Central government should replace Microsoft software with open source equivalents - if trials show the switch is practical, the Public Accounts Committee said yesterday.
In a report on government spending on software licences, the Select Committee of MPs conclude:
Open Source software, already in widespread use for server applications, may in future provide departments with a viable alternative to existing software suppliers for a broader range of functions including desktop applications, opening up the marketplace to wider competition and potential improvements in value for money.
The MPs note that the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) is running open source trials with IBM and Sun. The Sun deal offers a "useful second front to explore the viability of this potential new source of software."
Here comes the killer punch:
If the results show that open source software is practical, particularly in respect of integration with existing systems, departments should be ready to apply the lessons learnt to their future purchasing decisions.
The Public Accounts Committe is the Parliamentary watchdog to monitor government spending. Typically, it is described as 'influential', but its reports are advisory.
Individual government departments are currently responsible for their own spending on software. Collectively they spent £610m on software in 2001-02, of which £100m went on more than one million software licences.
Since then the OGC has secured better deals with Microsoft, Sun, Lotus / IBM, Corel and Oracle. The public sector should save £100m over the three years from March 2002, through a "combination of direct price reductions, productivity improvements and efficiency gains", the MPs report. Now the OGC is in new negotiations with Microsoft to see if it can get better prices, they say.
The OGC was able to "negotiate a succession of discounts from dominant software suppliers because it secured close and sustained co-operation across the public sector." But some departments have been slow to take up the terms of the memoranda of understandings with the software suppliers. The committee says that departments should benchmark prices against those available through the OGC memoranda. ®