Free software and the European Union

Last week, Monday 4th of October 2010, I sent the following comment (number 27) to Distrowatch Weekly issue 374:

27An example (by koroshiya.itchy on 2010-10-04 13:38:59 GMT from Belgium)
That said, freedom is not only about ideology, for it has significant practical implications. For instance, a few of my friends works as translators for the European institutions. For those who do not know, the European institutions, together or just the European Commission alone, are by far the biggest translation body in the world. Putting together the Commission, the Parliament, the Center for Translation, the Court of Justice and the different agencies, there are several thousand translators which translate millions of pages per year. All these guys use proprietary operating systems (100% Microsoft), proprietary translation software and proprietary administration software. How much money from our pocket this means in terms of software licenses I can not even imagine (and maybe it is better like this). But there is more than that. As the hardware gets older it also becomes slower because the OS and other software upgrades are intended precisely to do that. On top of that, each computer (and the servers) need to be running all the time updated antivirus, antispyware, etc. (can you imagine what would happen if a server gets infected?). If they want to upgrade to Windows 7, they will probably need 2G of RAM per computer, faster processors and more powerful graphics cards. Again, the investment would be astronomical, it would be “cheaper” just to replace all the equipment. Then, the system (both the OS, the proprietary translation software and the administrative software) is giving troubles all the time. This means a lot of frustration for the translators and many hours of works wasted. If they want MS and other software providers to adapt their products to the needs of the European institutions, if possible at all, this would require a long time and would cost a lot of money. Therefore, the EU has to adapt to a buggy, inefficient and expensive software. Most politicians are happy with this situation because for them this is the “free market” and they are neo-liberal (thus, indeed, there is an ideology, but it is on the other camp). Translators are not so happy. For me, it is clear that for the EU it would be much cheaper and more efficient to hire a team of developers and to have there own operating system and translation tools. Starting from any pre-existing distro, they could easily have a system tailored exactly to their needs, reliable, secure (like OpenBSD) and cheap. They would have in-house (and also if required, in external private companies or even in the FOSS community) a team of experts able to correct, improve and adapt every bit of the software in a reasonable time frame. For the translation tools the situation is a bit more complicated, but it would be just a matter of time to develop professional-quality tools (these could be developed by the public sector or by the private sector, it does not matter, but it is important that the software is free so that it can be corrected, improved and tailored as required). However, this is not happening, among other reasons, because there are thousands of lobbyists in Brussels whose job is to make sure that things will always be done irrationally for the great profit of their employers. In addition, I have already mentioned that neo-liberal religion which dominates the European Commission and that would not allow any heretic deviation from their notion of “free market”. I ask again, where is the ideology here?

The same very same day, Javier Carrete echoed from his blog a more than one year old leak on the same subject. This, apparently previously unnoticed, leak is now propagating over the internet and I hope that my, poorly written, comment will serve as a little example on the ramifications and implications of EU lobbying.