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Government Open Source Policy Lacks Teeth

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

The UK government’s open source policy is not policed effectively, leaving UK public sector in thrall to greedy proprietary software vendors, according to open source leaders

Open source users and vendors called for more teeth to the UK government’s open source strategy at a round-table meeting this week, saying that the policy is simply being ignored.

“The UK has one of the best-written policies out there — the problem is policing it,” said Steve Shine, vice president of worldwide operations at Ingres. The problem is that large procurements simply ignore it, and this is not being picked up, he said.

In February, the UK government said it intended to use open source to save £600 million a year, and published guidelines – but despite this, the UK lags badly at open source, using it less than countries like Mali, according to open source activists.

While other countries have policies that explicity set aside government budget for open source products (Hungary has specified 25 percent, for instance) the UK puts the emphasis on “fitness for purpose” and “value for money”, said Shine. It also requires vendors to include the cost of getting any data out of their systems, which in theory should prevent proprietary lock-in.

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Open source vendors are confident they can excel on these measures, but the nature of public sector contracts, and the prevalence of “all you can eat” site licences makes it difficult to introduce open source incrementally, he said.

Despite this, public sector users who have adopted open source solutions are keen to sing its praises – in particular its scalability. Islington Council has 4000 users on an Alfresco open source document management system, said the council’s CIO, Jeremy Tuck: “We could not have rolled out Documentum to 4000 seats. It costs £450 per seat, with an annual support charge of £65.”

Despite calling for more policing of government open source policies, Shine had few concrete recommendations. At this stage, he said, procurements managers simply don’t understand how to procure open source projects, and proprietary vendors can charge low incremental costs for additional software.