Digital colonialism: nothing new since last century?


What you are about to read is a file that I recently recovered from an old folder I had forgotten. In and by itself, it contains nothing new, only things that I and others (often better than me) have already explained providing plenty of details. The main, if not only interest of the short rant below is the simple fact that almost everything I wrote really looks like as a still accurate and (as of early 2011) just written description of Information Technology inside and for Public Administration. Even if I wrote that file on… July 28th, 2000 (you’ll note I say “Liras” instead of “Euro”). Maybe the only part I’d write differently today is the first bullet of the final list. I leave any conclusion and comment to the readers.

Digital Colonialism

The market of software for everyday use (operating systems, office suites, graphic/photo processing) is a de-facto monopoly, controlled by a very small number of foreign multinationals. This is a serious menace both for our economy and for the right to education.

Every year, public administrations and private businesses send billions abroad, to pay for overfeatured, buggy and virus-prone software programs.

Thanks to tenths of never used functions, every version of these programs forces us to throw away computers that are still working perfectly and buy new, more powerful ones. All these costs are eventually paid by consumers/taxpayers. Mortgages, pizzas and birth certificates are more expensive than they could be because the providers of all these goods or services spend in hardware and software much more than it is necessary, and (have to) pass these extra costs to their customers.

Since they’re black boxes produced elsewhere, these programs heavily limit the possibility of making local versions, adapted to the actual needs of each single business or administration. In other words, by being black boxes these programs limit both the productivity of their users and the opportunities to create local jobs in the ICT sector.

There is also another, more serious danger. Software suppliers change very often the format of the files produced by their programs, deliberately making each version more or less incompatile with the previous ones, in order to make more money. This means that:

  • in order to read a document created with the last word processor released on the market, one should dump the previous version of the same software and pay again

  • millions of documents, Court acts, law texts and so on… disappear. How many of the people who wrote their graduation paper with a computer more than five years ago would still be able to read it on a new computer?

  • the poor child who, until today, would have only needed pen and paper to succeed is discriminated against, by his or her (public) school, if the latter produces CDROMs and courseware that are accessible only by spending a few million Liras

The solution? The so called “Free, Open Source Software”, that is operating systems and programs that, like Linux, are jointly developed by programmers from every part of the world, and can be always used without license costs. Today this software is not only much more stable and efficient than commercial products, but also equally easy to use, and by its own nature immune from the problems just described.

It is necessary that:

  • Every Public Administration is forced by law to install and use only Free/Open Source Software, starting from the operating system, except in those few cases where software of this type doesn’t exist.

  • Every Public Administration (starting from public schools) is forced by law to release and accept only electronic documents written in public, open file formats.

Other countries, like Mexico or France, have already started to rebel against digital colonialism. Why there is no Italian party, union or public administration doing the same?

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