A couple of weeks ago I received a message from the project manager of the FOSS project UNDP is supporting in the Kingdom. The manager, who I happen to know well, was asking for inputs on a draft FOSS policy which apparently will be presented to decision makers in the near future. I painstakingly went through the document and provided both comments and edits. My revised version is here: Saudi-FS-Policy-2013-05-01-rz.
I also provided these additional comments:
1. The document (which I presume it is translation) seems to take a very aggressive position against proprietary software. I do not think this is productive. In our experience, both types of software need to co-exist. And we should live with that. At any rate, taking such position will probably trigger strong opposition from those who prefer proprietary software.
2. Related to the above, I think we should not lose sight of the real target. After all, FOSS is just a means to an end. Two themes immediately come to mind: capacity development and innovation, both also related. Countries such as the Kingdom should be able to move away form just being consumers of technology to become producers of technology too. For this to happen, public and private investments in local capacity development are essential. It is certainly education but also entrepreneurship and community building in a way that young people have more opportunities to be part of the process. This then creates fertile ground for local innovation which is necessary if a country wants to be come a global player in the areas of ICTs. Innovation in the global south is starting to take off and the Kingdom should not miss this opportunity.
3. One important argument that was missing and I tied to add in the text related to the use of public resources for procuring software solutions and platforms. It is here where FOSS shows the most promise as one can easily make the argument that public investment should support public goods and FOSS can be seen as a public good (in the classical economic sense: non-exclusive and non-rivalrous). In addition, the case should be made for the reuse and redistribution of software developed with public resources within all public institutions. This process connects once more with innovation.
4. I find the argument on increasing foreign currency reserves weak. From the economic point of view, we do not need more savings. What is needed is more investments on ICTs. So if countries can shift license fees for investing in local capacity, communities, incubators, etc. they will be better off. SO we are talking about substitution followed by sound strategic investments in the Kingdom with a long term goal in mind.