The U.K. Goes Open Source


Here is some big news (a couple days late)! United Kingdom Cabinet Office Minister (for digital engagement) and Member of Parliament Tom Watson, in a statement released a day or so ago, said the British government will accelerate the use of open source software in its public services. The government will now place open source software on a level playing field with proprietary software such as Windows, and they’ll adopt open source software “when it delivers best value for money.” This is timely as the the Obama Administration begins to figure out how to use technology to reboot our government.

Whenever possible, the government has decided to avoid proprietary software for public services. The government will require its agencies to adopt open source software when “there is no significant overall cost difference between open and non-open source products” because of its “inherent flexibility.” In a report on the announcement, the BBC quotes open source advocates as saying the shift from proprietary standards could save the government up to £600 million a year.

Watson said that the government had been experimenting with open source for the past five years, and that they’ve found that it can be best for taxpayers by providing better public services.

Watson adds that they need to increase the pace of the open source approach:

1. We want to ensure that we continue to use the best possible solutions for public services at the best value for money; and that we pay a fair price for what we have to buy. 2. We want 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. 3. We want to encourage innovation and innovators – inside Government by encouraging open source thinking, and outside Government by helping to develop a vibrant market. 4. We want to give leadership to the IT industry and to the wider economy to benefit from the information we generate and the software we develop in Government.

The BBC report quotes an open source support vendor as saying that the U.K. government’s action plan “had ‘more teeth’ than policies being adopted in other countries because the plan was tied into policies regarding how IT managers procure new software.”

Charles Arthur, writing at the’s Technology Blog, makes a somewhat cynical yet likely apt observation. “Not that this means that all those Windows boxen are going to be ending up on a scrapheap any time tomorrow, though you can bet Microsoft’s salespeople to UK government will be on their phones right now talking to key people.”