Bulgarian Government Embraces Open Source

Bulgaria’s Parliament recently passed legislation mandating open source software to bolster security, as well as to increase competition with commercially coded software.

Amendments to the Electronic Governance Act require that all software written for the government be Free and Open Source Software (FOSS)-compliant. The new provisions reportedly took effect this week.

Software developer Bozhidar Bozhanov, advisor to one of Bulgaria’s four deputy prime ministers, orchestrated the new law.

It requires that contracts to create software for the government be developed publicly, meet stated open source definitions, and be provided free for use without limitations. The law affects government-commissioned software only. Existing license agreements are still intact.

The Bulgarian government will continue to buy proprietary software.

“The likely reasons for adoption are to increase transparency and reduce corruption,” said Rudolf Olah, a software developer at NeverFriday.com.

“Proprietary vendors use trade secrets to keep their budgets and poor quality a secret. Open source code is generally higher-quality code,” he told LinuxInsider.

That is evidenced by some 90 percent of the software used in businesses and consumer-targeted services such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and Amazon, said Olah, noting that those corporations also see the value of sharing their code with the wider community, because it makes them more attractive to developers.

Governments Slow to Adopt

Cost savings are definitely the biggest factor driving governments to make the move to FOSS. That is especially the case since the cost of proprietary software, such as Microsoft’s products, continues to increase, and in light of the trend to an even-more costly subscription-based cost model, observed Brian D. Kelley, president of GMIS International.

“Open source is also recognized as being highly reliable and flexible, making it an attractive option for governments to pursue,” he told LinuxInsider.

Despite the advantages of open source software, said Kelley, there has not been a significant number of governments willing to make the jump over the past decade.

With “the ever-increasing costs associated with proprietary software, coupled with successful Free and Open Source Software, government migrations may well be the positive impetus to encourage more governments to make the switch to [FOSS] in the future,” he said.

Also affecting the migration decision is a plethora of concerns related to open source software. It comes with little support, is not always user-friendly, and is somewhat more vulnerable to cybersecurity issues than the popular proprietary software used by the majority of governments, Kelley said.

FOSS Less Risky?

The open source software model entails a smaller-than-perceived risk, according to NeverFriday.com’s Olah.

“[FOSS] for both businesses and consumers is in a good high-quality spot now. The reward is huge,” he maintained.

If governments set up the policies correctly, they will have better software to work with, and government services to citizens will improve as well, Olah contended.

“This is a big deal for FOSS because it shows that free and open source is a better way of providing services that are high quality and more efficient,” he argued, “and it says a lot about proprietary software, showing that proprietary software is lower quality and locks in the government to poor service.”

FOSS Implementation

Article 58 of the Electronic Governance Act requires administrative authorities to meet the criteria for open source software and ensure that limits are not imposed on its use and distribution. It also requires that development be done in the repository maintained by the agency in accordance with another referenced citation in the law.

The move to adopt the open source software law is intended to prevent vulnerabilities in government websites being left unpatched when a contract expires. The motivation also is to detect bad security practices earlier, according to Bozhanov.

A new government agency is charged with enforcing the law and setting up the public repository. A public register will be developed in the next few weeks to track all projects from inception to technical specs, deliverables and subsequent control, Bozhanov said.

Existing solutions are unaffected, but as part of the same law, all IT contracts must be made public.

Political Move

The fact that Bulgaria has a populist government makes the adoption of the open source law largely political. The Bulgarian IT and SEO industry — mainly SMBs — has grown enormously in the last couple of years, according to Ivan Kostadinov, head of paid search for Local Fame SEO Company.

“The state wants to benefit from the IT industry’s positive influence and to create a better image for itself, targeting young people in their 20s and 30s, showing off before its EU partners, and creating a welcoming environment for foreign investors in the IT sector,” he told LinuxInsider.

While that is not necessarily bad, there are some big issues with the new legislation, Kostadinov said. Not everything will need open source coding. The Electronic Governance Act covers just a small portion — around 10 percent — of the public procurement. The military, police, secret and other services are not included in the subject of the Act.

The new law does not mean that the whole country is moving to Linux and LibreOffice. Nor does it mean the government demands that Microsoft and Oracle turn over the source code to their products, noted Bozhanov.

“Existing solutions are purchased on licensing terms, and they remain unaffected,” he pointed out.

The new law means whatever custom software the government procures must be visible and accessible to everyone, according to Bozhanov. “After all, it’s paid by taxpayers’ money, and they should both be able to see it and benefit from it.”