4.3.2 Proprietary and “free and open-source” software

Another important procurement consideration for policy-makers is the choice between proprietary or open-source software and AT. Proprietary software is developed and licensed by a private company, and is supplied on a for-profit basis. Typically, the software code cannot be reused or because of licensing arrangements. Open-source software allows the reuse and repurposing of code under certain licensing conditions such as the General Public License (GPL).

The “free” in “free and open-source” software refers to the freedom to modify computer code -- not necessarily the availability of software for free.124 Many open source software products are available free of charge, but governments or schools may have to incur a cost for this software to be developed into a service or solution that meets their needs. For example, an organization using an open-source content management system (CMS) may need to pay a web developer to develop the website using that CMS. So while the source code of the CMS is available free of charge, the organization may have to pay for a specialist to develop and perhaps maintain the website. Similarly, a school system that chooses to supply open-source ATs to its students may need to pay for services such as teacher and staff training in the use of the ATs, as well as support for maintaining and upgrading them.

While some of the case studies (Kenya) show that schools and universities can and do benefit from donations of proprietary software and ATs by companies and charitable organizations, the total demand for ATs required in-country is unlikely to be met through this supply model alone. On the other hand, the supply and use of open-source solutions requires a level of in-country expertise for installation, training and support. This also has cost implications. So policy-makers should consider which approach will work in the short, medium and long term. Whatever the model or mix of models chosen, it will be necessary to support ongoing research and development into new AT solutions at university and industry levels. One key issue for research and development is the need to provide ATs in the local language of each country.

See Section 5 for more on funding models derived from research into accessible telecenters.

124Botelho, Fernando. Open Source Software-Based Assistive Technologies in ITU/G3ict e-Accessibility Policy Toolkit for Persons with Disabilities. http://e-accessibilitytoolkit.org