GOA, India, 02 April 2007
APC member in Croatia, ZaMirNET, has joined an information and communication technologies (ICT) industrial cluster working on free and open source software (FOSS). Interview with Danijela Babic of ZaMirNET.
APCNews: What role do you see for ZaMirNET in this industrial cluster?
Since the cluster is initiated by the Employers’ Association it attracted small businesses and not all of them are actually into FOSS. The cluster was initially launched as a FOSS cluster but of course, some members would like to make it into a general IT cluster.
We are helping with planning the cluster activities and also support (at the cluster meetings) FOSS companies that are trying to convince producers of proprietary software to make their software products open source.
In the cluster, we push for interoperability since that is the big issue in Croatia and the European Union well. We want one platform to be able to “talk” to all the others.
Our state administration is the biggest client/buyer of both hardware and software, but they do not do it in a planned out manner. This means that they had all kinds of arrangements with Microsoft and local governments purchased software “from their friends”, not taking care of open standards and interoperability.
We in ZaMirNET see the cluster as a tool to work on that and make FOSS producers more influential, customers happier, save money in our pockets and secure interoperability.
Collaboration of FOSS producers should also make them more reliable in the eyes of potential customers. Currently, the problem is that most of these companies are very small and customers do not have faith that support will be available when needed.
You know, if the company goes bankrupt or if it is a one-man show, what happens when s/he gets ill… The central administrative office for eCroatia (the e-government office) has developed an open source policy but have failed until now to effectively promote the use of FOSS among local and national state administrations.
We will use the cluster to monitor the state’s expenditures in proprietary software and FOSS and push so as to increase the latter. We have already agreed in the cluster that we will work on developing quality standards for software –with the intention of making a case for using FOSS over proprietary software.
So far, we suggested that the cluster invites other NGOs and people from universities that are working on the promotion of FOSS. We are in charge of extending that invitation.
Several NGOs would like to help other NGOs to migrate to free and open source software. Unfortunately, nobody has enough resources for some systematic approach to that. All that is available are occasional seminars on FOSS, out of which simple users cannot get much.
I think that these NGOs could establish a collaborative network with like-minded companies. This might give us the resources we need for the successful promotion and implementation of FOSS solutions in Croatia.
Last but not least, we need partners from the industry in order to apply for European Union funded projects. This cluster is good news in that regard.
APCNews: What are the main challenges to spreading FOSS in Croatia?
Our main challenge is that the companies are not influential enough and do not have financial resources for running marketing blitzes à la Bill Gates. Most companies are also very small in sized and customers, understandably, tend to trust larger companies. If customers know that support will be available 24/7, they will be less hesitant to work with FOSS.
That’s not the end of the story. FOSS products and services should also be improved through collaboration. This, bundled with the fact that education centres for computer literacy do not teach computing using FOSS, play in the hands of proprietary software. Customers do not get an opportunity to get acquainted wit the technology.
If you are taught to use only Windows, it is quite demanding to migrate to another operating system. Additionally, there is a prejudice that FOSS is less reliable than Microsoft, for example.
One part of the problem is that there are no quality standards and systematic quality control for FOSS which to provide guarantees that the software is good… or better than Microsoft (smiles).
In Croatia, there is not enough (if any) research conducted in this area. We do not know what the total cost of ownership for FOSS is. Some people would argue that FOSS actually costs more. Some argue that proprietary software is more reliable. There are is no data to confirm either opinion.
APCNews: What has been ZaMirNET’s interest in FOSS so far, and why?
We are interested in transparency of public procurement in Croatia and we realised that the state works more with Microsoft and proprietary software than with other solutions. We do not think that this is fair.
Furthermore we are interested in interoperability, since it reduces costs for citizens using governmental services. It also improves collaboration of different governments’ offices and departments, makes files more accessible, etc.
So, the costs of administration should be reduced and accessibility improved.
But most importantly, we are interested in public domain issues. The Croatian government shows too much readiness to copy the EU laws and directives without thinking enough about its implications. This is especially true with internet protocol protection, an area for which the EU is concerned.
At this moment, we do not think that our government has any idea of what should be protected in public domain and what value that represents.
For us, the story with FOSS is more about knowledge sharing and collaboration across the globe, since we believe that it is the best way for humankind to prosper.
APCNews: Where could ZaMirNET add value to this cluster?
In addition to what has been said, we hope to bring a civil society perspective into the Croatian business world.