France is the latest government to move from open source-friendly to open source-active, to paraphrase the European Commission's aspirational reference to Cloud Computing.
In late September, French Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, signed a guideline (in French here and a rough translation here) urging the country's public administrations to not only make a thorough and systematic review of free alternatives when building and revising ICT infrastructure and applications, but also to use the savings realized by using OSS to develop expertise and engage upstream communities.
The guidance document, which went out to all French government administrations, first provides a tutorial on the development, use, and efficacy of the free software or open source model. It then makes an effort to describe the specific conditions in public administrations where the use of free or open source software is recommended. For example, when a software program or product is supported by a strong and vibrant community (the report specifically cites JBoss and Firefox) or when the deployment of software covers a large infrastructure, where significant savings can be realized.
And significant savings are definitely anticipated. The document states that deploying free software instead of paying for proprietary licenses can reduce the cost by a factor greater than ten. The Prime Minister's guidance goes on to urge government agencies, which, heretofore, had wide discretion on what strategies to pursue, to reinvest between 5 percent and 10 percent of the money they save through not paying for proprietary software licenses, spending it instead on contributing to the development of the free software. This investment could come in several forms, from funding research and conferences to dedicating staff time to upstream projects.
This is great, of course, and comes on the heels of recent White House activity, which seeks to connect citizen developers with the tools they need to unlock government data and directly participate in the U.S. democracy. Other governments, to one degree or another, are pursuing similar efforts. Strong government endorsement of OSS has historically signaled a spreading and heightened awareness by policymakers of the value of open source and open innovation.
Previously, we've seen government policies that endorse and encourage the use of open source. As France and the U.S. demonstrate, we are now seeing a shift to policies that encourage the development of open source and investment in open source communities. This is a dramatic step that represents a greater understanding of and commitment to open source on the part of governments.