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Egyptian openistas protest against Microsoft deal

A group of technology activists gathered in front of the Cabinet office in Cairo on Sunday 30th December to protest an Egyptian governmental deal with software giant Microsoft to buy software for the public sector, the English language Egypt Independent news site reports.

On 26 December, the official Facebook page of Hesham Qandil, the Egyptian Prime Minister, announced that the Cabinet had concluded a deal with Microsoft for the next 4 tax years to buy and maintain licensed software worth nearly $44 mn. for the government.

“What the government is buying is the license to use software and not new [software],” says Ali Shaath, co-founder of the Egyptian Association for Free and Open Software and of the Arab Digital Expression Foundation.

The activists’ main contention with the deal is that Microsoft products bought by the government are imported, expensive and their code source is usually closed and protected by rigid copyright rules which do not allow for knowledge sharing and generation. Meanwhile, an alternative lies with locally conceived, less expensive software, whose open code source enables copying, sharing and building more software.

“We’re talking about the same computers, the same software, no extra development and no extra training,” Shaath said, explaining that the free and open software alternative will cost zero in comparison since its licences are free of charge and its only cost is derived from customisation and training.

The activists believe that free and open software developers is could readily provide the software the government needs. A case in point was the portal developed with free and open software to provide voters with information ahead of the March 2011 referendum.