DWP Confirms 1,000 Open Source Desktops Pilot

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Microsoft beware: a major UK government department is to trial open source desktops

The Department for Work and Pensions has confirmed that it is to pilot a scheme where it will trial 1,000 open source desktops.

News of the scheme was revealed by Mike Truran, customer delivery director at DWP, speaking at the Datacenter Dynamics Convergence conference. “If the pilot works we will take it forward,” Truran reportedly said.

DWP Confirmation

Speaking to eWEEK Europe UK, a DWP spokesperson confirmed the plans for an open source pilot scheme.

“It is the department’s intention to trial within the next 12 months, a pilot of up to 1000 desktops to test proof of concept for open source,” said the DWP spokesperson.

The DWP reportedly operates around 150,000 desktop PCs, and the decision to test open source for government use is part of the Coalition government’s pledge to use more open source software in general.

Indeed, this small pilot scheme could be very significant indeed because traditionally government departments like the DWP heavily utilise Microsoft operating systems and Office-based products. If successful, the scheme could be extended to other government departments and could mean a large scale public sector deployment of non-Windows based PCs.

“There will always be exceptions, but it will be very difficult for other departments not to comply (with open source)” Truran reportedly said.

Long Road Ahead

But the use of open source within government circles still has some way to go. In September a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the BBC revealed that most government departments still spend the lion’s share of their IT budgets on software from big-name vendors, such as Microsoft and Oracle, rather than seeking cheaper open source alternatives.

This is despite Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister confirming in September 2010 the government’s intention to buy more open source software. He said the government would buy open source rather than proprietary software when the costs are similar.

That move was welcomed by some in the open source community, but others described the government’s open source policy as “toothless,” as it is not policed effectively.

Open Source Commitment

Yet it seems the government remains committed to utilising open source software.

Last month for example it sought to clear up any confusion about using open source software in the public sector, after the Cabinet Office published its new open source procurement toolkit. This toolkit offers procurement advice for public sector bodies acquiring open source software.

But it is also worth noting that the use of open source software within government and public sector circles has long been an aim for both Labour and the Conservative Party. In January 2010 for example, the then-Labour government issued a policy document that said that public sector IT spending could be cut by around £3.2 billion a year by more effective use of open source.

Yet both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, when in opposition, were widely regarded by experts as being way ahead of Labour on open source, especially considering the huge amount of money Labour spent on failed IT projects during its period in power.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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