Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Open Source in Government Action Plan

This is interesting. The UK Government announces a major policy shift towards greater use of open-source software. There's a link to the action plan on this page. The page also has a link to a netvibes aggregation page around this issue. It's all very Web 2.0! In fact the policy looks like a very encouraging statement of intent.

The foreword is by Tom Watson MP Minister for Digital Engagement. (As an aside I've just remembered reading that the Government is looking for a Director of Digital Engagement in the Cabinet Office - Seb Schmoller's website was the source.) I was delighted to see that the government wants to 'share and re-use what the taxpayer has already purchased across the public sector – not just to avoid paying twice, but to reduce risks and to drive common, joined up solutions to the common needs of government.' Sounds great, but I wondered what exactly that might mean. Later in the section on policy this appears: 'Where non open source products need to be purchased, Government will expect licences to be available for all public sector use and for licences already purchased to be transferable within the public sector without further cost or limitation. The Government will where appropriate seek pan-government agreements with software suppliers which ensure that government is treated as a single entity for the purposes of volume discounts and transferability of licences.' (Apologies for lack of page references but the document isn't paginated.)

Microsoft licensing rules are byzantine, but my very shallow understanding is that Microsoft likes the idea of transfer of licenses as much as I like having my teeth extracted. I don't want to drift into Microsoft bashing (others do this much better), so I want to point out how long and difficult it was to persuade a web development software company that licenses could be transferred between the host school that my organisation is based within and the CLC itself. My view is that this policy represents a move to a less cosy relationship with the industry. This is a good thing.

Back to the foreword where Tom Watson is adding that 'We want to encourage innovation and innovators - inside Government by encouraging open source thinking, and outside Government by helping to develop a vibrant market.' This also sounds very admirable. Later it is asserted that a key objective will be to: 'embed an "open source" culture of sharing, re-use and collaborative development across Government and its suppliers, building on the re-use policies and processes already agreed within the CIO Council, and in doing so seek to stimulate innovation, reduce cost and risk, and improve speed to market.' Marvellous. This is the kind of thing commentators have been arguing for, so I hope that this will be heartily welcomed.

The paper is peppered with terms to warm the cockles of all the open-source advocates, 'open standards', 're-use', 'open document format' and so on.

The final section is an action plan. This is well worth reading, but all I want to say is that the actions proposed make me think that the government is deadly serious about achieving these objectives.

As a final comment I wonder how far the procurement policies proposed here will be able to impact on the BSF processes across the country. In my view it would be a very good thing if they did.

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