Enough with this "Free Software is communist" myth! Please!

A few weeks ago I was finally able to put down an English version of a short article I had written in October 2009 about the risks for Italian schools hidden in a deal between Microsoft and the Italian Government. Some days later, almost by chance, I discovered that that translation had been linked from Linux Today and that it had caused a couple of comments that really deserve an answer

, for reasons that will be clear in a moment. The comments I refer to are those titled FOSS perception in Italy and ALL FALSE, both reported here for your convenience.

The first comment says:

A lot of the trouble with FOSS in Italy stems from a part of the Italian FOSS community itself, which is prone to associate with extreme left wing political parties. This IMO hurts a lot the perception of FOSS here, since that is not true (i.e., FOSS is for everyone). But still, if such people are its public image, the reputation will suffer. Besides, no one said if there were other bidders in such a deal, or not.

The second is even better:

*this article is s**t. (I apologize) the italian minister had choosen Microsoft because NO LINUX OFFER HAS BEEN DONE. THE PROBLEM IS THAT NO NOVELL,NO RED HAT MADE AN ALTERNATIVE PROPOSAL TO ITALIAN MINISTER. I want to remember also that students CAN USE OPEN SOURCE software on their Windows machine(open office,vlc,gimp,ecc.) this article by italian communist marco is s**t. please leave politics out of IT...

The reason why I'm paying attention to such comments is very simple: they contain a couple of assertions that every person who already knows these matters could and should dismiss with a smile, but could still sound believable and create lots of confusion to the others (that is, almost everybody). So these comments are an occasion as useful as any other to make a couple of basic, general interest facts very clear.

Let's start from the equation "Free Software = left or far left politic ideology and vice-versa". Free as in Freedom (not price) Software is software that is written and distributed leaving to all its users the freedom to install, modify and redistribute it at no charge, and is already very popular all over the world: Ubuntu, Firefox and OpenOffice are just three of the most famous examples.

Now, maybe it's even true that in political circles, at least in Italy, Free Software was first discovered by groups in the left or the far left area. Besides, I do personally remember one or two cases when (even if we're talking of some years ago…) if you read without adequate background some web pages or online discussions you could really believe that, in order to use and prefer Free Software you had to belong, politically speaking, to the far left and vice-versa.

However, that period is long gone and believing in certain equations in 2010 would really be ridiculous, as the paragraphs below, and many other articles here at Stop! Zona-M will prove: promoting Free Software, especially in schools and Public Administrations is like promoting the habit of always washing one's hands before meals. Left or Right have nothing to do with it, it's something you must do simply out of common sense.

The other belief or assumption in those two comments is the idea that the Italian Government chose Microsoft because all other potential partners were so uninterested in the idea of a nationwide software support contract that they didn't even bother to present alternative proposals. Then again, what do we know? Maybe, in this period of economic and financial boom, business is so good that a company can afford to snub potential customers as marginal as a couple of Ministries, right? Yeah, that does sound as a realistic hypothesis. Bah..

In any case, just to be on the safe side, I asked a second opinion to somebody who followed the whole story from the beginning much better than me, Marco Ciurcina, lawyer and current President of the Italian Association for Free Software. Here is what Ciurcina answered to the first comment:

“The concern in the first comment is simply false. Chosing Free Software means to act for the common good. Common good has no political color, only enemies who want to protect private interests (both in Italy and elsewhere in the world). In Italy the local law on Free Software of the Veneto Region was approved by the Lega (a right coalition party) the one of Piedmont Region on the same subject got the votes of all the local political groups, left, right and center. Besides, the Caro candidato (“Dear Candidate”) initiative to convince politicians to include Free Software and digital freedoms in their agendas has been already subscribed by candidates of all sides and more keep coming. Finally, the European Parliament intergroup on New Media, Free Software and Open Information Society is supported by both left and right groups.”

As far as the second "objection" is concerned, that is the idea that Microsoft got the job easily because nobody else wanted to do it, the answer from Ciurcina (who, again followed the whole story from the beginning much better than me) is even clearer and more concise: *Dear commenters, may YOU please document when and how the two Ministers involved in the deal asked the Italian companies who distribute and support Free Software to present an offer?