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Free software in Administrations

Free, Open Source Software (FOSS) has been playing an increasingly important role in the economy for decades, especially in the context of companies that offer digital services. For example, the market share of GNU/Linux systems on servers and “the cloud” is currently over 80%. Based on this, most web technologies and software components in this area also consist of Free Software. Furthermore the 500 strongest supercomputers on the earth use exclusively operating systems which rely on the Free Software GNU/Linux. Last but not least, the triumph of Free Software does not stop at our everyday life. Most of us come into contact with Free Software almost every day without even noticing it. [1, 2]

So it is not surprising that Free Software is slowly but surely spreading in our administrations and institutions. A project that actively promotes exactly this is the campaign “Public Money? Public Code!” by the Free Software Foundation Europe.

Public Money? Public Code!

ein gläsernes Parlamentsgebäude im Comic-Stil
Graphic from the Public Money? Public Code campaign

The demands of the “Public Money? Public Code!” campaign are simple: Whenever taxpayers’ money or other government funds are used to purchase software and digital infrastructure, it should also be under a Free Software license for the benefit of all.

In addition to increased transparency for citizens, this measure is intended to improve the security of information and the independence of the state from multinational companies, while at the same time saving taxpayers’ money and promoting the digital networking of administrations in a national and international context. [3]

A large number of individuals, associations and even some administrations have already joined the project’s call. The focus here, however, is naturally on state agencies and municipalities. And with great success! More and more administrations are switching to Free Software in whole or in part, and many are also providing new services for their citizens in the form of Free Software.

Free Software in administrations

Advances in German administrations

The Corona pandemic in particular made public authorities realise that Free Software offers many advantages and flexibility to help citizens quickly and effectively. For example, right at the beginning of the Corona pandemic, the city of Bühl created its own video conferencing platform based on the Free Software “Jitsi Meet” so that people could meet digitally in a simple and secure way. The city’s push gave rise to an initiative consisting of several municipalities that work together to implement Free Standards and services and support each other in their implementation. [4, 5]

In recent years, the DO-FOSS initiative of the City of Dortmund has also given rise to the cross-state platform Open CoDE, on which software for public administrations can be programmed, shared and exchanged. This is accompanied by a corresponding decision by the city of Dortmund to make future software purchases available to the general public under a Free Software licence. The platform already lists several dozen software projects and lays the foundation for further transparent development and the digitalisation of administrations. This is in line with the idea of the project “A place for public code”, which includes interest groups as well as working groups of several municipalities. [6, 7]

The Marburg-Biedenkopf district administration has also been committed to bringing Free Software into the administration since 2014. In a pilot project supported by the Federal Ministry of the Interior, for example, the cooperation between citizens and the administration is to be strengthened. [8, 9]

Free Software on the rise

Although there are already some initial approaches and successes, there is still a lot to be done in German administrations. But ambitions are high. The city government elected in Munich in 2020, for example, has fully committed itself to the goal of Free Software in the administration. [10]

From now on, wherever possible, new software purchases should consist of Free Software. In the long term, old proprietary software is to be replaced with free alternatives. Likewise, the city of Hamburg is also planning to increase the use of Free Software in its administration. [10, 11]

Free Software in Europe

In other European countries, digitisation in general, but also the use of Free Software in particular, is often already a step further than in Germany.

For example, the Italian military switched from Microsoft Office to the free software solution “LibreOffice” in 2016. Not only was the software replaced, but also Free document standards were implemented across the board. Italian municipalities also switched to Free Open Source Software at a smaller level at an early stage. [12]

Similarly, only two years later, the French military switched its internal communication to the decentralised and end-to-end encrypted open source messaging system Matrix (better known as the chat application Element). Apart from this, France and the French state in particular have been involved in the Free Software community for many years and are committed to solutions for state institutions. [13, 14]

In Spain, the region of Austurias and the city of Barcelona followed the call for Free Software in administrations. Both administrative units are pushing the implementation of Free Software in Spain. Free Software is also used in the Swiss canton of Uri. In a successful pilot project, building permits were converted to an open source solution. The same solution is now to be used in other parts of Switzerland, for example in Bern. [15, 16, 17]

At the beginning of this year, the European Commission published a “Declaration on European Digital Rights and Principles”. An essential part of this is the use of free software to create transparency in public institutions. A few weeks ago, the Commission also launched two projects to promote public communication: “EU Voice“, based on the free social media platform “Mastodon“, and the video platform “EU Video“, based on “Peertube“. [18]

Progress

There is no doubt that Free Software is gaining ground, not only in our daily lives and in businesses, but also gradually in our administrations and public authorities.

Even if European administrations still have a long way to go in terms of digitisation, the efforts made so far to use free software are very positive. The European Commission’s initiatives are also to be seen as positive, as they provide a framework to which European institutions can orient themselves.

On the contrary, we can even see the backlog in digitisation as an opportunity to build our administrations from the ground up with transparent solutions and collaborative work on software in a pan-European and international framework. The future belongs to jointly financed and used software. According to the motto: Public Money? Public Code!

Sources

  1. W3Techs (2022): Usage statistics of operating systems for websites. URL: https://w3techs.com/technologies/overview/operating_system (30.07.2022)
  2. Top500 (2022): Operating System – Systems Share. URL: https://www.top500.org/statistics/overtime/ (30.07.2022)
  3. Free Software Foundation Europe (2017): Public Money? Public Code! – Offener Brief. URL: https://publiccode.eu/openletter/
  4. Stadt Bühl (2020): Palim! Palim! URL: https://www.buehl.de/de/Stadt-Buerger/Unsere-Stadt/Aktuelles-Presse/Stadtnachrichten/Stadtnachricht?id=1662
  5. Free Software Foundation Europe (2022): Deutsche Verwaltung ist re@di für den Einsatz von Freier Software. URL: https://fsfe.org/news/2022/news-20220602-01.html
  6. Schäfer, Till (2022): Open CoDE – der öffentliche Ort für Code ist da. URL: https://blog.do-foss.de/kolumne/open-code-der-oeffentliche-ort-fuer-code-ist-da/
  7. Free Software Foundation Europe (2020): Kollaborative Freie Software Plattform für Verwaltungen – Interessenverbund stellt Konzept vor. URL: https://fsfe.org/news/2020/news-20200910-01.html
  8. Laumer, Ralf (2016): Modell für Open Government. URL: https://www.kommune21.de/meldung_30363_on.html
  9. Bundesministerium des Inneren (2018): Marburg-Biedenkopf steht Modell. URL: https://www.bundesregierung.de/breg-de/suche/marburg-biedenkopf-steht-modell-1550280
  10. Free Software Foundation Europe (2020): 100 Tage ‚Public Money? Public Code!‘ in München. URL: https://fsfe.org/news/2020/news-20200810-01.html
  11. Free Software Foundation Europe (2020): Stadt hamburg setzt verstärkt auf Freie Software. URL: https://fsfe.org/news/2020/news-20200610-01.html
  12. Mastrolonardo, Raffaele (2016): From Microsoft to LibreOffice: How Italy’s military is starting its march to open source. URL: https://www.zdnet.com/article/from-microsoft-to-libreoffice-how-italys-military-is-starting-its-march-to-open-source/
  13. Hodgson, Matthew (2018): Matrix and Riot confirmed as the basis for France’s Secure Instant Messenger app. URL: https://matrix.org/blog/2018/04/26/matrix-and-riot-confirmed-as-the-basis-for-frances-secure-instant-messenger-app
  14. Free Software Foundation Europe (2020): Etalab zeigt, wie Freie Software für den öffentlichen Sektor verfügbar gemacht werden kann. URL: https://fsfe.org/news/2020/news-20200609-01.html
  15. UDS Enterprise (2019): Asturias is committed to using Free Software in public administration. URL: https://www.udsenterprise.com/en/blog/2019/02/12/asturias-committed-free-software-public-admin/
  16. City of Barcelona (2018): Open code technologies for achieving full technological sovereignty. URL: https://ajuntament.barcelona.cat/digital/en/digital-transformation/technology-for-a-better-government/open-source-software
  17. Free Software Foundation Europe (2021): Von Uri über Bern: Freie Software wird die Welt revolutionieren. URL: https://fsfe.org/news/2021/news-20210318-01.html
  18. Europäische Kommission (2022): Erklärung zu den europäischen digitalen Rechten und Grundsätzen. URL: https://digital-strategy.ec.europa.eu/en/library/declaration-european-digital-rights-and-principles
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Jan is co-founder of ViOffice. He is responsible for the technical implementation and maintenance of the software. His interests lie in particular in the areas of security, data protection and encryption.

In addition to his studies in economics, later in applied statistics and his subsequent doctorate, he has years of experience in software development, open source and server administration.