The UK government yesterday announced its policy on Open Source software, and as far as we can figure out, it seems to be cautiously pro. In answer to a parliamentary question (and we strongly suspect 'plant' here), Home Office minister Douglas Alexander said: "I am pleased to announce new policy on the use of Open Source Software within UK Government. It explains how we will consider Open Source Software solutions alongside proprietary ones in IT procurements and award contracts on a value for money basis, seeking to avoid lock-in to proprietary IT products and services."
The policy itself is somewhat brief, and hilariously miscommunicated by the Office of Government Commerce here, where at time of writing it said "Open Source Software Policy Document (Microsoft Word format 376 KB)," and proceeded to give you some unintelligible .asp file if you actually tried to download it. But you can get it in Word, PDF or RTF format at the home of the much-reviled e-envoy here, and we're sure the OGC will have its act together RSN.
But anyway, what does it say? Open Source software "has leapt to prominence by starting to take a significant market share in some specific parts of the software infrastructure market," it cautiously begins, then revs up. "OSS is indeed the start of a fundamental change in the software infrastructure marketplace, but it is not a hype bubble that will burst and UK Government must take cognisance of that fact."
Then it tells us why the UK has devised a policy: "The European Commission’s initiative eEurope - An Information Society for all is supported by an Action Plan dated June 2000. One entry within the plan addresses the topic of Open Source Software (OSS) and sets the target that:
'during 2001 the European Commission and Member States will promote the use of open source software in the public sector and e-government best practice through exchange of experiences across the Union (through the IST and IDA programmes).'
[we couldn't help noticing a piece of MS Brainiac ASCII in that - don't worry, we killed it for you]
"The UK’s response to this action to date has been through mandating open standards and specifications in its e-Government Interoperability Framework (e-GIF) and allowing market driven products to support these. It is now considered necessary to have a more explicit policy on the use of OSS within UK Government and this document details that policy."
So, the policy has been devised at the behest of Europe, and commences with something of a justification of what we've been up to so far. The intro is actually substantially longer than the policy itself, but the latter is potentially dynamite (and we think we killed some more MS ASCII here):
"- UK Government will consider OSS solutions alongside proprietary ones in IT procurements. Contracts will be awarded on a value for money basis.
- UK Government will only use products for interoperability that support open standards and specifications in all future IT developments.
- UK Government will seek to avoid lock-in to proprietary IT products and services.
- UK Government will consider obtaining full rights to bespoke software code or customisations of COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) software it procures wherever this achieves best value for money.
- UK Government will explore further the possibilities of using OSS as the default exploitation route for Government funded R&D software."
The first two point are of little importance - they're just checkmarks and can mean as little or as much as the specifiers want them to. Avoidance of lock-in, though, is interesting, while the notion of obtaining full rights to COTS software is slap-bang in the territory of EU policy on pooling software across administrations. And that last one? OSS as the default? We may be getting somewhere here, friends. ®