- This story
is partial, not only for ideological reasons, but also because limited
to the events I had the opportunity to observe in my restricted field of
vision. It began exactly 20 ago, when I was appointed director of the Supercomputing
Centre in Piedmont (CSP).
- I was
not very enthusiastic about the idea, because the first task of the CSP
was management of a CRAY Y/MP supercomputer and I was opposed to such an
- I wrote
an article for Media 2000 entitled: "An elephant to crack a nut''.
- I explained
that an elephant is perfectly capable of cracking a nut but is too expensive
for such a humble task, which can be done efficiently and economically
by a troop of squirrels.
- In short,
I thought the "supercazzola", as I called it, was merely a business
opportunity for someone and that its use could not justify the cost.
- It was
the chairman of the Regional Authority, Gian Paolo Brizio, who convinced
me to take on the job, explaining that our task was not so much management
of the supercomputer as opening a "window on the fascinating world
- So I accepted
and I am glad I did, because it was an unforgettable experience, thanks
to the professionalism and enthusiasm of my collaborators on the project.
- We all
immediately became fascinated by the Internet, and put so many resources
into it that some years later we became the fourth largest Internet Provider
- We also
collaborated with external personnel. For example, my daughter Roberta,
suitably subsidized by me, spent her Sunday afternoons transmitting real
time news updates of Italian sports to the world, using a tool called "Gopher",
which would a few years later become the basis of the first browser.
- We received
messages of thanks from as far away as Australia.
- A couple
of years later, in Olivetti, we installed on an Echos PC a modem emulator
and the software required to obtain a connection to an Internet Service
Provider. With only the cost of the cable connecting the pc to the telephone
socket, users could automatically connect to the Internet.
- In spring
of '95 I showed the prototype to the designers at Olivetti, together with
the navigation functionalities of the first browser just released, and
connecting in real time with my daughter Michela, who was visiting an American
- The project
managers of the new line of computers were enthusiastic and decided to
show the proposal to the CEO. I would have liked to present the idea personally,
but they explained: "there are three ways to ruin yourself. The most
pleasurable is with women, the quickest is gambling, the surest with engineers".
- The CEO's
answer when it came was laconic: "There is no future in the Internet".
- It was
Roberto Borri, the leader of the brilliant young team who worked with me,
who first told me about the revolution represented by open-source software.
- It stood
to reason that those who were passionate about the Internet would also
be passionate about open-source software.
the Internet can be considered as both the mother and child of open-source
software: mother, because the Internet made possible the creation of communities
of developers; child, because the principle of sharing knowledge is the
basis of the IETF's work and of open-source software.
- My enthusiasm
prompted me to propose a national research programme to the then Minister
for Universities and Research Luigi Berlinguer.
- I circulated
my learned document (little did I know!), which was much criticized by
no less a legendary name in Italian open-source software than Alessandro
- He had
begun working on Linux and its drivers in 1994, right after taking his
degree at the university of Pavia, but he was not the first in Italy to
take up the cause of open-source software.
- A few
months earlier the Pluto project was set up by Franco Bombi and Giuseppe
Zanetti at the university of Padova.
- In any
case, his work was fundamental, both from a scientific-technical and political-organizational
point of view.
criticized my article especially because it did not emphasize the importance
of the source code and for its confusion of the concepts "freeware"
and "free software", showing my ignorance of Richard Stallman's
sacred principle: "Free as in free speech, not as in free beer".
- The guru
from Pavia was right.
- So I set
to study and in 2001, together with my colleague and fellow citizen of
Cuneo the sociologist Mariella Berra, I wrote "Informatica solidale"
(Fair trade IT) published by Bollati Boringhieri.
Stanca, a minister in the second and third Berlusconi government, read
the book, which he called "Meo's Little Red Book" and called
me in 2002 to chair a commission investigating the opportunities provided
by open-source software for local and central public administration.
- In May
2003, at the end of a laborious process, the commission delivered its conclusions
and proposals, from which the minister Stanca drew up in December 2003
a major directive, which became legislative decree 82/05, better known
as the "Digital Administration Code".
- The substance
of the directive and legislative decree was to force public administrations
to base the choice of an IT solution on a comparative technical and economic
assessment which must include open-source software, favouring solutions
that enable interoperability and cross-application use by different IT
systems used by the public administration.
- It was
further recommended that IT systems must not be provided only by a single
supplier or a single proprietary solution; the source code must be available
for inspection and traceability by the public administrations; finally,
the data and documents must be exportable in several formats, including
at least one open-source type.
- In my
opinion, if the Stanca directive, Digital Administration Code and the regional
laws passed in Tuscany, Umbria, Veneto and Piedmont were actually implemented,
open-source software would play a central role in the IT systems of the
public administration, with enormous economic benefits for the entire country.
Italy is known for its strict and wise laws, and for the way they are ignored,
and these regulations were no exception.
- In fact,
they were paid even less than the normal lip service. For example, ASSOLI,
the association for open-source software, through its chairman, the lawyer
Marco Ciurcina, took court action to obtain the annulment of a very costly
tender that discriminated in favour of proprietary products.
these associations for open-source software do not have the human or economic
resources needed to contest the many tenders called by central or local
public administrations, including the principal ministries.
- In an
attempt to tackle the problem of lack of implementation of the regulations
favouring open-source software, in May 2007 minister Luigi Nicolais of
the Prodi government set up a second commission, once again chaired by
- The objectives
of this commission were to analyze the European and Italian sector scenarios,
to define operational guidelines to support administrations in procurement
of open-source software, and to analyze the "open-source" approach
to facilitate application co-operation, interoperability and reuse.
- Alas (yet
again), the short life of the Prodi government ended a few weeks after
delivery of the new commission's report, and the new minister stated that
the question of open-source software was of no interest to him.
- We hoped
that with the advent of the Monti government the question would move back
up the agenda, as it had in the time of minister Stanca.
- With this
hope in mind, at the insistence of friends of our associations, I immediately
wrote a letter to prime minister Monti and to the ministers Profumo and
Patroni Griffi, reminding them that an intervention in favour of open-source
software would have the rare effect of reducing spending and simultaneously
- Two months
have passed and to date there has been no sign of an answer.
- It is
easy to understand that given the current economic scenario these people
have no time to reply to me. However, it seems to me that promotion of
open-source software is much more important than liberalization of taxis
and rickshaws, and that to promote development it is fundamental that annual
investment in research should be brought to at least the level of the European
- To console
me in my disappointment, my friend Giorgio Giunchi, paraphrasing the conclusions
of one of my articles, told me: "Insist, Insist, Insist".
- I will
insist, or better, we shall insist.