650052) Homepage Journal
        Government funded projects should use BSD style licenses. All of them. Everything the government creates should be available to everyone, regardless of what they want to do with it. "Everyone" paid for it, so "everyone" should be able to use it however they want.

        Sometimes, I don't see why folks complain that MS used some government source code in a product. If they want it to become a standard, then everyone needs to be able to freely integrate it into their systems, including commercial interests.
    • Go even further back in history. Radio. RCA was the "Radio Corporation of America." RCA got its big break with a very generous contract to provide the U.S. Navy with (what else?) radios...
    • What you say is true, although some of it was originally developed with military uses in mind besides just public good. The problem is that as the commercial software market grew bigger and bigger during the '60s, '70s, and '80s, the government slowly withdrew financial support and left more and more software development in the hands of private companies. What I think the original poster is calling for is a reversal of this trend, which I tend to agree with in many cases.

      A really good page which deals pa
    • I think we are going to see more targeted development, so if the government of a country wants all the gnome tools (or KDE or whatever) to work in the local language they will pay someone to do it. Or if some department needs something for some specific need they may pay for it. I think if we want the government (whichever one you are talking about) to fund software the best bet is form a company and compete for their software contracts. If you could convice say the DOJ to use Linux/Gnome on the desktop vs
  • In the GNU Manifesto [gnu.org], Richard Stallman long ago proposed the idea of a Software Tax to fund Free Software.
    • Nah. Commercial software should take frequent breaks and then your screen is then inundated with video of various software personalities asking you to contribute money to their cause. You know, like how PBS does it! And then after awhile, you get tired of watching the video so you send in your donation via PayPal and then the video stops...
  • If you examine the parallel to its logical conclusion this is kind of scary. Do you really want to allow political action groups (such as all officers of the Microsoft corporation) the opportunity to affect the election of the Open Source Commissioner? Part of the state-sponsored common good is to put it under the control and regulation of elected officials. This is not a win to my mind...
  • by Popsikle ( 661384 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @05:00PM (#6649832) Homepage
    Police Forces are national.

    There are some United Forces (UN) but they really arent a major say in what goes on (US war on "Terrorists").
    If governments have thier say, they will think what they choose to write is the right way. Governments of different nations dont always agree (AKA WAR).

    Whats to stop the US government to hire more professional coders to get more of what they want to see in OSS

    Yes OSS has the branches and someone has the overall say in what makes it in and what does not but when was the last time you heard someone disagreeing with the government and not getting some sort of herassment for it (raisethefist.com) ?

    Do you really want to add that much more politics into OSS?
    Do you really want to wait for the government to finish coding something that you need to use (we all know how governement deadlines work!!!) ?
    Just my .02
  • Maybe you haven't heard but the global economy, from the US to Germany to Japan to Argentina is in major trouble. Governments have many more pressing needs for their decreasing revenue than spending huge amounts to pursue some Stallmanist vision of crushing the proprietary software industry.
  • the united states (Score:4, Informative)

    by drfireman ( 101623 ) <dan@nospAM.kimberg.com> on Friday August 08, 2003 @05:04PM (#6649874) Homepage
    The US, through the NIH (Dept. HHS), funds software development projects, some of which are free (GPLed) software projects. NIH funding comes to researchers through a variety of mechanisms, including specific requests for proposals, and often through programs devoted to particular public health related goals. Fundees are often at Universities and sometimes have the freedom to release their software under whatever licenses they choose.

    I don't want to Slashdot the particular office that funds my work, but if you poke around on the NIH web site (www.nih.gov) for informatics-related programs, you can find some good examples of programs that fund software development. If you poke further, you'll find that some of those projects develop GPLed software.

    I don't know that this is the ultimate expression of a government supporting free software as a public good, but it's certainly an area in which you'll find examples of government-funded free software that's designed to promote public health and/or basic science.
  • Apparently Australia is paving the way here. eVACS [act.gov.au], as I learned from another poster, is open-source and was used in the Australian Capital Territory elections in 2001. I think a great start would be to have some federal or state IT workers adapt it for use here in the states, and test it out in small-scale elections. Maybe by 2008 we'll be able to vote via the web, and we'll see lots more voter turnout and it'll be impossible to rig the election. A guy can dream...
  • by jetkust ( 596906 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @05:06PM (#6649899)
    So who will benifit from the funding other than open source developers? This will not provide any new software to the public. The same software will be availiable, only more developers will get paid for it.
  • (or any other word(s) that means Free Software/Open Source, etc)

    I don't understand how the poster of this article goes off and talks about how the police and fire deptartments all started and then compares it to FS. Why? Because these were public services that were needed by the people for their own good and for the better of the country and the society. This wasn't something that needed competition to stay alive. At this point it is a basic need. And it was then too, we just didn't realize it.

    FS is NOT a
  • "The Business of America is Business."
    - Calvin Coolidge, POTUS

    Corporation: An ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility.
    - Ambrose Bierce, rapscallion

    "I understand small business growth. I was one."
    - George W. Bush, sound biter

  • by madro ( 221107 ) * on Friday August 08, 2003 @05:07PM (#6649926)
    There are goods and services provided by the government and there are public goods. There's some overlap between the two, but in terms of market-based economics, there's a limited definition of a public good (from http://www.bized.ac.uk/stafsup/exams/revec_mfail.h tm)
    A pure public good is a good or service which is consumed by everyone and from which no-one can be excluded, defence is a good example. It has two characteristics, non-rivalry i.e. one person's consumption of the good does not reduce the amount available for someone else and non-excludability i.e. no-one can be excluded from consumption of the good.

    This brings in the problem of free riders, which is someone who consumes a good or service without paying for it. This problem arises with public goods because why should one person pay when everybody else will contribute to the cost. If everyone took this attitude the good would not be provided hence the need for government intervention.

    Software certainly meets the non-rivalry requirement, but non-excludability is not met given the current legal atmosphere concerning the concept of intellectual property.

    That said, there are cases where introducing excludability means that what used to be public goods can now be provided through market mechanisms: toll roads are not public goods, but universally accessible roads are. Government intervention is required to provide the latter, but (ideally) not the former. The same can be said for private security forces as a replacement for police. You could even slap gates around libraries so that only those who pay can gain access. The debate then turns to what resources *should* have non-excludability -- what goods and services should any person be able to expect from their government?

    Outside that debate, you cannot eliminate non-excludability from certain items: national defense and global climate quality come to mind.
  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @05:09PM (#6649945)
    If you think working a "day job" at an "big dumb stupid corporation" is oppressive...

    If you think having to fill out forms to requisition a 256M stick of RAM from the IT Department is oppressive...

    If you think having to fill out more forms and get them signed by your manager, the IT manager, and the Purchasing Department's manager, and then wait two days for Purchasing to order the RAM is unproductive and oppressive...

    If you think having to fill out even more forms the next week when you find that the fuckup in Purchasing bought two sticks 256M of PC133 SDRAM (or worse, one stick of 512M DDR instead of two sticks of 256M DDR for your dual-channel workstation), because "You wanted memory, and we found that PC133 was cheaper"... is assinine, counterproductive, and oppressive...

    ...then you, yes, you, have the adventure of a lifetime when it comes to filling out the forms and signing the declarations and attestations associated with applying for a government grant to develop a web browser, e-mail client, spam filter, office suite, regular expression parser, scripting language, or even /bin/true!

    NOTICE: As a condition of receiving a grant under the Patriots' Freedom Software Allowance Act, I affirm, under penalty of perjury that Software developed under the Patriots' Freedom License will in no way be used to transfer data by Specially Designated Nationals, nor any data in violation of the PATRIOT Act, nor will it be used by any third party to facilitate violations of the Communications Decency Act. Software will not be made available to Migrant Employees of any Railroad as per the Railroad Workers' Protection Act of 1966, except such Migrant Employees of Railroads covered under the Railroad Pensioners' Guarantee Act of 1968 (amended 1972), and will comply with all other ordinances and conditions of local, state, and Federal law, subject to amendment.

    Friday Afternoon Paradox: Free Software is a Public Good, but the instant it becomes a Public Goods, it ceases to be Free Software.

  • by Knife_Edge ( 582068 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @05:12PM (#6649984)
    I have no problem with the government sponsoring free software development, but if they do so, they should use a license that allows anyone and everyone to benefit from the software. That means a BSD style license versus a GPL license.

    The GPL is probably the reason that the government would be unable to just take the reigns of free software funding, like they took over the operation of libraries. Simply because it is counterproductive for the government, which has effectively unlimited resources, to compete with commercial entities. Nobody wins in that situation, not the gov't, not the companies, and not the consumer. GPL code cannot be used commercially in a conventional sense, and if the government were to put serious efforts behind it, they could wind up destroying a lot of commercial enterprises, not to mention wasting taxpayer dollars for a while as they duplicate a service which is already being provided to the public. Eventually, once commercial developers go under, they would just be providing the same service more expensively (government is generally less efficient than private enterprise).

    Developers who use the GPL have already decided that their software should not be a public good in the sense that libraries are (in that anyone could go to a library, read books on a subject, and then resell what they learned for money). Even though the knowledge to understand GPL code might be expensive to get, and difficult to package in a useful way, they insist that anyone should be able to redistribute such an effort, for free, in exchange only for recognition for the developer. This effectively makes knowledge easy to exchange, but at a cost of making it worthless, unsellable.

    A BSD license on goverment developed code might not be much better initially, as what could result would be the government doing work for commercial companies for free (from their point of view), while they continue to charge comparable prices for their work of packaging the software. Eventually, though, prices would be driven down, as the software itself became a commodity, and the knowledge of how to package it was the only way companies could compete. This would be software as a public good, in a general sense. Companies like the initial consequence of this scenario, and fear the second, so they want to make sure that things stay in the first stage, where the government is doing a certain amount of work for them, without eating their lunch.

    I think if the government were to step in and make certain kinds of software (starting with the most often used pieces of code, the OS) a commodity, it could have very positive results for society. On the other hand, open source developement is already going on, so maybe they don't need to be involved, except for preserving the legal conditions that allows this to happen.
  • Answer: No (Score:4, Insightful)

    by isa-kuruption ( 317695 ) <kuruption@kurupti o n . net> on Friday August 08, 2003 @05:12PM (#6649989) Homepage
    In addition to the current, community-based mechanisms in which free software is developed, wouldn't it be beneficial to have dedicated groups of professional free software developers, paid by national governments to serve the overall interests of society?

    The "mechanisms" you mention are "services" (libraries, police, and fire). The government provides these for the good of all people

    What you want is a "product" and not a "service". What you're asking for is for the government to provide free every product which does "good for the public". This would include, soap, laundry detergent, deoderant (heh), cars, bikes, clothes, scissors, pens, pencils, paper, toilet paper, paper clips, computers, books, magazines (aka toilet paper), etc etc (you get my point).

    So what you're asking for is the government to determine what "product" is for the public good, subsidize it to limit business opprotunities to provide individuals who are looking to earn a living and profit from their work. Not to mention stock holders who make money on the profits made by companies who sell these products.

    Doing this would not only affect the general moral of workers who provide such services, but will put thousands of people out of work while at the same time increasing our taxes to figures that I don't even want to imagine.

    Generally, bad idea. Period. Besides, this "public good" is only to be for the public good of about 1/4 the US population.

    Oh and by the way, most towns in the U.S. still have volunteer services where very little money is provided by the town.

    • Re:Answer: No (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TheFrood ( 163934 )
      What you want is a "product" and not a "service". What you're asking for is for the government to provide free every product which does "good for the public". This would include, soap, laundry detergent, deoderant (heh), cars, bikes, clothes, scissors, pens, pencils, paper, toilet paper, paper clips, computers, books, magazines (aka toilet paper), etc etc (you get my point).

      No, the question is asking whether the government should fund the development of software that's freely available for the public good
  • China (Score:3, Interesting)

    by overshoot ( 39700 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @05:12PM (#6649992)
    Taiwan and the ROC have entered into a joint development of software libre, notably Chinese-localized Linux software.

    Me, I think Bill Gates should get the Nobel Peace Prize for bringing them together.

    • Re:China (Score:3, Informative)

      by jratcliffe ( 208809 )
      Ummm...Taiwan IS the ROC (Republic of China). Mainland China is the PRC (People's Republic of China). If you're referring to this story [kuro5hin.org], then there's no int'l cooperation involved, it's purely an effort of Taiwan (aka the ROC) - the PRC has nothing to do with it.
  • First off: The government should subsidize Free Software [fsf.org] not open source software as a whole, if it subsidizes anything.

    Second: I don't think that the governemt should have any direct control over Free Software or the manufacture therof. Police and fire departments, as well as schools and other public institutions, are completely government controlled. I don't want the government to be able to make arbitrary rules for the code that I want to write as Free Software, which could feasibly happen if the g

  • And long before it became fashionable, too. Perhaps the first government sponsored project under the Free Software moniker was when the USAF awarded a contract to NYU to create a compiler to assist the Ada 9x standardization process, and required that it be placed under the GNU GPL (at least, it's the first one noted here [conecta.it]). The commercial publishers of Ada compilers made what should now be a familiar complaint - that it was unfair for the government to fund a product which would compete with, and reduce
  • Libraries, Police, Firefighters, etc are supported by their local community and in turn provide support to their community. Software could benefit everyone in the world and so short sighted politicians would see it as our government subsidizing work that other governments will benefit from. You don't just give it to your citizens, you give it to the world.

    Why should we pay for other countries to have better software. They can buy from our companies and provide jobs and tax money to our gov.

    I'm all for
  • -1 Off-Topic

    An excellent example is the organization of the police force, libraries and fire department in colonial Philadelphia, in which these services became established in a very grassroots manner, then gradually gained acceptance as something that the state should provide.

    As a director of one of the oldest fire departments in the Philadelphia area (Eagle Fire Company - 1822), I can tell you that it is not such a great analogy. Started as a group of volunteers, and it still is. As a matter of fa
  • by Dr. Transparent ( 77005 ) * on Friday August 08, 2003 @05:21PM (#6650079) Homepage Journal
    New! Public Service Software (PSS)

    The Government of the United States of America would like to announce that it has established a Department of Software (DoS). The DoS will work to develop software for the people. What will this mean for you, the American people? Here are some highlights:

    • Software Developers provided with unlimited supply of non-fat snacks and low-sodium Soda Pop at no cost to Developers
    • All software to be developed on new Government Operating system: GLOSS (Government Licensed Open Software System). Because GLOSS is still in development, no software can be developed at this time. Estimated time of development is 10 years. Cost: only $100M per development month! What a bargain!
    • All development will take place at new DoS headquarters in DC. Headquarters building is now beneath the washington monument, which has been wired with 802.11g antenna to provide free internet access for all of DC.
    • All development will take place using the new Free United Development (FUD) language. This language combines all languages into one. A true celebration of language diversity. It's procedural, modal, object-oriented, iterative, and recursive all at the same time!
    • To protect the environment the DoS developers will use new state-of-the-art environmentally friendly computers. The keyboards are a bamboo-syrup composite, and the processors are made entirely of nitrogen, cooled to a solid. To further protect the environment no upgrades will be allowed until environmental impact studies can take place
    • New development at DoS will use the new ISO standard Government Unlimited Model (GUM). The GUM incorporates the opinions and psychological evaluations of each developer to create a project that everyone will enjoy working on, but will not be offended by. Because of their controversial nature, the following areas will be considered "off limits" to DoS programmers: any development for the military, any development for organizations who sell, lease, rent, or offer for free any object that might possibly contain a religious quote or a quote by any founding father of America, anything that can "play mp3s".
    • Also, the DoS will be instituing a strict policy of comment appropriateness. All developer comments will be checked for offensive words or slogans. The following are strictly off-limits:
      • Rush Limbaugh
      • Pro life
      • Christian
      • Fox News
      • Matt Drudge
      • Republican
      • Free Enterprise
      • Corporation
      • Opportunity
      • Liberty
      • Justice
      • Conservative
    • Finally, the DoS will adhere to strict OSHA standards: only 500 words may be typed before a mandatory 5 minute break must be taken. Any more typing that this may require a pay raise and/or paid leave.
    • The Government is exicted to be your new provider of public software! If you have a piece of software you want written, contact a local lobbiest or special interest group. Others need not submit applications.

    • by curunir ( 98273 ) * on Friday August 08, 2003 @06:09PM (#6650567) Homepage Journal
      In response to the announcement of the creation of the Dept of Software (DoS), Microsoft announced that it would start a new program to sell it's software at half of normal price to better compete with the free software the DoS would be offering.

      Microsoft believes "Operation Half-Priced Software" (OS/2, for short) will make its software more competitively priced. CEO Steve Ballmer was quoted as saying, "We belive that OS/2 software is superior to DoS software and we think users will be willing to pay a premium for it."

      /me *ducks* (and appologizes profusely :-)
  • Yes (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sql*kitten ( 1359 ) * on Friday August 08, 2003 @05:23PM (#6650108)
    Have any national governments taken measures to subsidize open source projects?

    Yes, who do you think paid for the earliest work on Linux? The Finnish government, of course! Like in many European countries, the taxpayer gives grants to students, and that's most likely what Linus lived on.
  • NO NO NO! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Pharmboy ( 216950 )
    We do NOT need government paid for programmers providing "free software" for the masses. I found this idea so shocking and obvious, I can't believe it was posted to begin with. This is the perfect example of communism, and wrought with the same problems.

    1. OSS developers develop what they like, not what they get paid for. Often, they are able to make money supporting what they give away for free, or by cross licensing, or other development. This is the why OSS generates good software, the developers d
  • sure (Score:3, Insightful)

    by erikdotla ( 609033 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @05:33PM (#6650204)
    If I can quit my job, work on free software, and go down to the local welfare office and fill out "free software developer" and get a fat check, then our society will have made some progress.

    Seriously though, such a program would require a careful balance between funding OSS and not killing our technology economy. We live in a capitalist society, and if our government takes action that hurts businesses that are considered to be doing an "OK" job (MS) then it seems a little contradictory to capitalism.

    Funding and providing Fire Departments is different because not only are these Public Good, they determined that they are necessary for healthy living (not dying.) Software is nowhere near this level of importance to most people. The government has no motivation to stop software businesses from doing what they do. If the government needs something (like TCP/IP) then they commission it and it gets made.
  • by BierGuzzl ( 92635 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @05:35PM (#6650221)
    The idea that free software be provided by or developed by national governments is one that makes me wary of what amount of control the government can excercise. He who pays the piper calls the tune -- and free software is much more than just adhering to a software license. Things like publicly available bug databases seem to be the first thing to disappear when large dollar figures become involved.

    Much like the church is best off separated from the state, so the free software "movement", as a philosophy, cannot survive if institutionalized as a part of government. Free software organizations already get government and corporate grants, support and development through educational institutions, and widespread acceptance from the technical community, all without having a "Department of Public Software"
  • by theMightyE ( 579317 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @05:37PM (#6650239)
    I'm not so sure this would be a good idea as stated. One of the things that makes open source work as well as it does is that it is started by someone who has the proverbial 'itch' that needs to be scratched, meaning that they wish they had a particular bit of software and so head out to create it themselves. If enough other folks share the same 'itch' they start helping out with testing, adding new features, documentation, etc. The people who have the commitment and skill to make the biggest difference rise to the top and good software is made.

    Now imagine a scenario where there is governmnet funding. Out of work programmers, people who took a semester of pascal in highschool and are now looking for cash, etc., will go looking for projects to do to get in on the funding chuckwagon rather than responding to an existing need. Other hangers-on will attempt to join, not because they know the subject well or feel the same need to create a particular bit of software, but because they want in on the $$$. Arguments over which code to include would be biased by the author's desire to prove to the funding source that they had added the most lines of code, and not on technical merrit. Overall, it would become the opposite of what a good open source project should be.

  • by istartedi ( 132515 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @05:46PM (#6650315) Journal

    First, it depends on whether or not *all* the taxpayers get to use the software. That means Public Domain or BSD, not GPL. As much as you might love the GPL, you can't deny it's unfair for those who follow the software ownership business model to be forced to pay taxes so that their business can be undermined. A PD or BSD release puts both GPL'd and proprietary projects on an even footing.

    Second, it depends on whether or not the market is already providing the service. For example, a new government *NIX-based OS is hardly needed, what with all the companies producing such things in a seemingly endless variety. This applies for anything, not just software. The government should only provide a service when the market fails to provide the service, and the services is deemed necessary to the public good.

    That said, the question is moot anyway. The government already sponsors free software. Google around and you'll see that grants specify that copyrighted material produced by grant recipients is "retained by the grantee, but must be published in a manner that allows others to benefit from the research" or something to that effect.

    In the past, people slapped "academic use only" clauses on their software. Lately, they've been GPL'ing is a step in the right direction, but not quite all the way to PD/BSD.

    It's understandable that researchers want to retain their rights, but when it comes to selling licenses under something other than GPL or academic use, there is a culture of $call pricing which really sucks.

    You know $call pricing. That's where the cost of licensing is to call the researcher and negotiate some horrendous deal. Typicly, only corporations are invited into such a deal. A price schedule is never published. It's like dealing with embedded board manufacturers. Yuck.

    I can understand why they want grantees to retain rights, but they should require the publication of a price schedule for non-GPL usage.

    Now, if grantees had to PD or BSD their work, what would happen? There might be fewer grant applicants, which could be perceived as a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it. It's good if you're swinging the budget axe, and bad if you think there should be lots of research. However, with fewer grantees you could pay more to each grantee to offset the fact that they have less control over their work.

    It would be interesting to see how many grantees are actually selling their work anyway. I bet a lot of stuff is just sitting there at Universities, getting stale, because it was easier for people to roll their own than deal with $call pricing. Either that, or the researchers left academe and went to work for industry. That's a waste, and obviously not a public good.

    So. Is Free Software a Public Good? It depends.

  • by forgoil ( 104808 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @10:41PM (#6652304) Homepage
    The smart goverments will look upon the dumb goverments spending money on free software, and then just use it. Thank you very much. Why spend money on software which your competitors can use with 0 research and development cost?

    Think about it.
  • by MegaFur ( 79453 ) <wyrd0@@@komy...zzn...com> on Saturday August 09, 2003 @01:38AM (#6653042) Journal

    (Warning: the following post is very glib (but not really funny). It doesn't take itself too seriously so you shouldn't either.)

    Proprietary software sucks. Don't take my word for it. Just read the article [slashdot.org].

    I mean, after all--if the proprietary software is already buggy, if the companies charge for the tech support as well, then what is the company really providing for the user? Clever marketing? Ease of aquisition of software (can be downloaded or purchased from a store)? Easy installation?

    Okay, that's it guys. If the proprietary software really does suck that much, then all the Open Source community needs to do is (somehow) run a huge marketing campain and make the auto-installers work better. The tech support might suck, and the software might be full of bugs, but that's not any different from commercial software. (at least according to that one, rather short, CNN article) The only remaining barriers are lack of knowelge from the general public and difficulties with installation.

  • German Government (Score:3, Informative)

    by kris ( 824 ) <kris-slashdot@koehntopp.de> on Saturday August 09, 2003 @05:01AM (#6653507) Homepage
    The German government has paid for a number of applications that have been implemented as GPLed software products. In particular, there have been several high profile projects such as Sphinx (gpg and kmail integration) and kroupware (now transforming into kolab and kontact).

    But there is a lot of OSS activity at lower levels, for example the Java Anon Proxy (JAP) project as a joint venture between Dresden University and the privacy commissioner of Land Schleswig-Holstein, several School Linux Projects, a large scale Linux deployment for schools around the city of Moers (serving 250.000 users), and many more projects at a similar level.

    In studies on Open Source Development, many European countries come out "on top", that is the number of developers from European countries is higher than it should be according to their proportional headcount. Such Government subsidized OSS projects and deployments are a strong factor, creating a climate where OSS can flourish and produce many good projects and products.

What this country needs is a good five cent ANYTHING!