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Ditching Microsoft? Government swaps 'lock-in' software for open source
by Richard Powell at 17:34 25/07/02 (Political News)
The Government has announced a new software policy entitled 'Open Source Software: Use within Government' to avoid product 'lock-ins' and lessen reliance on individual IT software suppliers, like Microsoft.
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  • 'Open Source Software: Use within Government'
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  • Open Source Software (OSS) is software whose source code is openly published. It is often developed by voluntary efforts and is usually available at no charge under a licence defined by a non-profit corporation called the Open Source Initiative.

    The Government's decision to look at OSS as an alternative to using products like Microsoft Office across entire departments could lead to major cost savings, according to the policy document.

    As well as applying to central Government, the decision to use OSS will also extend to local Governments and the wider public sector, including the National Health Service.

  • 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 key decisions of the Open Source policy
    Douglas Alexander, Cabinet Office Minister, said: "This Government is intent on securing the best value for money in its IT procurements by encouraging the development of a flourishing IT industry which supplies both proprietary and Open Source Software solutions to the public sector. Government procurement decisions will be based on the ability of the solutions to deliver effective and economic systems and services.

    "We will award contracts on a value for money basis and the 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."

    A spokesman for the Office of Government Commerce (OGC), under whose remit the policy now falls, told Shout99.com: "It was probably Microsoft's announcement last Christmas to increase the licensing fees on its main software packages most Government departments were using (like MS Office) that brought home the need for more cost-effective measures. Government realised that being tied to one software developer did not represent value for money and decided to begin looking at alternatives, one of which was to embrace 'open source' software.

    "In some cases, open source alternatives will not be appropriate, especially to smaller departments, in which case we would consider alternatives like Lotus or IBM systems. Take up of open source has so far been slow, but we hope the new initiative will start to drive forwards real cost reductions and better software performance."

    Microsoft issued the following response to the comments made by the OCG: "Microsoft welcomes the policy as it recognises that there should be a level playing field in competition for public sector contracts, furthermore this is not a change from previous guidelines. Microsoft firmly supports this recommendation and agrees that all Government software procurement decisions should be made on merit and a value for money basis. Microsoft is always happy to compete on the basis of quality and value for money and is pleased that it will be able to continue to have the opportunity to work with UK Government."

    Richard Powell, Shout99.com 2002

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