Experts Question Hungary’s Role As European Open Source Leader

Open SourceRegulationSoftware

Ingres claims the central European country should be an example to other states but Hungarian open source experts disagree

Open source database company Ingres has held Hungary up as an example to the UK and other European countries of how government should be championing the use of non-proprietary software in the public sector.

But some Hungarian experts have pointed out that while the central European country has made progress when it comes to allowing open source players to compete on the same terms as proprietary companies, there is still a long way to go before the Magyars could be held up as leaders on open source.

In a statement released this week, Ingres announced that it will be teaming up with Hungarian IT specialist FreeSoft which presents itself as the head of a consortium that won the “Hungarian government’s open source software tender that has a four-year, $22.3 million budget”. Commenting on what it sees as Hungary’s progressive attitude to open source, Roger Burkhardt, chief executive of Ingres said that Hungary should be seen as an example to other European governments.

“This is one of the largest open source procurements I have seen and we applaud the Hungarian Government for leading the way in introducing competition and cutting back on proprietary software purchases,” said Roger Burkhardt, chief executive of Ingres. “In my opinion, the Hungarian Government is showing the European Union that there is plenty of open source competition in the market today. I anticipate that more government bodies than before will be following Hungary’s lead and will benefit from the cost savings that come with an open source deployment.”

But other players in the open source tendering process in Hungary have pointed out that two other consortia also “won” in the process and that it only allows open source players to be included in a centralised IT tendering framework, rather than being an actual commitment on the part of the Hungarian government to spend $22.3 million (£13.7m) on open source.

“This 4 billion forints (£13.7m) framework was awarded to seven vendors (three consortiums, one of them led by ULX and one by Freesoft) back in August to share the right to supply under the framework agreement. We have to remember though that it is only a framework that can be spent on open source within the public sector, the government is not paying for it, those organisations will have to make that decision individually and work out the budget for any open source migration,” said Gábor Szentiványi, chief executive of Hungarian open source integrator and Red Hat partner ULX.


Szentiványi added that Ingres and FreeSoft’s claims that Hungary is an “open source” leader may also be a little premature. “The reality is that most of the government projects are still awarded to proprietary software vendors and open source alternatives are not invited to the discussion tables. We hope that Hungary will reach a similar state in terms of open source leadership as France for example where the government provides clear leadership and guideline to the public sector in terms of realising the benefits of open source and open standards.”

Responding to questions from eWEEK Europe on whether Ingres should be holding up Hungary as an example to the rest of Europe on open source adoption, Bertram Mandel, vice president of sales & services and managing director of Ingres Germany said that it was his understanding that the Hungarian government “ring-fenced” around 20 percent of its overall IT budget for open source projects. “That on its own is something that is really unique. When we look at other governments we do not see that decisions are taken down to that level and they really ring-fence budget for open source in that way.”

Ingres’ Hungarian partner FreeSoft is extremely bullish over the future prospects of open source uptake in the country. “After it was announced that we had won the tender, our share price rocketed by 60 percent. We are of course delighted by this fantastic development” said Ilona Eck, CEO at FreeSoft Plc. “This tender is further proof that the time for open source software has come and that the commercial open source business model will change the world of software business going forward.”

Open source groups in Hungary may also be surprised by the Ingres and FreeSoft’s pronouncements on Hungary’s open source progress. In November, the EU Open Source Observatory and Repository for European public administrations (OSOR) — a site for information exchange about community developed software — reported that five open source groups including the Hungarian Open Document Format Alliance (ODFA) are petitioning the Hungarian government to disclose how much it spends on proprietary software licences.

In an open letter to the Hungarian government’s procurement agency — Directorate General for Central Services (KSZF) — the ODFA states that last year the government spent around 9.5 billion Hungarian forints (£32m) on Microsoft software and has already spent €6.3 million (£5.7m) on educational licenses and millions more on consultation and services from the software giant. “Please make your calculations known to the public which will prove that open source will not be a viable low cost alternative,” the letter states.

The Hungarian open source groups claim that by ditching the use of expensive proprietary software, the Hungarian public sector could cut its software costs by half over a three year period. “According to some EU countries’ experience there can be 40 to 50 percent cost savings achieved by moving to open source software in the third year after migration. This figure is also supported by some Hungarian case studies which we are sure the government is aware of,” the open letter states.

The UK government is similarly under pressure to improve its use of open source software. In September, open source users and vendors called for more teeth to the UK government’s open source strategy, 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 added.

In September, open source groups reacted angrily to the news that a Swiss government contract was given to Microsoft without any public bidding. Vendors including Red Hat and other open source players called on a Swiss federal court to overturn a three-year contract issued to Microsoft by the Swiss Federal Bureau for Building and Logistics, to provide Windows desktops and applications, with support and maintenance, for 14 million Swiss Francs (£8m) each year.

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