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The Dutch government moves for open source

Why it matters that governments establish a preference for freedom in IT.

Something like 50% of the world's IT economy comes through government spending, I heard it said yesterday. If even remotely true, it's no wonder that Microsoft and other proprietary software companies have been running scared at the global government trend toward open source.

Add one more country to the list.

On Thursday the Netherlands made a strong push to secure its IT sovereignty by agreeing to a principle: buy open source or, if not, justify why not.

The Dutch government has set a soft deadline of April 2008 for agencies at the national level to adopt open-source software such as free word processing programs and Internet browsers, the Economic Affairs Ministry said Thursday.

Under the policy, approved Wednesday, government organizations will still be able to use proprietary software and formats, but will have to justify that decision under the principle of "adopt or explain" why not, ministry spokesman Edwin van Scherrenburg said....

Many governments worldwide have begun testing open-source software to cut costs and eliminate dependency on individual companies such as Microsoft Corp. - or at least expressed interest in the idea - but the Dutch have been among the most aggressive in taking action.

I don't like mandating IT one way or another, but I do like the idea behind establishing a firm principle that supports freedom and independence from IT vendors. No IT vendor should have any sort of a lock on governments. Governments are custodians of citizens' taxes, data, etc. No government should abandon that stewardship lightly to a privately controlled corporation with a duty to its shareholders, not the country's citizenry.

This is a bold move for the Netherlands, but also the right move.