This is the last of four questions posed to me by a journalist about open source and the public sector. The original question was: If a government develops open source software, it becomes a vendor of that software. Shouldn’t a public government stay out of such business?
A public government that develops or sponsors the development of open source software does not automatically become a vendor of that software. Development or sponsorship only means that public funds are converted into software under an open source license. I would not advocate that a public government start providing services to a market for that software. It should leave the provision of such services to for-profit companies! If the open source software is any good and meets user needs, such businesses will spring up soon and there will not be a need by any government to provide commercial services.
What a public government can and should do is to investigate unserved needs and sponsor the initial development of software to meet those needs. Making such initial development open source means that any company can now build a business on top of the software and compete for customers. Using an open source license is an effective way of acting in the public interest without unfairly benefitting any one particular company. Sometimes such initial investment is necessary to get over the investment hump that keeps companies from servicing the unmet needs.
Start over with the first question: Should the public sector use open source software?