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The government has taken its first steps in adopting open standards technology to reduce costs and increase competition during the procurement of IT contracts.
The Cabinet Office's Open Standards Board has recommended the approval for the first two sets of open source technologies to encourage a "level playing field for open source and proprietary software providers", which is intended to allow the government to move away from "restrictive, long-term deals with a small number of suppliers".
The first two open source technologies to be approved are HTTP/1.1 – which will essentially be used to link similar pieces of information together from different sources – and Unicode UTF-8 to standardise the way textual information is moved from one system to another without causing problems with text formatting and interpretation.
Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said that this first foray into open standards was a landmark moment: "We have always said that open standards are vital for making our technology cheaper, more connected and better suited to providing public services that are digital by default and designed around what users need," he explained.
He added that, "open standards will give us interoperable software, information and data in government and will reduce costs by encouraging competition, avoiding lock-in to suppliers or products and providing more efficient services".
The move towards open standards began in 2009, when the then Labour government published a policy document that said the public sector should be using open source rather than proprietary alternatives if the cost difference was insignificant.
All new government IT contracts must be made with suppliers that abide by open standards principles, with data allowed to be interchanged between different software platforms without difficulty. More open source technologies will be discussed in future meetings of the Open Standards Board.