Anyway, the news reminded me of the great reply sent by Dr. Edgar
Villanueva, congressman in Peru at the time, to Microsoft as a reply
to Microsofts attack on his proposal regarding the use of free software
in the public sector in Peru. As the text was not available from a
few of the URLs where it used to be available, I copy it here from
source to ensure it is available also in the future. Some
background information about that story is available in
an article from
Linux Journal in 2002.
Lima, 8th of April, 2002
To: Señor JUAN ALBERTO GONZÁLEZ
General Manager of Microsoft Perú
First of all, I thank you for your letter of March 25, 2002 in which you state the official position of Microsoft relative to Bill Number 1609, Free Software in Public Administration, which is indubitably inspired by the desire for Peru to find a suitable place in the global technological context. In the same spirit, and convinced that we will find the best solutions through an exchange of clear and open ideas, I will take this opportunity to reply to the commentaries included in your letter.
While acknowledging that opinions such as yours constitute a significant contribution, it would have been even more worthwhile for me if, rather than formulating objections of a general nature (which we will analyze in detail later) you had gathered solid arguments for the advantages that proprietary software could bring to the Peruvian State, and to its citizens in general, since this would have allowed a more enlightening exchange in respect of each of our positions.
With the aim of creating an orderly debate, we will assume that what you call "open source software" is what the Bill defines as "free software", since there exists software for which the source code is distributed together with the program, but which does not fall within the definition established by the Bill; and that what you call "commercial software" is what the Bill defines as "proprietary" or "unfree", given that there exists free software which is sold in the market for a price like any other good or service.
It is also necessary to make it clear that the aim of the Bill we are discussing is not directly related to the amount of direct savings that can by made by using free software in state institutions. That is in any case a marginal aggregate value, but in no way is it the chief focus of the Bill. The basic principles which inspire the Bill are linked to the basic guarantees of a state of law, such as:
- Free access to public information by the citizen.
- Permanence of public data.
- Security of the State and citizens.
To guarantee the free access of citizens to public information, it is indispensable that the encoding of data is not tied to a single provider. The use of standard and open formats gives a guarantee of this free access, if necessary through the creation of compatible free software.
To guarantee the permanence of public data, it is necessary that the usability and maintenance of the software does not depend on the goodwill of the suppliers, or on the monopoly conditions imposed by them. For this reason the State needs systems the development of which can be guaranteed due to the availability of the source code.
To guarantee national security or the security of the State, it is indispensable to be able to rely on systems without elements which allow control from a distance or the undesired transmission of information to third parties. Systems with source code freely accessible to the public are required to allow their inspection by the State itself, by the citizens, and by a large number of independent experts throughout the world. Our proposal brings further security, since the knowledge of the source code will eliminate the growing number of programs with *spy code*.
In the same way, our proposal strengthens the security of the citizens, both in their role as legitimate owners of information managed by the state, and in their role as consumers. In this second case, by allowing the growth of a widespread availability of free software not containing *spy code* able to put at risk privacy and individual freedoms.
In this sense, the Bill is limited to establishing the conditions under which the state bodies will obtain software in the future, that is, in a way compatible with these basic principles.
From reading the Bill it will be clear that once passed:the law does not forbid the production of proprietary software
the law does not forbid the sale of proprietary software
the law does not specify which concrete software to use
the law does not dictate the supplier from whom software will be bought
the law does not limit the terms under which a software product can be licensed.
What the Bill does express clearly, is that, for software to be acceptable for the state it is not enough that it is technically capable of fulfilling a task, but that further the contractual conditions must satisfy a series of requirements regarding the license, without which the State cannot guarantee the citizen adequate processing of his data, watching over its integrity, confidentiality, and accessibility throughout time, as these are very critical aspects for its normal functioning.
We agree, Mr. Gonzalez, that information and communication technology have a significant impact on the quality of life of the citizens (whether it be positive or negative). We surely also agree that the basic values I have pointed out above are fundamental in a democratic state like Peru. So we are very interested to know of any other way of guaranteeing these principles, other than through the use of free software in the terms defined by the Bill.
As for the observations you have made, we will now go on to analyze them in detail:
Firstly, you point out that: "1. The bill makes it compulsory for all public bodies to use only free software, that is to say open source software, which breaches the principles of equality before the law, that of non-discrimination and the right of free private enterprise, freedom of industry and of contract, protected by the constitution."
This understanding is in error. The Bill in no way affects the rights you list; it limits itself entirely to establishing conditions for the use of software on the part of state institutions, without in any way meddling in private sector transactions. It is a well established principle that the State does not enjoy the wide spectrum of contractual freedom of the private sector, as it is limited in its actions precisely by the requirement for transparency of public acts; and in this sense, the preservation of the greater common interest must prevail when legislating on the matter.
The Bill protects equality under the law, since no natural or legal person is excluded from the right of offering these goods to the State under the conditions defined in the Bill and without more limitations than those established by the Law of State Contracts and Purchasing (T.U.O. by Supreme Decree No. 012-2001-PCM).
The Bill does not introduce any discrimination whatever, since it only establishes *how* the goods have to be provided (which is a state power) and not *who* has to provide them (which would effectively be discriminatory, if restrictions based on national origin, race religion, ideology, sexual preference etc. were imposed). On the contrary, the Bill is decidedly antidiscriminatory. This is so because by defining with no room for doubt the conditions for the provision of software, it prevents state bodies from using software which has a license including discriminatory conditions.
It should be obvious from the preceding two paragraphs that the Bill does not harm free private enterprise, since the latter can always choose under what conditions it will produce software; some of these will be acceptable to the State, and others will not be since they contradict the guarantee of the basic principles listed above. This free initiative is of course compatible with the freedom of industry and freedom of contract (in the limited form in which the State can exercise the latter). Any private subject can produce software under the conditions which the State requires, or can refrain from doing so. Nobody is forced to adopt a model of production, but if they wish to provide software to the State, they must provide the mechanisms which guarantee the basic principles, and which are those described in the Bill.
By way of an example: nothing in the text of the Bill would prevent your company offering the State bodies an office "suite", under the conditions defined in the Bill and setting the price that you consider satisfactory. If you did not, it would not be due to restrictions imposed by the law, but to business decisions relative to the method of commercializing your products, decisions with which the State is not involved.
To continue; you note that:" 2. The bill, by making the use of open source software compulsory, would establish discriminatory and non competitive practices in the contracting and purchasing by public bodies..."
This statement is just a reiteration of the previous one, and so the response can be found above. However, let us concern ourselves for a moment with your comment regarding "non-competitive ... practices."
Of course, in defining any kind of purchase, the buyer sets conditions which relate to the proposed use of the good or service. From the start, this excludes certain manufacturers from the possibility of competing, but does not exclude them "a priori", but rather based on a series of principles determined by the autonomous will of the purchaser, and so the process takes place in conformance with the law. And in the Bill it is established that *no one* is excluded from competing as far as he guarantees the fulfillment of the basic principles.
Furthermore, the Bill *stimulates* competition, since it tends to generate a supply of software with better conditions of usability, and to better existing work, in a model of continuous improvement.
On the other hand, the central aspect of competivity is the chance to provide better choices to the consumer. Now, it is impossible to ignore the fact that marketing does not play a neutral role when the product is offered on the market (since accepting the opposite would lead one to suppose that firms' expenses in marketing lack any sense), and that therefore a significant expense under this heading can influence the decisions of the purchaser. This influence of marketing is in large measure reduced by the bill that we are backing, since the choice within the framework proposed is based on the *technical merits* of the product and not on the effort put into commercialization by the producer; in this sense, competitiveness is increased, since the smallest software producer can compete on equal terms with the most powerful corporations.
It is necessary to stress that there is no position more anti-competitive than that of the big software producers, which frequently abuse their dominant position, since in innumerable cases they propose as a solution to problems raised by users: "update your software to the new version" (at the user's expense, naturally); furthermore, it is common to find arbitrary cessation of technical help for products, which, in the provider's judgment alone, are "old"; and so, to receive any kind of technical assistance, the user finds himself forced to migrate to new versions (with non-trivial costs, especially as changes in hardware platform are often involved). And as the whole infrastructure is based on proprietary data formats, the user stays "trapped" in the need to continue using products from the same supplier, or to make the huge effort to change to another environment (probably also proprietary).
You add: "3. So, by compelling the State to favor a business model based entirely on open source, the bill would only discourage the local and international manufacturing companies, which are the ones which really undertake important expenditures, create a significant number of direct and indirect jobs, as well as contributing to the GNP, as opposed to a model of open source software which tends to have an ever weaker economic impact, since it mainly creates jobs in the service sector."
I do not agree with your statement. Partly because of what you yourself point out in paragraph 6 of your letter, regarding the relative weight of services in the context of software use. This contradiction alone would invalidate your position. The service model, adopted by a large number of companies in the software industry, is much larger in economic terms, and with a tendency to increase, than the licensing of programs.
On the other hand, the private sector of the economy has the widest possible freedom to choose the economic model which best suits its interests, even if this freedom of choice is often obscured subliminally by the disproportionate expenditure on marketing by the producers of proprietary software.
In addition, a reading of your opinion would lead to the conclusion that the State market is crucial and essential for the proprietary software industry, to such a point that the choice made by the State in this bill would completely eliminate the market for these firms. If that is true, we can deduce that the State must be subsidizing the proprietary software industry. In the unlikely event that this were true, the State would have the right to apply the subsidies in the area it considered of greatest social value; it is undeniable, in this improbable hypothesis, that if the State decided to subsidize software, it would have to do so choosing the free over the proprietary, considering its social effect and the rational use of taxpayers money.
In respect of the jobs generated by proprietary software in countries like ours, these mainly concern technical tasks of little aggregate value; at the local level, the technicians who provide support for proprietary software produced by transnational companies do not have the possibility of fixing bugs, not necessarily for lack of technical capability or of talent, but because they do not have access to the source code to fix it. With free software one creates more technically qualified employment and a framework of free competence where success is only tied to the ability to offer good technical support and quality of service, one stimulates the market, and one increases the shared fund of knowledge, opening up alternatives to generate services of greater total value and a higher quality level, to the benefit of all involved: producers, service organizations, and consumers.
It is a common phenomenon in developing countries that local software industries obtain the majority of their takings in the service sector, or in the creation of "ad hoc" software. Therefore, any negative impact that the application of the Bill might have in this sector will be more than compensated by a growth in demand for services (as long as these are carried out to high quality standards). If the transnational software companies decide not to compete under these new rules of the game, it is likely that they will undergo some decrease in takings in terms of payment for licenses; however, considering that these firms continue to allege that much of the software used by the State has been illegally copied, one can see that the impact will not be very serious. Certainly, in any case their fortune will be determined by market laws, changes in which cannot be avoided; many firms traditionally associated with proprietary software have already set out on the road (supported by copious expense) of providing services associated with free software, which shows that the models are not mutually exclusive.
With this bill the State is deciding that it needs to preserve certain fundamental values. And it is deciding this based on its sovereign power, without affecting any of the constitutional guarantees. If these values could be guaranteed without having to choose a particular economic model, the effects of the law would be even more beneficial. In any case, it should be clear that the State does not choose an economic model; if it happens that there only exists one economic model capable of providing software which provides the basic guarantee of these principles, this is because of historical circumstances, not because of an arbitrary choice of a given model.
Your letter continues: "4. The bill imposes the use of open source software without considering the dangers that this can bring from the point of view of security, guarantee, and possible violation of the intellectual property rights of third parties."
Alluding in an abstract way to "the dangers this can bring", without specifically mentioning a single one of these supposed dangers, shows at the least some lack of knowledge of the topic. So, allow me to enlighten you on these points.
National security has already been mentioned in general terms in the initial discussion of the basic principles of the bill. In more specific terms, relative to the security of the software itself, it is well known that all software (whether proprietary or free) contains errors or "bugs" (in programmers' slang). But it is also well known that the bugs in free software are fewer, and are fixed much more quickly,