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12/05/2010 / doctorjonx

Rileggendo e ripensando

 lula_da_silva_02_closeTorno sul mio post di ieri a proposito delle politiche dell’open source perché avendo letto da cima a fondo i documenti presentati da Andrew Orem, Mark Cassel e Aaron Shaw alla conferenza The Politics of Open Source, devo dire che c’erano davvero tanti (s)punti interessanti.
Il paper di Andrew si focalizza sulle “reali” motivazioni che dovrebbero essere alla base di un passaggio proprietary à free software nella pubblica amministrazione:
“[…] mobilizing the necessary forces in government to procure open source software has
proven difficult. Instead of a vague statement of principle or a
naïve focus on cost reduction, government agencies should
review and focus on core responsibilities to the public: access
for all, vendor independence, archiving, special government
needs, and security. Managers promoting open source should
gain insight into how it is produced and what its adoption
entails, while a statement explicitly political goals provides the
necessary motivation to carry through with the project”.
Nel fare ciò, viene innanzitutto chiarito uno degli equivoci più comuni, ovvero che il passaggio closed – free sia essenzialmente una questione di vantaggi economici:

Cost savings, the naive enticement, doesn’t provide good enough motivation
in the end. Although proprietary software (the complement to open source software) tends to
come with high licensing fees, whereas open source software can be downloaded without
payment, monetary arguments for deploying open source software are usually unsuccessful
because the high costs of conversion, retraining, and developing an adequate base for support
can postpone the potential savings of open source software for many years
e questo è direttamente collegato alla corretta distinzione tra ciò che è open e ciò che non lo è:
the key trait distinguishing open source software from proprietary
software is not its availability free of cost, but its provision under a license that allows
anyone to alter it and redistribute the altered form. Freedom to change, improve, and extend
the software—that is the trait that draws a hard and fast line between software that can be
defined as open source and software that remains locked in to a particular developer”.
In generale, le ragioni per l’adozione di free software sono di tre tipi:
One international survey of open source in government (López et al., 2010) divides the
reasons for adoption into three categories: strategic, feature-oriented, and cost-oriented”,
ma ciò che è importante capire bene è che non si tratta solo di questioni tecniche, ma di una nuova e più profonda comprensione del processo di sviluppo del software in quanto tale:
The adoption of open source software is more than a technical matter, or even a policy
decision. It imposes new tasks on management and staff alike, requiring a heightened
engagement with the software development process […
management and staff must possess an understanding of the open source movements
and its communities that goes beyond what they can learn merely by reading about it in the
press or talking to advocates”.
Come ci si poteva immaginare, le maggiori resistenze al cambiamento sono di ordine culturale:
Joseph Reddix, an entrepreneur with forty-two years of experience both inside and outside
government, notes that the major barriers to change are cultural. These include:
·         Familiarity with current software.
·         Fear of failure, which reduces willingness to undergo risk.
·         Lack of knowledge about open source, which requires the kind of direct experience as described in the previous section.
·         Concerns about the maturity of software that is newer than the proprietary products in current use, as open source tends to be”.
È dunque un bilancio delicate quello che i sostenitori di un passaggio all’open devono gestire, ma che si basa essenzialmente su una volontà politica di base:
Proponents of open source therefore perform a delicate balancing act. They need to follow
formal guidelines by producing objective justifications for a move to open source. But the
inner fire that will actually make migration successful has a political basis
C’è poi il racconto dell’istruttiva storia dello stato del Massachusets e del suo tentativo di passare a standard aperti per i formati degli applicativi Office; una storia il cui scopo
“[…] has not been to denigrate the use of Microsoft Office.
Millions of office workers and ordinary computer users around the
world depend on Office, and the creation of OOXML was a boon to developers who can use
widespread XML tools to manipulate Office documents. Competition with ODF did in fact
make Microsoft more open—though not in the rigorous sense described in the previous
section—and create, in the end, more opportunities for Office users”.
Alla fine del paper si racconta l’approccio della città di Monaco alla transizione da software proprietario a open, ma questo è più ampiamente illustrato nel documento di Cassel.
In questo lavoro si passano in rassegna tre esperienze di tre città tedesche: Treuchtlingen (13.000 abitanti e circa 25 computer interessati), Schwäbisch Hall (36.000 abitanti e circa 225 postazioni di lavoro in rete), Monaco di Baviera (1.300.000 abitanti e circa 14.000 computer con circa 16.000 utenti).

Ciò che la ricerca di Cassel voleva ricavare dagli IT managers tedschi  era, in sostanza:
[…]ask about lessons they might offer for American officials or IT administrators
considering FOSS”.
Nell’esperienza dei nostri vicini di casa, i fattori che sembrano influenzare maggiormente l’adozione e l’implementazione di FOSS (Free Open Source Software) sono espressi così:
Political backing and leadership are essential […]
The political leadership must embrace the change to FOSS in order to give the IT
administrator the freedom to make mistakes and try new things l
Cost arguments should be secondary.
[…]while leadership, knowledge and expertise are important,
an unexpected event or crisis is often needed to create an opportunity
to redirect organizational attention and behavior in a new direction
FOSS not free.
[…] As with any new technology, FOSS requires a
significant investment in training, implementation,
service and maintenance to succeed
Take incremental steps but with an overall strategy.
IT directors in all three cities said that it was unusual for a municipality
to completely switch to FOSS in a single step, particularly if the governments
have little experience with FOSS. The directors suggested incremental steps
or “soft migration.”
Practical experience trumps theory.
[…] the IT directors suggested that any local government considering migration
to FOSS should spend time in a government that uses FOSS, learn first-hand
what they are doing, and collect information from line employees who
are using FOSS. One IT director also suggested that local governments
consider hiring a college intern with computer science training and no
bureaucratic experience. He noted, “It’s important to get someone with
the latest technical knowledge. But you also want someone who has not been
infected by the ‘bureaucratic virus
Organization matters.
While technological change is often viewed as the product of
organizational characteristics, the three case studies point to
an inverse relationship: new technology changes the organization
Insomma, alla fine la lezione che Cassel pensa si possa riportare a casa dall’esperienza tedesca è:
The three case studies underscore the challenges involved in migrating to FOSS. However,
they also offer steps local officials should consider before embarking on migration. The
suggestions underscore: the importance of goals besides cost-savings; the need to get
politicians and employees to embrace the move to FOSS, the importance of an incremental
approach within a broader strategy, and the necessity for centralized IT organization
implement the policy. Finally, what stands out in these three cases is that while technological
change is often a function of organizational characteristics, we should be open to the
possibility that FOSS will change the structure and culture of an organization.
Il lavoro di Aaron Shaw illustra la storia del movimento FLOSS (Free/Livre Open Source Software) nella storia recente del Brasile, e di come esso si intrecci con le vicende sia del PT (Partito dei Lavoratori) sia del governo stesso di Ignacio Lula da Silva; soprattutto viene messa in evidenza la figura dei cosiddetti “insurgent experts”, quegli “esperti ribelli” (esperti sia di tecnologia sia di politica) che fin dagli ultimi anni ’90 si mobilitarono per promuovere il FLOSS nello stato brasiliano.
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