The government is promoting a pragmatic approach to open source software
The government is hoping to up its use of open source technology, but will be taking a pragmatic approach rather than completely moving away from proprietary kit.
That was the message at the Open Gov Summit at Central Hall, Westminster on Wednesday, where industry experts, civil servants and journalists met to discuss the uses of open source software in the public sector.
Topics covered included security, alternatives to proprietary software and the savings that could be achieved when an open licence is used.
How to stop making square wheels
With Open Standards Consultation finishing on the 4 June and projects like GOV.UK in progress, government use of open source is indeed a hot topic. The Open Gov Summit was organised to address issues of software governance and standards, information assurance, as well as partnership amongst government, industry and development communities.
Tariq Rashid, lead architect for information, applications, infrastructure, open standards and open source at the Home Office, started the conversation by talking about open source licensing, and how a large number of government agencies are “missing out” on quality software because they form a dependency on expensive systems backed by large “systems integrators”.
Rashid told the audience about the ‘Open Source Software Options for Government’ document that contains a list of tried and tested alternatives to traditional products from companies like SAP and Microsoft. At the same time, Rashid was quick to point out that the government wasn’t biased towards open source. The idea behind the document was to create a level playing field for software suppliers, meaning the best tools for the job were used, rather than a favourite vendor.
“We are not open source fanatics, but if it works well, you should use it,” said Graham Mallin, head of IT infrastructure at the Met Office.
Rashid attempted to dispel security myths surrounding open source, saying as a category it “is no more or less secure than closed proprietary software.”
Speaking from the public sector perspective, he finished by saying that during the past decade, “we have outsourced our thinking”, and it was about time for the government to take charge of its IT affairs.
This idea was echoed in a speech by Mark O’Neill, proposition director for innovation and delivery at the Government Digital Service, who complained about having to constantly re-invent the wheel. More often than not, the resulting wheel was “square, made of gold and five years too late”.
The GOV.UK project, developed by the Government Digital Service, aspires to break this tradition. It is completely open source based and was created using the motto: “Do the same as successful people”. Although this quite often includes replicating commercial services, according to O’Neill, the 90 percent savings result is “quite a good pitch”.
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