Why not go for 100% OSS Adoption?
By mandating a procurement preference for Open Source Software (OSS), the Malaysian Government IT and Internet Committee (GITIC) is clearly at the forefront in the world’s growing official support for the Penguin and its allies. Significantly, GITIC’s bold procurement policy has teeth. Near-term targets for government purchases call for 60% of new servers, 30% of office infrastructure and 20% of school labs to make the switch by next year!
Doubtlessly, the farsighted leaders of GITIC have perfectly practical reasons for permitting less than total and immediate adoption of Linux and OSS. But without intending any disrespect for GITIC, we must ask the question, “why compromise on OSS at all?” Here’s a fearless and unrepentant promotion for 100% OSS adoption.
The WTO Play
Just for argument’s sake, let’s estimate that the hold of OSS on the Malaysian economy is approximately 5%. This leaves a healthy 95% for proprietary software. Apparent ubiquity from a single vendor is why proprietary software has been called a “monoculture”. But with Malaysia’s 63% piracy rate, as estimated by the BSA in 2003, the “real” market share of legitimate monoculture products drops to around 35%. Also note that the BSA estimates Malaysian piracy costs the monoculture about USD $129M per year.
Therefore, the corrected ranking of software vendors in Malaysia is: Pirates - 59%, Monoculture - 35% and Penguin-culture - 5%.
The Malaysian government’s master plan for OSS states that, everything else being equal, preference will be given to OSS solutions. The problem, however, is that the master plan also presumes that the procurement of proprietary solutions may frequently offer more advantages than disadvantages. But let’s look at one big disadvantage of continuing down the path of proprietary software procurements. Consider that, if the OSS target percentages are actually followed, then the allowances made for obtaining 40%, 70% or even 80% proprietary solutions across procurement categories will continue indirectly to pump up the attractiveness of proprietary products to the pirates who already control 59% of the software market. The only sure way to starve the pirates is to eliminate the value of what they steal. China has understood this clearly in it’s approach to satisfying the anti-piracy goals of the WTO by establishing its own strong Penguin preferences. In Malaysia, a complete and immediate halt to the procurement of proprietary software in government programs also would eliminate the incentive to use additional pirated copies in these same programs. If practiced in both official and civil society, 100% OSS adoption would completely solve Malaysia’s, and Microsoft’s, piracy problems. Forever.
There are more benefits as well. Let’s now make the simplifying assumption that support and services for infrastructure based on either OSS or proprietary solutions are non-zero but also are essentially equal. Then, if Malaysia chooses OSS everywhere, not just in government, we can calculate from the BSA piracy loss studies that the country could save as much as USD $204M (the 2003 estimate of the cost of 63% pirated licenses plus 37% purchased licenses). Revenues of this scale - almost $1B when adjusted for purchasing power parity - can provide a large economic incentive to the Malaysian government to jump start the savings process. A developing economy surely needs this kind of money.
So governments everywhere, especially those in developing economies, should mandate a preference for OSS in procurements that embraces target adoption rates of 100%. As shocking as this proposition may be to some, it strengthens the government’s WTO compliance and provides precious hard currency saved from unneeded licenses. Piracy would be gravely wounded and eventually could be eliminated as entire economies free themselves from the shackles of proprietary software. The only down-side is that today’s top software practitioners may have to find new ways to make money from services and support instead of monopoly lock-in.