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Research priorities regarding open source software and effects on the macroeconomy
Mark Cathcart, IBM UK

Governments play two roles in the open source world. They are users of open source software, such as Linux, Apache or other solutions. However, they also are policy makers tasked with considering laws, regulations and programmes that could affect the future of the open source movement.

The growth in government use of open source software has been well documented. It seems that virtually every governments around the world, irrespective of level of development, haves begun to deploy open source software as a tool in public administration.

Several governments, in fact, have expressly stated their intention to seek open source solutions where practical in public sector procurements. Germany, France and the United Kingdom are just a fewtwo examples. Others governments are exploiting open source software on an equally aggressive, if more ad hoc basis. And of course, many governments have funded research and development projects using open source models and solutions.

Governments’ use of open source software is driven by the same factors that motivate most commercial users, including cost, application portability, reliability, openness and choice. Open source software can also play a role in encouraging interoperability among e-government applications.

What, if any actions, governments should take in their role as policy maker, however, is only beginning to receive examination.

One area that appear to require specific focus is how governments can harness the open source phenomena to create opportunities for their citizens in the areas of economic development, creation of national ICT strategies or education. We are only beginning to reflect on the macroeconomic implications of the growth of open source software in the ICT sector and in broader regional or national economies.

An essential role of governments, whether in industrialiszed, developed nations or in developing nations, is providing for the economic security of citizens. Historically, governments have invested heavily in ensuring their citizens and domestic industries have a role to play in the global ICT industry because ICT is a major enabler of increased productivity and wealth creation.

Open source technology development, which is characteriszed by openness, inclusiveness, technical merit and low barrier to entry appears to provide a platform upon which governments and their citizens could build national ICT strategies and economic development programmes. The popularity of open source software, and Linux in particular, among university students, also presents a built-in opportunity upon which to build.

The open source development model would benefit from research into the economic implications that would enable enhanced economic opportunity for individuals, demonstrate how open source and proprietary models coexist for software development and what government actions (e.g. training, development assistance or R&D) would create the greatest “public good.”