In December, the Italian government issued final rules implementing a change to procurement law that now requires all public administrations in the country to first consider re-used or free software before committing to proprietary licenses. Importantly, the new rules include an enforcement mechanism, which can, at least in theory, annul decisions that do not follow these procedures.
Free Software Foundation Europe offers a succinct explanation of the changes in this press release: Italy puts Free Software first in public sector. Further details on the process and specifics of the changes leading up to their final approval can be found in an article on Opensource.com by Guglielmo Troiano, a commercial lawyer in Italy: Free software and comparative evaluation in the Italian Public Administration.
Good stuff, right? Well, as we’ve seen in the past, good laws and good intentions do not always lead to good outcomes. The European Commission admitted as much last year when they issued a Guide for procurement of standards-based ICT—Elements of Good Practice, which is designed to help public administrations in Europe avoid being locked-in to rigid, closed, and costly ICT systems. In essence, the European Commission is acknowledging that procurement rules and even fiscal self-interest (in the form of total cost of ownership savings from procurement of open, standards-based ICT) are not enough to change long-ingrained behavior. Education and persistence are needed too.
The new Italian procurement rules are a great tool. How effectively this tool is used will likely be determined by education and persistent scrutiny of open source advocates.