10 September was Software Freedom
Day, ‘a global, grassroots effort to educate the public about the virtues
and availability of Free and Open Source Software’. If you can’t tell your OpenOffice from your Gimp, that’s probably not an occasion to send
you wild with excitement. But it should at least catch your attention.
Free software offers a practical alternative to the domination of software markets by Microsoft and other multinationals. More intriguingly, it offers a rebuke to those who claim that markets are the necessary motor for innovation, by showing how shared knowledge can be a more effective means for the dissemination of new ideas and technologies.
Brownie points go to the Green Party, then, for dedicating space to the issue at its recent conference, and advocating the use of free software by government.
Peter Lockley, Green Party member and a researcher for the Open Knowledge Foundation, said: ‘By switching to open systems, government at all levels can save huge amounts of money, escape the lock-in beloved of Microsoft (who have been fined by the European Commission for abusing their monopoly power) and at the same time increase local autonomy and creativity. And we should be encouraging the use of Free and Open Source Software in schools - vital if we want to teach children how software works, rather than simply turning out passive users of a standardised product.’
Green MSP Patrick Harvie went one better, laying down a motion that the Scottish Parliament ‘recognises the benefits which could exist for the public sector in making greater use of such products, including those produced by Scottish software developers; further recognises that free and open source software is founded on principles with important political concepts which have the potential for application to other areas of society and the economy, and urges the Scottish Executive to examine the scope for free and open source software throughout the public sector.’