Summary: One culprit in the selling of Italy’s future to Microsoft gets named; this problem is not only Italian
zona-m.net is an interesting blog which reports from Italy, particularly about topics related to OpenOffice.org (and now LibreOffice). A few days ago it did some excellent reporting about Nichi Vendola and Microsoft [1, 2] and it is probably worth laying out in isolation as follows:
Nichi Vendola is president both of south-eastern italian region Puglia and of the Italian left party Sinistra Ecologia Libertà (SEL or “Left, Ecology, Freedom” in English).
Free Software is software that can save lots of public money. Even moms like Free Software like Linux, partly because it can be used without problems even by some disabled children. Besides, Free Software is such a good idea that European Parliament representatives of all colors like it !.
On its own website, SEL says “we believe that for a modern party speaking of copyleft, Free Software and Net Neutrality is as necessary as speaking of jobs, environment, economy and civil rights”. Among the more than 100 political candidates supporting Free Software at the latest regional elections in Italy there were several SEL representatives. The Florence section of SEL even presented a motion to promote Free Software in Florence http://www.sinistraeliberta.eu/articoli/sel-per-il-software-libero-al-comune-di-firenze] in January 2010.
The day after signing a Berlusconi-like deal with Microsoft, Nichi Vendola, president of the Puglia Region, published an explanation on the website of its party. These are my comments to the main parts of that article.
Vendola: “Who is the enemy for Puglia and for Italy? Is it Microsoft, or any other software giant?”
Stop: The first enemy is lack of competence and interest in ICT by Public Administrators. Is this the case with Vendola? Maybe not, but frankly this explanation isn’t enough to be sure, even if there are some good parts in it.
Today, after the initial surprise caused by knowing that Left party leader and president of the italian region of Puglia, Nichi Vendola, has just signed a Berlusconi-like deal with Microsoft offering an explanation that, alas, doesn’t really explain much, we started to know something about the content of the deal (because the bigger, problem in this whole business, much more of the presence of Microsoft, is lack of transparency).
The Region of Puglia published a press release titled, more or less, “Protocol of understanding between the Region of Puglia and Microsoft. Vendola says: (this is for) technological neutrality (a summary of the press release was also published by Italian newspaper Corriere del Mezzogiorno.
Microsoft clearly relies on corruptible people who would rather serve Microsoft and not serve the public. It is worth naming these people to put pressure on them. Nichi Vendola appears to be one such person and as this fine new article puts it, the problem affects more than just Italy (the author previously showed how it’s done in the UK with the “Everything Microsoft” CIO, Richard Steel [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]):
The reason Microsoft’s EU numbers don’t add up is that the EC has spent only half the total amount it had alloted under its €49m contract for desktop software.
When on signing the contract in 2008 the EC estimated its cost per user per year would be €125, it fell well short of the total contract value. It sounds like a super deal when you say it’s a third cheaper than it is.
It better had sound like a super deal as well if the EC wants to justify spending millions on Microsoft software while still fighting the software giant in court over its monopoly abuses.
Discount on software which takes away one’s freedom can be worse than no discount at all because its purpose is to ensure lock-in at all costs.
As another blogger put it the other day (in relation to KINect):
It looks like Microsoft is admitting that it needs to look like a bully even if it really isn’t at times; why?
Well, that’s just Microsoft, a control freak. Italy was smart enough to shoot down the “EU Patent” and to move to Free software more quickly than some neighbouring countries. Hopefully the likes of Nichi Vendola will be seen for what they are — an impediment to Italian autonomy and freedom. More stories about Italy are appended below. █
- Activists Battle Microsoft Fascism in Italy
- Voters on OOXML Up for ‘Hire’ in Italy (Updated)
- Survey in Italy: OpenOffice.org Usage in 50% of Companies, GNU/Linux at 63%
- Microsoft Unleashes the Gartner Group to Sabotage Migration to GNU/Linux in Europe
Update: Glyn Moody wrote a rebuttal to poor damage control from Vendola:
What on earth is he talking about? After having made an unjustified choice to sign a deal with Microsoft (one whose terms haven’t even been revealed, as far I can tell), he tries to simply avoid the central question “Why?” by saying in true Tony Blair fashion that it is time to move on, and that it’s not about competitors, but about the iPad and fibre optic cables, the price of apps and Net neutrality. He then changes subject yet again by bringing in the topic of Italy’s digital divide.
Now, closing the digital divide is certainly a hugely important undertaking, but if anything can do that it is *free* software, which can be distributed to everyone in Puglia – to every school, and to every business. Microsoft’s offerings are precisely the last thing that will close that digital divide.
Indeed, the divide is there largely *because* of Microsoft. By virtue of its monopolistic hold on the desktop market it has been able to impose artificially high prices on a sector whose marginal costs of production are zero. This implies that that natural price of software is also zero – as is exactly the case for free software. Anything higher than zero makes the digital divide deeper – which means that Microsoft’s inflated prices have helped excavate not so much a digital divide as a digital chasm.
So Signor Vendola’s bizarre “explanation” of his move – which, of course is a non-explanation, and the Italian equivalent of saying: “ooh, look, a squirrel” – is in fact a superb reason why he should in fact be supporting open source, just as his party professes to do on its Web site.
The message is clear: Italian free software activists must (a) continue to pile on the pressure until he cancels this deal with Microsoft, and (b) non guardare lo scoiattolo.