UK open source vendors have high hopes for the government's official commitment to open software, and believe that the Action Plan launched on 24 February will be a breakthrough for Downing Street's procurement model.
"Even though the government has been talking about going open source since 2004, this is by far the strongest commitment yet," said Steve Shine, worldwide operations senior vice president at Ingres.
The plan was unveiled in February by Tom Watson, minister for digital engagement, who claimed that it was designed to ensure maximum value for tax payers.
The government promised to actively consider open source solutions alongside proprietary offerings in making procurement decisions. Where there is no significant overall cost difference between the two types, departments will select open source on the basis of its additional flexibility.
The new policy explicitly asks whether software is interoperable, and will avoid the government being locked into particular product sets.
"The licensing policies of software suppliers, particularly where government is not treated as a single entity, and the lack of cost transparency in the supply chain, have created issues in the progress towards greater cost reduction and the joining-up of services across government," the plan noted.
This was picked up on by Shine during the roundtable discussion, who argued that the UK government was the first that had adequately dealt with the " supplier challenge".
"If you use proprietary software you get stuck in the exit costs and these are enormous, which is why those companies tend to drive up costs so much. In contrast, businesses buying open source products do not need to pay until they implement the product, and that's only if they want to buy the support services, " he said.
But Shine also suggested that the government's commitment was part of a larger national move towards open source software owing to the state of the British economy.
"Before, chief information officers from profitable companies did not mind paying the extra cash on proprietary software, but now that they are experiencing budget cuts they realise that the decision has put them in a difficult position. They can either cut the vendor, which they often can't do because they are locked in, or the staff. It should really be a more flexible model," said Shine.
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