Open Source Software in the Public Sector

Responsible use of public money means that software should be accessible and freely available – we at publicplan think and act according to this credo. This approach promotes further development and stands for participation. Based on this understanding, publicplan has committed itself to the idea of free and open source software.

As a service provider for the administration, we have a special responsibility to deal directly with public funds. Publishing software that has been financed with this money brings enormous advantages. One example is software reuse, which means that existing software does not have to be reprogrammed from scratch if it is to be used in other public authorities. The use of open source software in public administration also avoids vendor dependencies and thus promotes the digital sovereignty of the state.

Who is behind open source software?

To dispel a prejudice: open source software is no longer just created in the basements of individuals at home, but also in the departments of large companies that have understood and live the idea behind open source.

For example, the free container orchestrator Kubernetes was originally developed by Google before the software was donated to the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. This step made it possible to establish a vendor independent cloud software that is widely used around the world and has a great benefit for the general public and not just for individual software manu facturers.

But in the early years of open source software, around the 1990s, things looked different. It was almost always sure that open source software was written and published by a few individuals. The list of examples is long: Richard Stallman, founder of the GNU project; Linus Torvalds, developer of the Linux kernel; or Ian Murdock, who developed and published the free Linux distribution Debian.

But a change has already been taking place for many years. Since large companies have recognized the benefits of open source software, the number of major players has increased significantly. Companies such as Netflix or Zalando also publish several million lines of code every year on corresponding code platforms, which can be used and deployed by people and projects worldwide. And the numbers speak for themselves: several hundred repositories, thousands of likes and a lots of pull requests on the projects, shows at Netflix and Zalando the great commitment that is triggered by the publication of software. The community takes on the problems of the software, improves it and returns these improvements as pull requests to the initiators. A win-win situation for everyone.

The human component

Everyone can participate in open source software. Accessibility and inclusion are among the most important pillars of the communities. The various platforms on which the source codes of the software are hosted enable a collaborative process model in which everyone can help with their comments or contributions. The path that individuals can take varies from software project to software project.

In principle, most people come across OSS projects to which they can contribute when they themselves are looking for a solution to a problem. The personal connection to the project grows over time, so that initial bug reporting becomes the first contributions.

If companies want to use open source software for their profit-oriented purposes, that‘s fine – you make yourself particularly popular with the community if you give added value back to them. Here, too, the keyword is active contribution, for example by finding and solving software errors (bug fixes) or directly extending and improving the software. Financial support helps software projects to reward the work of developers.

The publicplan lives the open source idea

The model of „open source as a free market economy for the digital world“ is very popular in politics and public administration, and many experts are aware of the advantages of this model.
Since its foundation, publicplan has been committed to the open source idea and promotes corresponding projects and developers. Whether by returning code to the community or actively organizing community events, sponsorships, etc., publicplan is committed to the open source idea. It determines publicplan‘s thinking and actions, and there is no better attitude and approach for our goal of advancing digitalization in Germany.

Philip Haas and Sebastian Keitel
publicplan GmbH