The Waste and the Loss; Government Spending on Proprietary Software

17 Apr 2014

Whenever anyone uses proprietary software they lose freedom. But there is typically also an associated waste of resources. For instance when your government spends taxes on proprietary software.

Typically, we only pay for something once; I wouldn't be happy if someone told me I had to pay for my groceries over and over again.

If your government pays for software using your taxes, then you've payed for that software.

If your government buys proprietary software to, say, prepare documents, then they are likely giving your tax money to a publicly held corporation.

You'd better hope that the shares of the proprietary software corporation in question are held primarily by people from your own country. Otherwise your government has just given your tax money to an unknown foreign investor.

If you want a share of any perceived benefit you could buy shares of the proprietary software corporation for yourself; and that would be a terrible mistake. If proprietary software corporation's management blunders and the shares lose value then you've payed twice and for nothing. If the government buys lots and lots of proprietary software from the corporation and its shares increase in valuation then the government will tax your income on the shares you own. You've now payed 3 times, have been taxed twice for the same thing, and you still have nothing.

You might at this point go to download a form from a local government Website in order to file a formal complaint about government spending, only to find out that you can't view or edit the form properly, or at all. To your no doubt bewildered amazement you are now expected to go and independently purchase a copy of that proprietary software, at market price, to be able and interact with your own government. You pay for perhaps the fourth time, for something you should have paid for exactly once.

The worst part of this whole scenario is that if you do all of this you'll end up with proprietary software on your computer. This so called "office suite" you can't examine or control. And any office which has arbitrary power over you is just another beadledom; another bureaucracy.

Is there another way?

Suppose that the government spent your original tax money on contracting a local company to install and support LibreOffice. Since LibreOffice is free software, and all the local tech companies have access to the source and the right to modify and distribute it, the government is now free to choose the best service at the best price. Instead of having to choose based on who owns the code, and pay based solely on the policies of a single corporate boardroom, the government gets to choose based on what's the best investment.

Now what to do with the millions in cash saved? Contract a non-governmental organization to hire local programmers to work on those specific features the government needs to get its work done. Since the work would be on improving LibreOffice, those improvements can make their way back to you.

Then you, through the power of software freedom, would have payed a bit less than once.