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Open source is good for the economy: report

Worth €2bn a year

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Europe's lawmakers should "correct" policies that "implicitly or explicitly" favour the use of proprietary software, according to a newly published report from the European Commission (EC).

The EC commissioned Netherlands based UNU-MERIT to investigate the "economic impact of "FLOSS"* in Europe". The researchers found open source software is worth around €2bn every year to the European economy.

The technology is also flourishing, with a "large share" of both private and public enterprises reporting some use of OSS.

The researchers found that the existing code base of OSS in Europe is worth the equivalent of 131,000 freely donated "person years" of time from individual developers. Annually, this is worth around €800m to the European economy, according to lead author Rishab Aiyer Ghosh.

In the form of code that has been made freely available, businesses have contributed a further €1.2bn worth of software, the equivalent of employing 565,000 software developers annually.

Ghosh argues that for tax purposes OSS donations should be treated as charitable donations.

The report also recommends that technical education should be vendor neutral. Students should be taught skills, not applications, and should be encouraged to participate in open source communities.

Back in October, proprietary software makers, represented by Hugo Lueders of the Institute for Software Choice, complained to the European Commission that they had not been given enough time to review the report before its publication.

Lueders said at the time that the limited amount of time other parties had to reply to the research suggested "that the commission is intolerant to opposing comments...and thus a closed process has ensued which clearly limits the input from dissenting or diverging points of view".

He took the view that the success of OSS, as identified in the report, is exactly the reason it should not be given any special treatment, such as the recommended tax breaks.

The full report can be downloaded here (pdf 1.8MB).

*[Editor's note: FLOSS stands for Free, Libre and Open Source Software. We will continue to refer to it as OSS, because floss is something dentists talk about.]

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