UK Gov Opens Door to Open Source

Gerald M. Weinberg, author of The Psychology of Computer Programming, came to an interesting conclusion back in 1971 – “If builders built houses the way programmers built programs, the first woodpecker to come along would destroy civilisation.” So who do government departments trust when it comes to creating software? The proprietary software giants or the open source software alternative?
The UK government’s central procurement agency, the Office of Government Commerce (OGC), recently field-tested open-source software in the public sector with results that will please Tux lovers everywhere. The open-source pilots were run at various government agencies using software from IBM and Sun Microsystems Inc. The subsequent report cites progress in desktop products, such as OpenOffice and Sun Microsystems Inc.’s StarOffice, for routine, low level work, but not for “knowledge” or “power users” who require more advanced capabilities.

The softening in attitude towards open source comes not only from an acceptance of its maturing functionality on the desktop – it’s been around a while now, it also comes down to cost. Open-source software requires less memory and a slower processor speed for the same functionality offered by the proprietary applications that are always demanding hardware upgrades to work to their full potential. So, if open source were taken on board soon it would delay expensive hardware replacement.

The report comes just as the OGC is finalising a three-year extension to its memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Microsoft Corp., which has basked in the warmth of a long and cosy partnership with the UK government. Now that cash strapped government departments all over the world start taking a closer look at open-source alternatives, companies like Microsoft have to be a little worried.

Could OGC have just been hoping that Microsoft would cut its licensing costs? Hardly, you wouldn’t conduct a major study just for that. Although Microsoft did recently launch a major advertising campaign, ‘Get the Facts’, to repudiate the idea that open source has a lower TCO (total cost of ownership) than proprietary software.