Italy and Open Source: a Political Perspective 

In the last few years, the open source software has transformed itself from a niche reserved to the “happy elected people” to an effective and mature business model. Maybe the course of this process has followed a path which has been different from what was thought at the beginning: in general nor the push of the public sector neither the “ideological” perspective have brought important results to the cause of the OSS. Much more has been done from the development and growth of a widespread network of SMEs (Small and medium enterprises) which gave birth to a large community and to a cluster of applications which can be used with effectiveness from every users, starting from the PC alternative to MS Office, Openoffice.

In many cases, mainly in Italy, OSS has been considered in the past as a fashionably way by politicians at all the levels in order to proof their attention to the innovation topic to their own audience. That has not been in general a good way to help the open source growth. During the last decade, lots of municipalities have passed bills or deliberations on OSS: in most of the cases, very little activity followed those political acts, and, even in the cases where a project would follow, migration problems and red tape have been more a hurdle rather than a way to make the process smoother. In general terms, this was the result of an ideological approach to the OSS (Free software vs. proprietary software, Linux vs. Microsoft….) which, while stimulating generic political positions, deranged the focus from the technical and organizational issues that OSS brought with it and with the real point, to build up a concrete business model for the OSS.

So, migration was one of those issues and maybe the most important of all. As many experiences have demonstrated, migrating from a proprietary system to open source is not only a political choice and something immediately convenient from an economic point of view, but also an organizational effort which could be often lasting and difficult. As Munich experience have shown, the results should be not always effective and satisfying.

However, the stuff works and today the OSS has become a real alternative not only from a budgetary perspective or as an inferior total cost of ownership, but also because it represents a more effective way of writing appliances, maintaining software, updating and get results. I.e. a new business model whose many small companies could use in order to become bigger and to produce more added value.

Indeed, the very shift between a generic, empty and ideological approach, to a business model, came when many small enterprises began to face migration problems and to create new applications based on OSS rather than trying to transform overnight complex systems based on proprietary software in OSS eldorados. But a big part in this frame has been played by the consolidation of the contractual forms (mainly the GPL especially the last releases) which are now a corpus regulating the OSS adoption and use.

Furthermore, the OSS affirmation comes at the very moment when the big corporate who are still running on user licenses business model, are rapidly losing ground and turnover, especially in the public sector. The music in the balance sheet of the IT multinational like Microsoft, Oracle and so on is still how many license are sold, and not how many web services could be developed for the customers. It’s easy to forecast that in the next years, and maybe quarters, who’ll have the more delays in changing this antiquate model, will be the loser in this special dance contest. Some blip of it is already on the radar screen: it’s probable that this new OSS music will became soon the main song in the ballroom.

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