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In many cases, the end of the year gives you time to step back and take stock of the last 12 months. This is when many of us take a hard look at what worked and what did not, complete performance reviews, and formulate plans for the coming year. For me, it is all of those things plus a time when I u...
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Can Open Source Truly Save The World?
President of the Linux Professional Institute expresses concern at shift in WSIS plans

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), convened by the United Nations at the urging of the International Telecommunications Union, intends to address the global economic, societal and political changes being wrought as our information-based society replaces the old industrial one.

WSIS is a two-phase summit. Phase One takes place in Geneva, Switzerland, December 10 - 12, 2003. Phase Two will take place in Tunis, Tunisia in November, 2005. A key concern of both phases is to address the "digital and knowledge divides" that are growing as the information society continues to expand.

Until recently, Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), was to play a major role in WSIS's plans for closing these information gaps. Evan Leibovitch, President of the Linux Professional Institute, itself a participant of WSIS, noted this shift of focus away from FOSS and expressed concern in a recent letter to all WSIS participants.

We present his letter here in its entirety.

 

September 25, 2003

To the organizers and delegates of the WSIS conference:

The Linux Professional Institute (LPI) congratulates the participating national delegations of the World Summit on the Information Society, and the International Telecommunications Union and the United Nations under whose auspices it has been called, for accepting the challenge of defining a global information society.

Since its inception as a non-profit organization in 1998, LPI has actively served its worldwide community of professional IT practitioners, who have chosen to work with Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). In response to the needs of its community, LPI has developed the world's most popular FOSS skills certification program, which has been delivered in almost every country. In order to ensure the relevance and value of its activities at a local as well as global level, LPI has created affiliations with many national community organizations to supplement its thousands of volunteer assistants and supporters, its advisory board from across the FOSS community, and its Board of Directors which spans three continents. In the service of its community, LPI has developed a sustainable business model while working to improve access to professional skills, standards and ethics everywhere on Earth.

The global LPI community understands and appreciates the significance of the WSIS process; we sought accreditation primarily in order to stage interactive educational events, designed to assist WSIS delegates in the fulfillment of the conference's Statement of Principles and Action Plan. It was also our intent to assist the WSIS conference in its encouragement of FOSS techniques, as a proven method of bridging the technology gap while decreasing technology dependence and creating economic opportunities in developing countries.

Unfortunately, the events of the last week at the Third Preparatory Committee, in advance of the Geneva Summit, have given us cause for alarm. It is with sincere concern that LPI notes the directions WSIS has recently embarked upon, based upon the changes indicated in the drafts documents of the last week for both the Statement of Principles and the Plan of Action. Because this change of direction is so drastic, we have been urged by our community to call to your attention the regressive nature of this new approach.

We have seen the language in these documents shift markedly away from directions and policies that would close the technology gap between developing and developed countries. Instead, we see new language that over-emphasizes the preservation of policies and activities that, so far, have made most of the world increasingly dependent on a very small number of companies (some of which have already been successfully prosecuted in some jurisdictions because of monopolistic commercial practices).

In their current form, the WSIS documents make no mention of the absolute requirements for community-driven, unencumbered standards regarding networking protocols, file formats, and other methods of communications between computer systems and applications. The lack of such open standards effectively separates technology users from their own information, putting such data under the control of the owners of proprietary formats and protocols. The current global IT environment clearly demonstrates that unregulated private ownership of such technologies serves to inhibit innovation rather than encourage it.

Standards exist to protect the users and consumers of technology. As vendors of technology have technology biases as well as vested interests in reducing freedom of choice, they cannot and should not be expected to consistently act in the best interest of consumers in matters such as the definition of standards. While technology sellers may compete amongst themselves for dominance, their collective goals -- often expressed through "vendor neutral" consortia -- are often quite different from those of the public.

Furthermore, in light of the stated WSIS aims to improve security, access and co-operation, it is extremely unfortunate that most references to FOSS have been dropped from earlier drafts of WSIS documents. FOSS is not a technology itself, but rather a set of methods of development and distribution of technology -- as such, FOSS is technology neutral, in keeping with WSIS aims.

Use of FOSS methodologies has proven to improve technology access in developing countries; its practice of unencumbered source code openness assures and improves security, as has been demonstrated by governments and civil society throughout the world. We believe that WSIS will better serve the advancement of the global IT community by recognizing and encouraging FOSS techniques which are especially useful at pooling resources, both human and technical. Using FOSS techniques reduces dependence on development funding, encourages self-sustainability, and offers the potential to create competitive IT industries in any country.

LPI is fully aware of the WSIS conference's ability to bring together governments and civil society in order to improve the global state of IT and its potential to reduce poverty and improve education. We believe that recent moves to marginalize the value of FOSS do a disservice to the Summit, as well as to those who will come to learn from it. Emphasizing private property in IT, without recognizing its detriments and without calling attention to collaborative approaches to IT ownership and innovation such as FOSS, is in our view, a regressive step that would in fact set the realization of the Information Society backwards rather than move it forward.

If the goal of WSIS is truly to close the global technology gap rather than widen it, innovative approaches such as FOSS must not be ignored. To de-emphasize FOSS while emphasizing proprietary ownership of IT resources, is to increase concentration and dependence while denying freedom and self-sufficiency to those who want and need it.

We urge the WSIS conference to reconsider its current direction, to re-introduce the encouragement of FOSS and open standards that existed in previous draft documents, and to recognize that expanding the vague concepts of "intellectual property" without specific and concrete limits, serves to stifle both innovation and competition, while concentrating control of the world's IT resources in the hands of the very few. Certainly you would agree that doing so does not advance the visions and goals of the WSIS Conference.

 

About Steven Berkowitz
Steven Berkowitz, LWM's industry news editor, has done development and project
management for Fortune 100 companies, start-ups, and non-profit organizations.
He currently provides technical and communications consulting services to corporate clients.

About Evan Leibovitch
Evan Leibovitch is President
of the Linux Professional Institute (www.lpi.org)

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Reader Feedback: Page 1 of 1

Craig made the following comment:
"I think that the fact that proprietary software licensing and IP are so often flouted in the 3rd world, and increasingly on the internet itself, points to a flaw in the entire entrenched system."

That is how it seems now, but this ComputerWorld Hong Kong report shows that there is a definite strategy being followed by the incumbent monopolist.

Of course, this raises the question of how does the monopolist get the Chinese to pay for software. This is where Trusted Computing comes into play making it virtually impossible for the Chinese or anybody else to flout licensing and IP.

The only real option to blunt the threat of Trusted (or more correctly Treacherous) Computing is the massive worldwide adoption of FOSS, which of course is why massive lobbying is being done to prevent the adoption of FOSS by WSIS and governments (national and local). Once TC is in place, it's game over, but if FOSS has been adopted globally, it will make TC as irrelevant as the monopolist.

Richard Stallman wrote The Right to Read in 1997. With the emergence of Trusted Computing, it is more relevant than ever.

Thanks for your comments, Craig. I want to be clear, here, though. It was Evan who put it clearly. All I did was give a bit of WSIS background to frame his letter. This story truly belongs to him.

It would be funny if it were not so sad. Personally I think FOSS will continue to bridge the digital divide, regardless of WSIS direction. But it would be a tragedy if WSIS ended up working against this through support of entrenched industry and IP concerns.

Right now there is something of a natural market balance between FOSS and industry. FOSS is competing relatively well, and has had some real impact on the way industry operates, to good effect. However, when global initiatives like WSIS wish to push the system in any direction, they are morally obligated to support their charter, and as Steve and Evan so clearly put it, this means supporting FOSS. However, there are ways industry can contribute without violating their own charters. Invariably it involves compromises and balances, much trickier to achieve in industry than in FOSS.

I was intrigued by some of the comments concerning nationalism and colonialism. Coming from a 3rd world country myself, I have a rather tangential view. I think that the fact that proprietary software licensing and IP are so often flouted in the 3rd world, and increasingly on the internet itself, points to a flaw in the entire entrenched system. However, this problem does not appear to affect FOSS, making it vastely superior as a technology enabler, as it can spread without raising IP concerns. (I use 'FOSS' in way consistent with the statement "FOSS is not a technology itself, but rather a set of methods of development and distribution of technology".)

It is a total disgrace that WSIS has closed out FLOSS from their meeting. The whole scientific enterprise throughout the wolrd is largely based on the free exchange of information and look how successful it has been. It ishight time software development followed the same path. Open sourece and open standads is the only way to ensure a level playing field as far as IT is concerned. The notion of "intellectual propert" tends to get stretched out of all recognition when it comes to proprietary software.
The letter to WSIS is bang on and we can only hope it has some effect.

Please, let's not allow this to devolve into a nationalistic slap-fight. All of us interested in promoting Free /Open Source technology have the same interests, regardless of nationality.

Putting on my tin foil hat...

But I think something smells foul with the changes the WSIS have made to the programme. I'm not from the US, but I see that they have a lot of power and influence in these matters. One wonders if delegates from the US are trying to protect their countries wealth, at the expense of the rest of the planet. It wouldn't be the first time.

"What's good for Microsoft, is good for America."

The western world lives, since the begin of colonization, from the ressources it grabs from all over the world. It constructed it's wealth and technology on it, and on a certain mentality of thinking and working enterprise.

The appropriaten of such big a share of the world's resources can only be justified if the fruits of these constructions are shared with the whole world.

Sharing the knowledge and spreading freely computer technology and information seems to be one of the basic minimum in order to construct a world with a more just distribution of things and ideas.

You make some good points. But that view is also US-Centric. Once you look beyond our shores (something I've only recently begun to do myself), you see Linux making headway. Evan (who wrote the WSIS letter) was telling me of big projects he's seen in Brazil and in India. Programs driven by the government. HP tells me they see demand growing in Asia especially.

I'm not sure that that's necessarily enough. But there's more going on than one might think.

I must say, there have been some interesting views (and trolls) in this forum. But....
1.The US tends to lead technology
2.The US government dictates the standards/forms they will accept (tcp, autocad, word...)
3.Large companies meet these standards to insure they can get their government business
4.Large companies dictacte the standards/forms to smaller companies
5.Home users (not geeks/IT) tend to use what their comfortable with, which is what they use at work everyday.

Until the US Gov. (or a dominant percentage of the remaining world) moves to open standard (or discontinues support of MS product), Microsoft will continue to dominate.


Your Feedback
Mamading Ceesay wrote: Craig made the following comment: "I think that the fact that proprietary software licensing and IP are so often flouted in the 3rd world, and increasingly on the internet itself, points to a flaw in the entire entrenched system." That is how it seems now, but this ComputerWorld Hong Kong report shows that there is a definite strategy being followed by the incumbent monopolist. Of course, this raises the question of how does the monopolist get the Chinese to pay for software. This is where Trusted Computing comes into play making it virtually impossible for the Chinese or anybody else to flout licensing and IP. The only real option to blunt the threat of Trusted (or more correctly Treacherous) Comp...
Steven Berkowitz wrote: Thanks for your comments, Craig. I want to be clear, here, though. It was Evan who put it clearly. All I did was give a bit of WSIS background to frame his letter. This story truly belongs to him.
Craig Taverner wrote: It would be funny if it were not so sad. Personally I think FOSS will continue to bridge the digital divide, regardless of WSIS direction. But it would be a tragedy if WSIS ended up working against this through support of entrenched industry and IP concerns. Right now there is something of a natural market balance between FOSS and industry. FOSS is competing relatively well, and has had some real impact on the way industry operates, to good effect. However, when global initiatives like WSIS wish to push the system in any direction, they are morally obligated to support their charter, and as Steve and Evan so clearly put it, this means supporting FOSS. However, there are ways industry can contribute without violating their own charters. Invariably it involves compromises and balances, much trickier to achieve in industry than in FOSS. I was intrigued by some of the comments concerni...
Ted Swart wrote: It is a total disgrace that WSIS has closed out FLOSS from their meeting. The whole scientific enterprise throughout the wolrd is largely based on the free exchange of information and look how successful it has been. It ishight time software development followed the same path. Open sourece and open standads is the only way to ensure a level playing field as far as IT is concerned. The notion of "intellectual propert" tends to get stretched out of all recognition when it comes to proprietary software. The letter to WSIS is bang on and we can only hope it has some effect.
flacco wrote: Please, let's not allow this to devolve into a nationalistic slap-fight. All of us interested in promoting Free /Open Source technology have the same interests, regardless of nationality.
azazel wrote: Putting on my tin foil hat... But I think something smells foul with the changes the WSIS have made to the programme. I'm not from the US, but I see that they have a lot of power and influence in these matters. One wonders if delegates from the US are trying to protect their countries wealth, at the expense of the rest of the planet. It wouldn't be the first time. "What's good for Microsoft, is good for America."
PJ wrote: The western world lives, since the begin of colonization, from the ressources it grabs from all over the world. It constructed it's wealth and technology on it, and on a certain mentality of thinking and working enterprise. The appropriaten of such big a share of the world's resources can only be justified if the fruits of these constructions are shared with the whole world. Sharing the knowledge and spreading freely computer technology and information seems to be one of the basic minimum in order to construct a world with a more just distribution of things and ideas.
Steven Berkowitz wrote: You make some good points. But that view is also US-Centric. Once you look beyond our shores (something I've only recently begun to do myself), you see Linux making headway. Evan (who wrote the WSIS letter) was telling me of big projects he's seen in Brazil and in India. Programs driven by the government. HP tells me they see demand growing in Asia especially. I'm not sure that that's necessarily enough. But there's more going on than one might think.
Hogrider wrote: I must say, there have been some interesting views (and trolls) in this forum. But.... 1.The US tends to lead technology 2.The US government dictates the standards/forms they will accept (tcp, autocad, word...) 3.Large companies meet these standards to insure they can get their government business 4.Large companies dictacte the standards/forms to smaller companies 5.Home users (not geeks/IT) tend to use what their comfortable with, which is what they use at work everyday. Until the US Gov. (or a dominant percentage of the remaining world) moves to open standard (or discontinues support of MS product), Microsoft will continue to dominate.
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