[Reader-list] Croatian government adopts open source software policy

Yogesh Girdhar machine at zerosofzeta.com
Wed Aug 23 14:26:33 IST 2006

Title 	   	Croatian government adopts open source software policy
Date 	   	2006.08.22 16:01
Author 	   	Koen Vervloesem

Last month the Croatian government adopted an open source software
policy and issued guidelines for developing and using open source
software in the government institutions. The Croatian government is
concerned that proprietary software leads to too much dependence on
the software suppliers. Open source software will make the
government's work more transparent, according to the government's
document, entitled "Open Source Software Policy."

The document includes the following guidelines:

    * Government institutions will choose and/or develop open source
solutions as much as possible, instead of using closed source
    * The government will support development of closed source
solutions that use open standards for protocols and file formats, and
which are developed in Croatia.
    * The government will support the use of open source programs and
open standards outside of its institutions.
    * The government will support the use of open source solutions in
educational institutions; both closed and open source solutions will
be equally presented to students.

Domagoj Juricic, deputy state secretary at the Central State
Administrative Office for e-Croatia and the leader of this project,
explains what made the government publish the policy: "The use of
information technology in government administration bodies is
increasingly becoming important. So far, most of the software we use
is proprietary software, so we cannot modify or complement it, or link
software from different vendors. These software products impose rigid
commercial conditions of use and limit our possibilities. In this way,
government administration bodies may be led into a dependent position
on the supplier of the software. This could lead to closed information
systems, which make the success and efficiency of our eAdministration
project more difficult.

"This is a policy document," Juricic emphasizes, "which means that the
Croatian government has recognised the importance of market
alternatives considering the platforms, tools, and other solutions
that could help us build a qualitative e-society. As in other
political or economic examples, our government should have an opinion
on something that is rising on the market and that is interesting from
the point of building a domestic ICT market. The Croatian government
has never discriminated against any platform, but never before we have
put that as a political statement, and that's what this policy is all
about. This is our first public document that mentions the use of open
source software, and it presents some kind of recommendation to our
administrative bodies. The policy is not about replacing something, it
is about treating things equally."

Inspired by the EU

The Croatian guidelines are inspired by activities of the European
Union in the same spirit. The European Commission Action Plan 2000 had
already established a set of goals for the development of a European
information society. Stimulating the use of open source software in
the public sector and the development of an electronic government
administration were the two main goals. "The dependence on a supplier
of proprietary software has been identified as one of the most
significant obstacles for the new EU i2010 programme, entitled 'A
European Information Society for growth and employment,'" Juricic
says. "The same obstacle has been pointed out as the reason for
slowing down market competition in the information and communications
sector. Therefore, it has been established that open source software
and open standards must be built into the EU information and
communications market."

Croatia applied for membership of the European Union in 2003, and the
European Council granted it candidate country status in 2004. This
could be one of the reasons Croatia wants to follow the European
guidelines for the information society. In late 2003, the government
of Croatia adopted the eCroatia 2007 programme, in accordance with the
EU recommendations. The main goals of the programme are to provide the
citizens and firms of the country with timely information and to
become a transparent and efficient service. "In order to achieve this
task," Juricic says, "we have to use open standards and open source
software that will enable interoperability of computer systems in
different administration fields."

Interoperability, transparency, and money

"The state administration bodies create and exchange a lot of
electronic documents," Juricic says. "There is a great danger that
documents cannot be opened and presented in readable form after a
certain time, because we don't have the licence anymore of the
proprietary software, or the vendor can seize support of the old types
of documents. Therefore we require the state administration bodies to
use open standards for creating electronic documents."

One of the key factors in the reform of the Croatian government's
administration is transparency. "The public has the right to have full
insight into operations of state administration bodies, including the
computer software. Proprietary software providing services to the
citizens reduces the transparency of the government."

It's also about money, Juricic says. "Because of the dependence on a
small number of proprietary software vendors, the competition on the
domestic information and communications services market is reduced,
while the administration bodies often do not have sufficient funds.
Therefore, we will obligate principles of openness and freedom of use
for the procurement of public information services. This will direct
the administration bodies towards open source software and open
standards. Open source software enables more rational distribution of
state budget funds, because it creates the environment in which
domestic suppliers and manufacturers may be more actively involved in
any phase of the development, maintenance, and use of the systems.
This will also reduce the total public expenses of providing services
to the citizens, thereby managing the taxpayers' money economically."

These guidelines are in sharp contrast with the present situation. As
a result of having no clearly established guidelines for procurement
and use of software in state administration bodies, IT experts of the
different bodies procure software which, in their opinion, is best
suited to their requirements. This is often proprietary software,
which makes modifying the software difficult, and often impossible.
Mostly, the administration bodies keep using the same software because
of existing business relations.

With the new guideline, the Croatian government will to the greatest
possible extent avoid the use of software that makes connecting with
other software or date exchange between different information systems
impossible. In case this is not possible because of already
operational proprietary software, Juricic says, "All subsequent
upgrading and modifications have to be based on open source software
and open standards."

Vlatko Kosturjak, president of the Croatian Linux User Group (Hrvatska
Udruga Linux Korisnika), calls the guidelines "a pretty good start for
a quicker adoption of open source software and open standards in
Croatia. In the past, the government IT bodies have to take risks
themselves if they want to use open source software. With the open
source software policy, even the more conservative IT departments will
feel safe now implementing open source software."

If the Croatian government develops its own software, it will to the
greatest possible extent create software based on open standards. It
will also promote development of open source software and the
development of proprietary software based on open standards. It will
promote the use of open source software and open standards outside the
state administration bodies: in the public sector, the economy, and
public services. And it will promote translation into Croatian of open
source software.

The Croatian government will also promote the development of course
materials to educate civil servants in the area of open source
software and open standards. It will promote integrating the knowledge
of open source software into educational programmes. Open source and
proprietary software will be presented equally in order to prepare the
younger generations for independent decision-making.

The future

It's still unclear what the practical consequences of the policy will
be. "There are still many questions to be answered," Juricic admits.
"We will see what this policy will bring to us in real life. For the
moment, it is important to declare that we're really open for all
solutions which are secure, interoperable, and cost-effective. Our
next step will be forming a list of ICT standards to use."

Kosturjak warns against euphoria with the policy. "Although the
Croatian open source community is very positive about the open source
software policy, we'll see how serious the Croatian government is when
the next step comes: the implementation of the policy. This will not
be easy, as there are obvious practical problems. For example, most of
the government bodies have now proprietary technologies together with
proprietary file formats implemented in their IT systems. Migration to
open standards and open source software can be technically difficult
and painful. From the non-technical point of view, this is also a
political and financial issue. We (the open source advocates) hope
that the Croatian government will have the strength to actually
implement the open source policy. Until that moment, the policy is
just like an unsent letter."

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