A top official of Microsoft last week claimed that governments that support open source software are not helping build a viable software ecosystem in their communities.
Chris Sharp, director for platform strategy for Microsoft in the Asia-Pacific and Greater China region, said governments that standardize on open source software are hurting their local commercial software vendor communities because these companies are being robbed of opportunities to make money that they need to invest in developing more software products.
Sharp, who used to work for Red Hat before joining Microsoft, said building open source software is a "waste of money." With open source, a company is in effect giving away its intellectual property (IP), he said, adding that this prevents a software company from getting back benefits from its IP.
"If you are compelled to give back to the community, then you don't have the opportunity to benefit from that knowledge (you have created)," he stressed.
Sharp, who talked to a small group of local journalists, added that there are several myths surrounding open source software that many people tend to accept as true.
Citing one example, Sharp said people tend to believe open source software is free. He pointed out, however, that even companies that support open source are just as motivated by commercial interests as any other commercial software vendor. He noted that even open source giants Red Hat and IBM are after a return on their investments on open source.
"They are not for the greater good of the community; they are also after the money," he said.
He added that without getting back any commercial returns, a software company will find it difficult to invest in developing new software products. He explained that intellectual property rights fuel sustained innovation by a software company.
Microsoft, for example, invests around US$6.8 billion in research and development. "With open source, there is no way to make more software," he said.
Sharp claimed that many of the publicized announcements that certain governments are completely deploying open source software are untrue. In many cases, he said, it's just one branch or agency of the government making the announcement, and it is not a government-wide purchasing policy.
He urged government bodies to base their software purchasing decisions on their actual needs, not on a software development strategy.
In one study, he said commercial software offered lower total cost of ownership over open source software, largely due to software management issues. He added that commercial software has also been found to be as reliable as open source software.
If a government goes out and anchors its purchasing policy on open source, it will, in effect. hurt its local commercial software community, Sharp claimed. For every $1 spent on Microsoft products, for example, some $8 goes to the surrounding local software community who have based their products on Microsoft technologies, he said.
"There are many local software vendors who have based their products on Microsoft," he added.