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Bristol Council Mulls Open Source/Microsoft Tie Up

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Bristol City Council is considering a scheme which adopts open source alongside existing Microsoft software

Bristol City Council could be about to unlock the open source floodgates in the UK with a possible deal to combine open source and Microsoft software.

Next week, the Council will consider a suggested policy that would see it using open source solutions where possible to meet business requirements, but stick with Microsoft Office and Windows 7 on all desktops, according to a statement by a councillor.

Triple Open Approach

“I am a strong advocate of open data, open standards and open source solutions,” said Cabinet Member for Efficiency and Value for Money, Mark Wright. “This is a pragmatic proposal that delivers more key functions through open source products, but appreciating that much of the core desktop toolset and operating system still needs to use Microsoft technology.

“The trouble has been that external partners have not kept pace with open source solutions, so we find ourselves having to take this compromise, but hopefully only in the short term,” added Wright. “The proposed licensing arrangements will enable an exit point after three years should the move to a full open source environment be feasible.

“In the meantime we shall press ahead with increasing our open source environment for back office and administrative functions. And we will use our knowledge, influence and contacts to encourage our partners to promote open data, open standards and open source.”

“By also installing the free OpenOffice suite on every council PC we will ensure that no partner organisation that makes the jump to OpenOffice will be afflicted with compatibility problems when they share documents with us,” he added.

The project will apparently cost £1.5 million per annum over five years.

Pragmatic Approach

Last week, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude committed central government to using open source as a way to cut costs, following a previous statement by the Labour government in 2009.  The two policies have been criticised as toothless, and real commitments to open source by any public sector body in the UK have remained rare.

The Bristol team consulted with a number of expert organisations, including open source systems integrator Sirius Corporation.

“Bristol City Council’s approach to open source is well thought through, realistic and pragmatic,” Sirius chief executive Mark Taylor said. “It shows a thorough understanding of both the capabilities of open source software, and the limitations of the current stage of adoption in the UK public sector as a whole.”

“As a consequence, the council team has selected open source in the areas which make sense strategically and financially, whilst retaining compatibility with the legacy systems run by slower public sector adopters.”