TCO of FOSS vs Closed Source: Mr. Bacil, you are wrong


Paw Prints: Writings of the maddog

Dec 19, 2019 GMT
Jon maddog Hall

Today I received a link to a news article from Brazili where first-term Parana state deputy Emerson Bacil of Jair Bolsonaro's PSL party is proposing to change a law that prefers Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) used by government over closed source, proprietary software. Mr. Bacil claims that this is necessary because the software is not “free” has maintenance and updating costs that have to be considered, and that free software vendors would not provide assistance at the level the government required.
Mr. Bacil thinks that the software should be chosen on a case-by-case basis depending on what is needed, including security and confidentiality.
The law, written in 2003, already allows this type of evaluation and selection to be done. If the entity selecting the software can prove that closed source software is demonstrated to be superior or less expensive, than it can be purchased. But the law requires that this comparison be done.

The law was first written because large closed-source software companies would visit purchasing agents and argue that “of course” the contract should be given to the company, often due to unproven claims of functionality or support, and often with no investigation of FOSS products or services which did the same thing. Often these large companies would “help” the purchasing agents outline “needs” which only their products could supply.
The 2003 law requires that the comparison and selection be done openly and fairly. If there was no comparison and justification than the purchaser broke the law. Not only can the purchasing agent be fired, they could be found guilty of breaking this law.
Weakening or eliminating the 2003 law would invite corruption, something that the PS party, and President Bolsonaro, have pledged to fight.
According to the article, Mr. Bacil cites that FOSS is not free, that there are maintenance costs and updating costs. Of course there is little in life that is completely gratis, but studies done over time (even studies done by Microsoft) have shown that simple Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is about the same over the first five years of ownership. The argument is that the initial cost of FOSS is lower due to the usual lack of licensing fees, but that the maintenance cost is higher because of the greater wages paid to FOSS people due to scarcity of these skilled people.

There are several things wrong with using these TCO studies. They usually end right before the software has to be updated and new licensing fees appear from the vendor. They often do not take into account the hardware upgrades needed over time to handle the new versions of the operating system.
The TCO studies ignore the fact that a great “cost” of using FOSS is “retraining” from an existing product (i.e. from using Microsoft Windows to GNU/Linux on the desktop). This training does not re-occur in the sixth, seventh or eighth year of TCO.  "Re-training" also does not have to be done for new projects.   Since the users of the software have not been "trained" already, there is no additional "training" that has to be done for the FOSS.   Both closed-source and FOSS users have to be trained in a new project.
They also ignore the fact that licensing fees of closed-source products (unless applied by an expensive site-wide software license) keep increasing the greater the number of licenses needed, whereas FOSS maintenance fees usually increase at a much slower pace, if at all, spread across all of the systems that the customer has.
A second thing, hardly ever mentioned, is that the software support for these FOSS systems tends to be provided by local contractors, who may local support people, whose wages go to buy local food, local housing and local taxes. Money paid to (typically) USA based companies for licenses typically go to profits and pockets outside of Brazil. While a certain amount of money does go to Brazilian employees of these multi-national companies, typically millions of Reais will cross Brazilian borders every year, instead of employing Brazilians.

I have known many good programmers who are trained in Brazilian universities, paid for by Brazilian taxes, who leave Brazil every year to work in Silicon Valley or Europe because they feel they can not get “interesting work” in Brazil. Why not encourage them to stay by giving them the chance to improve and maintain FOSS for the public? This also generates a pool of trained programmers and technicians that can help sustain and attract new industry to Brazil. Do the TCO measurements of Mr. Bacil take this into account?
If Mr. Bacil does not feel there are enough FOSS knowledgeable people to meet the needs of the government, then perhaps he can encourage more universities to use FOSS software to teach their students. Instead of teaching database design using only Oracle, perhaps universities could use MySQL, PostgreSQL, Couch DB, Firebird or other fine FOSS databases. Instead of using Microsoft Office, perhaps universities can encourage students to use LibreOffice instead.
Instead of the millions of Reais now sent to the USA every year (and by a country that pirates about 46 per cent of its desktop software), this money could be kept inside of Brazil using FOSS, allowing more jobs for Brazilians.

Instead of eliminating the current law, the anti-corruption, pro-business party of Bolsonaro should be enforcing it more stringently, to help create more jobs and business inside of Brazil. Right?


comments powered by Disqus
Subscribe to our Linux Newsletters
Find Linux and Open Source Jobs
Subscribe to our ADMIN Newsletters

Support Our Work

Linux Magazine content is made possible with support from readers like you. Please consider contributing when you’ve found an article to be beneficial.

Learn More