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Monday, June 21, 2004
Users still face open source vs proprietary software dilemma
By Jack Loo

Recently, certain countries in the region have indicated a preference for open source software like Linux, which used to be the darling of programmers only.

There are many reasons behind this, one of which is the prospect of not paying proprietary vendors substantial licensing fees.

Also, open source software allows users to modify the code themselves, thus enabling governments to build up their own software industry and support local software developers.

But any preference for any model of software, open source or proprietary, could disturb the balance in the industry, argues Mr Goh Seow Hiong, Director, Software Policy (Asia) at Business Software Alliance (BSA). He was speaking at the iX 2004 conference which took place last Monday.

�Competition must exist to drive innovation. For example, the emergence of Linux actually made Microsoft work harder to improve its products.�

Besides, by supporting just one model of software, governments could be missing out on the alternatives available. �You are basically limiting your choices,� said Mr Goh.

For the uninitiated, BSA is a non-profit organisation that represents companies like IBM, HP, Microsoft and Autodesk. It educates governments, businesses and users about on issues like copyright protection, licensing and trading in software.

�Having a local software industry built on open source has its benefits, but it should be noted that because it is open source, the software code would be revealed to competing companies as well,� added Mr Goh.

Essentially, this means that while anybody can look at and modify open source code, they have to reveal the changes they made to the code if they were to distribute the software or incorporate in products that are being distributed.

In the case of Singapore, the government takes a neutral path. According to a spokesman from national regulator Infocomm Development Authority, government agencies are encouraged to procure software best suited to their needs, regardless of software models.

Such a position allows developers of both open source and proprietary models to thrive and compete, said Mr Goh.

However, there are open source advocates like Mr Harish Pillay, Chief Technology Architect at Red Hat Asia Pte Ltd, who argue that given the smaller share taken up by open source software like Linux, the government should give developers of such software more support to ensure fairer competition.
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