The UK government has published the first draft of its proposed policy on the use of open source software and is seeking comments from the public.
The policy essentially seeks to increase the use of open source software at all levels of government and public sector IT provision. Behind this broader acceptance of open source solutions lies a desire to ensure interoperability and the support of open standards and specifications.
The government is also concerned by the security problems. "Security of government systems is vital," says the draft policy. "Properly configured open source software can be at least as secure as proprietary systems, and open source software is currently subject to fewer Internet attacks."
The formulation of the policy was driven by the European Union's eEurope – An Information Society for all strategy, which centred on plan that "during 2001 the European Commission and Member States will promote the use of open source software in the public sector and e-government".
The British government has also come to realise that open source software is the "the start of a fundamental change in the software infrastructure marketplace, but it is not a hype bubble that will burst".
But should open source supporters see all this as a thumbs-up for Linux and other software whose code is made freely available, the policy doesn't seek to implement open source instead of proprietary solutions - Bill G is too close to the Hair Blair Bunch for that.
Yes, the "UK Government will seek to avoid lock-in to proprietary IT products and services", but the bottom line here is... well... the bottom line. The increased used of open source solutions will come about because they're cheaper than closed source software. As the draft policy document itself puts it: "[The] UK government will consider open source solutions alongside proprietary ones in IT procurements. Contracts will be awarded on a value for money basis... Decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis." (our italics)
The only sector in which open source is to be offered as the de facto solution is academic research, where the government will "explore further the possibilities of using open source as the default exploitation route for government-funded R&D software".
During the consultation period, the government will update its Procurement Guidelines to reflect the broader acceptance of open source software and help procurers assess the benefits of open source solutions against proprietary alternatives.
Given the government's poor record on working with anyone who doesn't use Microsoft product (see MS-built UK 'Government Gateway' locks out non-MS browsers), it sounds like its IT buyers definitely do need some help here. ®
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The draft policy on the use of open souce software within UK government can be found here