Thursday, August 24, 2006

Governments' role in open source

Posted by Dana Blankenhorn @ 9:40 am
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The decision by Croatia to endorse open source leads to this question. (I assume Hrvatska is Croatia in Croatian.)

What should government's role be in open source?

I know what many of you will say. None. Government's role in a capitalist society is to promote private enterprise, period.

Maybe. But to me that's a theological argument, one totally at odds with American history. From canals to railroads to highways to the Internet itself, the U.S. government has always funded public works, and endorsed policies aimed at improving conditions for certain industries over others.

Governments outside the U.S. are increasingly adopting policies that support open source. They have several reasons. They want to save money. But they also want to encourage local developers, and starting from an open source base means they start from a higher level of complexity than if they were building from scratch.

There is nothing Americans can do to change this. The open source genie is out of the bottle. The Internet is out of its Pandora Box. (Insert your own metaphor here.)

The problem is that, in the past, when American industries were threatened by foreign competition, America generally chose the worst possible policies to support them. Mainly we subsidized incumbents, the outfits with the biggest lobbying arms, rather than doing all we could to encourage entrepreneurship.

Now American software leadership is under threat, with a business model Americans had a big hand in creating. The first state to back open source, Massachusetts, is now backing away from that commitment, in favor of the proprietary model.

So what happens now?