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Iceland Has the Hots for FOSS

Iceland Has the Hots for FOSS

Iceland has kicked off a migration project to put its public institutions on a strict diet of free and open source software. The move will affect a wide variety of institutions, and it could result in savings for the country's cash-strapped government. However, just because software is free as in beer and free as in freedom doesn't mean maintenance will come at no cost.

The government of Iceland recently launched a one-year migration project for all its public institutions in what appears to be an acceleration of its movement toward free and open source software (FOSS) and away from proprietary systems, according to the European Commission blog Joinup.

The project will apparently lay the foundation for the migration with a common infrastructure.

All the country's government ministries, its capital city of Reykjavik and Iceland's National Hospital are among the organizations involved in the move.

The Opening Up of Iceland's Systems

A series of five letters making various recommendations has reportedly been sent to the heads of all public institutions. These include suggesting the use of open standards.

Further, a group of specialists who will monitor the project has been formed to prevent failures.

The team involved in the one-year project is compiling a list of ongoing work in using FOSS at public institutions to enable collaboration in these attempts. Public institutions have been migrating to FOSS over the past four years, and so far two out of 32 public secondary schools have moved over entirely.

Many of the country's secondary schools already run Moodle, an open source course management system. Iceland's newly formed Media commission also runs entirely on FOSS.

Iceland is also overhauling its national school curriculum to ensure this doesn't restrict the use of FOSS.

The members of the one-year FOSS project are working on a call for tender to purchase services based on FOSS.

Iceland established a policy on FOSS back in 2007.

Why FOSS?

FOSS solutions "are typically cheaper than proprietary software packages, but escaping long-term, onerous and often unnecessary support fees adds a sort of compound interest je ne sais quoi to the equation," Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told LinuxInsider.

Further, FOSS solutions are less frequently updated than proprietary ones and are less likely to require simultaneous hardware upgrades, King pointed out. "Over time, those various factors can add up to some serious change."

Serious change indeed -- major ERP vendors such as SAP and Oracle charge annual support fees, sometimes to the displeasure of users.

"Software maintenance is a way for vendors to make money because the maintenance fees for software can be very high," Darren Hayes, CIS program chair at Pace University, told LinuxInsider. So, "We are moving more and more to free software."

A Solution for the Penniless

Iceland needs to pinch every penny it can get. Following the financial market meltdown of 2008, the country's national currency, the krona, lost more than half its value against the euro; its banking system crashed; and inflation skyrocketed to nearly 20 percent, sparking protests against its leaders.

The nation ended up borrowing heavily from its neighbors to remain afloat.

"I absolutely think that, because of Iceland's heavy debt burden, it's in need of moving to open software," Pace University's Hayes remarked.

Beware of Geeks Bearing Gifts?

However, the move to FOSS is not necessarily a solution for the cash-strapped.

"If your needs are basic and not likely to change, you have a large number of users or copies of software packages, and you can tolerate problems such as the loss of availability and loss of data, then a FOSS solution may save a lot of money," David Hill, principal at the Mesabi Group, told LinuxInsider.

However, if there's need for additional IT administrative personnel or support services and a need for a high level of business continuity, "FOSS may be fool's gold, with the risks outweighing what appear on the surface to be savings," Hill cautioned.

It's best to look at when it would be appropriate to use FOSS and when to use proprietary software, Hill suggested.

"A 100 percent use of FOSS is probably impractical, and [using] 100 percent proprietary software is probably unnecessarily expensive," Hill elaborated. Users "have to figure out what the right mix is."


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