A group of organisations, companies and high-profile individuals have released a statement calling for a protest on Sunday in front of the Cabinet in Cairo, in response to a recent government decision to purchase Microsoft software licenses and products to upgrade government agencies. Under the name Open Egypt, the signees demand the government re-evaluate their deal.
At a cost of more than 43 million dollars, activists such as Abdel Rahman Mansour from the We are all Khaled Sayeed and human rights’ organisations such as the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights say it is a waste of money, considering the availability of Free Open Source Software (FOSS) and Egypt’s current economic state.
Indeed, the use of FOSS is seen as the more strategic option, as it allows the government to invest that money elsewhere and with the added benefit of utilising existing FOSS software already operating in many agencies.
“We declare our support in refusing to make such decisions without a study of the alternative and, in our view the best, and announce thus our participation in the silent vigil called for by internet activists,” the statement read. The signees say it is “a waste of the Egyptian people’s resources – in this difficult time – to buy licenses of monopolistic corporations at a time in which nations tend to use FOSS.”
FOSS refers to software that is both available for no cost and is Open Source. Open Source software is software published with the source code, allowing people to modify and distribute the new software to anyone with no legal ramifications from the copyright holders.
Open Source licencing has been credited with large savings to consumers, as they reduce the need for companies to update their software at their own cost. The signees say the approach is particularly beneficial in Egypt as many local companies have developed their own software capable of meeting the government’s needs, pointing at software used during the presidential and parliamentary elections, and that of the referendum.
Placing emphasis on the domestic software market would also promote domestic growth, cutting costs by as much as 80 per cent. “[the Egyptian software industry] is competent enough to implement government requirements at a lower cost, with the necessary equipment.” The savings could be funnelled into government staff training programs and to develop a stronger IT curriculum in schools, the statement read.
Linux is a prime example of open source software. It has endorsed by governments around the world and is found in a growing number of supercomputers and government agencies, as well as in mobile devices. Many laptops come with Linux packages and the Android system used by Samsung smartphones is entirely open source.
As part of the vigil, the signees demand the government stop spending money on basic software made by foreign companies, and the allocation of funds to the sector to promote the local market which in turn aids the economy. They also demand the government revisit existing contracts to avoid being trapped in costly deals where the government is subject to being a captive of companies preventing them from making the best decisions.
FOSS allows for an indefinite period of software updates, removing the need for future overhauls of government systems once a product becomes obsolete or out-dated.
The vigil is scheduled to commence on Sunday at 11 in the morning in front of the Cabinet. Online activist, app designer and member of the Open Source promotion group Ubuntu Egypt, Samer Ali said Egypt currently has the capability to cover the government’s needs, including training and software. Several members of the Open Egypt movement are employed within the government and the movement is still in the process of structuring itself into a Non –Governmental Organisation capable of holding official talks with the government, making this vigil the first step in bringing about government awareness and future dialogue.
Ahmed Mekkawy, founder Spirula System and admin of the online Egyptian GNU/Linux User Group (Eglug.org) said the government has very much been receptive to using Open Source software but is looking to have a well-structured plan before implementing any changes.