Trentino joins Italy's open source alliance

New law affects the software choices of some 15,000 public offices in the region

The Autonomous Province of Trentino - Alto Adige this week joined the ranks of Italian regional administrations that are turning their backs on proprietary software in favor of free and open source alternatives.

A majority of councilors from the northern province bordering Austria voted on Wednesday for a law instructing regional administrations to promote the use of free and open source software, with only the minority Northern League voting against the measure.

The law is intended to promote pluralism in information technology and "the elimination of every barrier created by the use of non-open source standards, in the service of the principles of economy, efficiency and effectiveness."

Article 8 of the law calls on the provincial administration to promote good ICT (Information and Communication Technology) practices "based on the adoption and use of open communication and data exchange protocols and on the development and adoption of software covered by FLOSS (Free/Libre Open Source Software) licenses."

The vote by the Trentino council came a week after a similar law was approved by the local government in the southern region of Puglia. The new law also calls for the development of broadband communications in the Trentino region, the use of open source software in the region's schools and the creation of a digital archive for the regional administration.

Michele Nardelli, the Democratic Party councilor who played a leading role in promoting the law, said he had been inspired by the ideals of the "Arab spring," the Internet-fueled popular revolt against dictatorial regimes that has spread along the southern rim of the Mediterranean over the last year.

"It's a law that coordinates all the themes of the information society within the context of free software," Nardelli said in a telephone interview Friday.

The center-left politician said Microsoft representatives had lobbied hard against the measure. "The region of Sardinia wanted to make a choice in favor of free software but they didn't succeed in accomplishing it because of Microsoft's heavy intervention, which influenced the choice of a majority of the regional councilors," Nardelli said.

Nardelli said he had been approached by Microsoft representatives himself and had arranged to be accompanied to the meeting by witnesses, to ensure that inappropriate inducements did not form part of the discussion.

The law had important economic implications, since it would influence the software choices of some 15,000 public offices in the region, Nardelli said. The region currently pays ¬1.5 million (US$1.8 million) for proprietary software licenses for 5,000 regional administrative offices, with other licenses required by the health and education systems and regional utilities, according to data published on Nardelli's website.

Despite the resistance from multinational software companies, the trend toward free software was unstoppable, Nardelli said. "There's a rearguard action being fought by commercial interests allied to the habit and mental laziness of people working in the civil service," he said. "But I think free software has become an avalanche that no one will be able to stop now."

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