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Medical software's free future

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: (Published 07 April 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:863

All software developed at public's expense should be licensed as open source

  1. Tim Benson (, consultant in healthcare informatics
  1. Abies e-Health, London NW11 0LR
  2. Whiston Hospital, Liverpool L35 5DR
  3. BMJ

    EDITOR—The open source model for software is so sensible that it is bizarre that closed source models have held sway for so long.1 Unfortunately, the title of Carnall's editorial gives the impression that open source software costs you nothing. This is not generally true. Open source software is “free as in speech, not as in beer.”2

    Commercial companies can make money out of open source software by charging for services such as distribution, warranties, support, installation, and tailoring. But these fees are likely to have some relation to the work involved. The up-front licence fees charged for closed source software are out of line with the cost structure. In no other industry are the products deliberately kept secret when that secrecy cannot be justified by safety or security concerns.

    An obvious route forward for the public sector would be to state that all software developed at the public's expense be licensed as open source, …

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