Italians debate open-source bias in IT buys

Italians debate open-source bias in IT buys

It sounded like a good idea to officials in Italy's central Tuscany region. The regional council passed a law that encouraged government IT managers to use open-source software.

There's just one problem. According to a top minister in Rome, the Tuscan law is written to favor open-source technology at the expense of competition with proprietary options. And the way the rules are written, it could violate European Union free market rules.

The law went into effect in Tuscany on Jan. 30, citing as a guiding principle: "The promotion, support and preferential use of solutions based on open-source programs, respecting the principle of technological neutrality."

That apparently contradictory wording sparked debate in Rome. Lucio Stanca, the government's innovation and technologies minister, warned that the guidelines could interfere with the workings of the free market.

Stanca, a former IT professional and 30-year veteran of IBM Corp., told Italy's parliament in May that the Tuscan law, "if incorrectly interpreted, could influence equal opportunities on the market, violating competition laws to the detriment of other solutions, such as proprietary systems that can be acquired by license."

Stanca himself had issued a directive in February calling on the civil service to consider open-source applications in IT purchasing as a way to broaden choices. "You have to choose the best solution in terms of value for money," Stanca said. "My approach is very pragmatic, not ideological. If they have a preferential approach, that is wrong."

Carla Guidi, the Tuscan regional councillor responsible for IT, insisted there was no conflict between the region and the minister. The law "is intended to broaden the market and certainly not to exclude anyone," she says.

The debate aside, Stanca has expressed satisfaction at the increasing rate of open-source software use in the Italian civil service over the past two years. Italy is now fourth in the world for the percentage of its IT professionals engaged in open-source software development, Stanca told Parliament recently.

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