Thesis Abstract & Chapter 1 - Implementing opensource applications and services in the UAE government
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Benefits and Advantages of Open Source Software for UAE Government Agencies – An Exploratory Study
This paper tackles the different issues that are related with the application of OSS in the government setting. It uses data gathered from different government agencies in UAE. Interviews were implemented to the chosen IT professionals or managers of these government agencies to gather data, and then use the grounded theory method to analyze the gathered data.
The result of the study showed that OSS is being used extensively in UAE nowadays, about 25% to 55% of the entire datacenter system of the agencies involved in the study were already developed and being run with the use of OSS.
In addition, the study also tackled the different advantages or benefits offered by OSS, which include customization or personalization because source code can be easily viewed, changed, managed and altered. With this, it can help in order to improve the skills and knowledge of the employees or those teams in the IT departments of the government agencies. In addition, it can also help in order to maintain transparency in different government agencies. Furthermore, OSS can also help in order to improve performance of the government agencies, because of the support offered by the OSS communities, therefore updates and development will be available and can be used in order to ensure the performance of the software.
However, OSS can also offer wide variety of disadvantages. First is the lack of direct support, which leads to difficulty in implementation and maintenance. Then the hidden costs related to the training and learning of the employees or developers to be involved in OSS implementation and maintenance.
The open source software (OSS) development model was first established in the 1970s, partly as a cynical reaction to the move by some private software companies towards the appropriate public available software into their proprietary applications (Stallman & Lessig, 2002). For the last decades, the said software development model has materialized as a feasible and practical option to commercial software projects (Fitzgerald, 2006) and has attracted and motivated increasing attention from academic and corporate world (Stewart, Ammeter and Maruping, 2006).
Open source (OS) model of software developed has gained attention and become very popular in the research community because of different factors, which include: success of different OS products; agitation about monopoly in the software industry; continuous increase of demands for secured, efficient and dependable software applications; increasing market competition and presence of demands for low cost applications; and access to and availability of the Internet in aspect of an unexpected cooperation mean (Polančič, Horvat and Rozman, 2004). Richard Stallman opened the door for OSS. The GNU project was started in 1985 and establishes the Free Software Foundation to support his projects. Then in 1991 Linus Torvalds wrote the Unix-like kernel based on Minix. Thousands of hackers got involved in the Linux community, because Torvalds was willing to accept fixes and recommendations from users and co-developers, thus Linux become one of the most vital projects in open source movement (Yang and Wang, 2008).
Currently, different organizations are becoming more and more aware of the benefits of OSS. It is being used in order to support internal software development efforts or even to shift and move proprietary software offerings (Bahn and Dressel 2006). Currently, OSS is considered as one of the most popular trends in the informatics industry. It has become the most vital option or substitute to proprietary software in different fields. Apache has the overall share 53.84% of the entire web server market; Sendmail, Exim, Postix has 64.42% share in mail server market and Firefox has 24.41% share of the entire browser market. The most popular symbol of OSS is the Linux operating system. As a result, many companies, including IBM, Oracle as well as Novell had been able to take advantage of OSS on their business model (Pranić and Požgaj 2010).
Just like the private sector, government agencies and departments are also taking advantage of many benefits and advantages of technologies, this particularly includes the use of OSS. Open source software is increasingly considered as a tool which can help governments to obtain efficient service delivery due to its low cost compared with the commercial or liscensed software (Mutula and Kalaote 2010). The Open Software Working Group (2002) defined OSS as software that is free of proprietary restrictions and is developed, released to, and can be modified and changed by the public, free of charge. Its users can view the source code, alter and re-distribute it.
The process of software maintenance in OSS is different from that of the traditional method used in software development. In traditional setting, it is commonly needed to have a software maintenance team presented in an organization in order to offer post operational support. The support carries from operational aspects to change management. If the support requested is change management then the proposed changes need to be either approved or rejected and are later assigned to a defined set of individuals to put into practice and apply. The decision of approval or rejection is greatly dependent on the influence of the changes on the overall software application. This scenario is very different to most OSS cases, where it is not compulsory to get the change request permitted from any authority. Anyone can suggest and recommend a change and apply or execute the change by themselves or a request can be drifted among participants in the community. In some cases, there are moderators present in the OSS projects, and which necessitate the change request to be assessed before approving for implementation. The process of operational support is also alike, anyone can offer operational support against a request and the online forums generally become the point of contact for those seeking assistance or advice (Ahmed et al., 2009). Even though current trends and changes for the companies that take advantages of benefits of OSS to have some employees work on OSS, different surveys showed that common of the participants in OSS projects are volunteers (Lerner and Tirole, 2002).
There are number of communities who focus on development of OSS. One of which is the Source Forge (www.sourceforge.net) a leading resource for open source software development and distribution which is dedicated in making open source projects in successful manner, and focus on collaboration of the entire community. With the use of tools offered in the website, there are 2.7 million developers who develop power software in more than 260,000 projects, and connects to more than 46 million consumers, serving more than 2 million downloads per day (Source Forge, 2010).
Security is always a vital issue in software industry. Security, in all its forms, is the topic where all benefits of open-source paradigm become visible. Open-source security depends on a simple theory that the system with its components and elements is intrinsically more secure when its source code can be constantly checked, assessed and discussed by those experts and professionals in the security field. The rule of this viewpoint is clearly very simple and uncomplicated. All who are capable, competent and qualified to use their expertise and knowledge in security can examine and assess the source code for possible holes, bugs and planted or undersigned backdoors. Thus, it shows its advantage over closed- source systems, which is extreme. While close-source software can only be appropriately scrutinized by few individuals who have source code access, open-source programming code is subjected and reviewed by, possibly, millions of programmers – a international developer community which is competent of working out a patch in a matter of hours (Greiner, et al., 2003).
Currently there is a lot of dependency on closed source software and there is a neglecting the fact that there are alternatives to their current software implementation. Although there is some kind of insinuative to implement OSS in some of the government entities but they are not sufficient and not considerably mentioned.
Cost is one of the main concerns nowadays because of the financial crises and cost cuts may affect the service delivery in cost source software.
“Boost the domestic software industry to realize the transition of China from IT consumer to IT provider” by “playing a leading role in the Linux/Open Source Software community” (Yeo 2006 cited from Hedgebeth 2007). As China is considering the implementation of the OSS to its internal entities so the UAE should take the same step towards the OSS implementation.
This study will be exploratory in nature. It is conducted because the problem has not been clearly defined. The issue about OSS in the government environment in UAE has not been studied before. With this, it is important to have an extensive preliminary work in order to gain familiarity with the phenomenon.
The main aim of the study is to explore the different advantages and benefits which OSS can offer towards UAE government. In line with this, the following are the specific objectives of the study:
- To evaluate the current application of OSS in UAE government;
- To compare open-sourced with closed-sourced software;
- To analyze the different advantages and benefits that UAE government acquire from OSS; and
- To examine the possible risks and disadvantages that UAE government can be experienced by using OSS.
In general, this study will answer the question: What are the different advantages and benefits that UAE government can acquire by using OSS compare with the closed-source software?
From the Problem statement our research will be based on answering the questions below:
• What is the current state of OSS in the UAE?
• What are the factors that would convince the government to apply OSS in its IT infrastructure?