The German federal authorities should find ways to publish the code of software applications that they develop or that are developed for them, recommend advocates of free and open source from across Europe. Making such code available as open source helps to save money and citizens should be allowed to study, share and improve such software. The German parliament is urged to remove the restrictions in the federal budget law.
European advocates of free and open source commented on a decision by the German Finance Ministry, to not make available as open source the code of three applications that are publicly available for users of smart phones and tablet computers.
Karsten Gerloff, president of the Free Software Foundations Europe, said: "Citizens have paid for the development of this software through their taxes. So citizens should be able to not only use this software, but also to study, share and improve it."
He says German authorities should by default release such software code. "That would be the most efficient way for the Ministry to share them with other public bodies. It is already standard practice in other countries."
Gerloff urged the German parliament to remove the restrictions. ""This rule clearly wasn't conceived with free software in mind. When it comes to Free Software, this restriction is both costly and unnecessary. Releasing public-sector programs as free software is the best way to make these taxpayer-financed products available to all citizens and companies on an equal basis."
Sharing the code as open source reduces maintenance costs, says Manuel Velardo, the director of Cenatic, Spain's national resource centre on open source. "Tax-payers across Europe should get access to the software assets that they finance." Sharing the code as open source will allow others to innovate the code and it can help to reduce maintenance costs by as much as 85 per cent. "The best thing they can do is publish it with an open source licence."
Public administrations are better of providing open access to the data, and should not waste resources on developing proprietary applications, says Roberto Di Cosmo, computer science professor at the Université Paris Diderot VII. "The role of the public administration is to provide unfettered access to public data and procedures for all the citizens."
Di Cosmo points to the approach taken by the public transport authority in Portland, Oregon. "Thanks to Trimet's open data policy, Portland's area commuters have now access to 50 applications, catering to different needs, and supporting a variety of mobile terminals, as well as traditional web access; and all this, at zero cost for the taxpayer."