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Win – Win?

I recently wrote a piece for the 2016 Open Source Yearbook . My piece was called "5 Initiatives that pushed the free software envelope in Europe in 2016" (no, there was no subtitle like "Number 3 will make you cry!"). The piece looked at legislation and policies adopted in the public sector in Germany, Brussels (for the whole of the EU), the Netherlands, Russia, and Bulgaria.

Dear Ubuntu User Reader,

I recently wrote a piece for the 2016 Open Source Yearbook [1]. My piece was called "5 Initiatives that pushed the free software envelope in Europe in 2016" (no, there was no subtitle like "Number 3 will make you cry!"). The piece looked at legislation and policies adopted in the public sector in Germany, Brussels (for the whole of the EU), the Netherlands, Russia, and Bulgaria.

Being vain, I tweeted about it when it came out. Most people just liked the tweet or re-tweeted it. But one of my followers replied with "Hey! What about Spain?" He and I both live in Spain. At one point, Spain, or at least parts of it, was at the forefront of the adoption of Free Software in public administration [2]. So why didn't Spain make the grade?

First, there was the limitation that it was a yearbook about 2016. During the last year, Spain made no significant contribution to the job of advancing Free Software in the public sector. Sure, the Spanish administration has Linux running on servers somewhere, but so does everybody else. Those machines were set up before 2016, or so deep down in the bowels of public institutions, that there is no perceivable effect on the outside world.

What's worse though is that, looking back, it turns out Spain has not made any advancement that pushes the "free software envelope" in many, many years. Although there is not a single cause for this, a lot can be attributed to the 2008 crisis that still cripples any kind of social and technological advancement here. Migrating to any kind of unfamiliar technology, including Free Software, is expensive short term. Only long term does society start to reap the benefits.

But what is more damaging is the mindset of politicians. Back in the good old hey-look-we're-in-the-Washington-Post days, each time a new regional distribution was born, politicians would appear smiling in the papers and on TV, holding up shiny CDs, as if they themselves had compiled the kernel and configured the init files.

Soon every megalomaniac, narcissistic regional Napoleon-wannabe wanted a piece of the sweet Free Software cake. This particular brand of envelope-pushing usually started in the education department. Because, you know, if you mess up a generation of kids with an untested policy, who cares? God knows, I am not against using Free Software in education by any stretch of the mind, but I witnessed first hand how teachers were thrown in the deep end with no training, no support, and old and buggy materials. They were set up to fail from the beginning.

Meanwhile, none of the smiling politicians bowed to using Free Software themselves. Instead they hung on to their Blackberries and MacBooks… and demanded upgrades every year.

It is true that something in the interest of the people (more Free Software in public administrations) aligned with the interest of the politicians in charge (an excuse for op eds and headlines) for a short while, but it didn't take long for both to diverge and officeholders moved onto the next thing that would give them electoral brownie points.

Because, here's the thing, to successfully introduce Free Software in the public sector, what the people in charge potentially stand to gain or not should not be considered. Free Software should be used at all levels of government because it is more sustainable and cheaper in the long run for society . In respect to official standards, it is more inclusive for the people . It is safer for public data . And it respects the citizens' privacy and freedom more than any other proprietary alternative can. That it could help a politician rise in the popularity polls is a non-factor.

Of course, not seeking personal gain from an elected public post, nor pushing an agenda that benefits only your clique or the people who share your same ideology, but rather selflessly putting long-term social benefits before everything else should be the norm not the exception. But then jobs in the public administration would be gray, hard, and thankless. And this is fine. It's like collecting trash or cleaning sewers: Someone has to do it.

Unfortunately, we have politicians with personal ambitions, who see themselves as stars, inflated egos and all – people who want to increase their fortunes and influence. Even worse: we have voters who think that is kind of okay, the reasoning being why else would you to run for office?

Until that mindset of "what do I stand to gain from this?" changes in elected public officials, there is no way Free Software can truly grow in the public sector, in Spain or, in fact, anywhere else.

Paul C. Brown,

Editor in Chief

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