Open source: UK government decides to catch up
Earlier today Bristol Wireless volunteer Sam alerted the co-op to the launch of Whitehall’s action plan for open source, including support for ODF.
The action plan has a foreword by Digital Engagement Minister Tom Watson MP, which starts:
Open Source has been one of the most significant cultural developments in IT and beyond over the last two decades: it has shown that individuals, working together over the Internet, can create products that rival and sometimes beat those of giant corporations; it has shown how giant corporations themselves, and Governments, can become more innovative, more agile and more cost-effective by building on the fruits of community work; and from its IT base the Open Source movement has given leadership to new thinking about intellectual property rights and the availability of information for re–use by others.
That’s a glowing testimonial for starters. The collaborative working methods inherent in open source have produced all the software currently being used to write this piece and its licensing conditions. Indeed, Minister, the internet (even with your upper case. Ed.) couldn’t function without open source/free software and neither could Bristol Wireless: our entire infrastructure is based upon it. In return for being able to use free and open source software we can help to improve it by fixing bugs and have many years experience of operating it in a production environment.
The commitment to open standards, including ODF comes in as action point 8 out of 10 and states:
Open Standards: The Government will specify requirements by reference to open standards and require compliance with open standards in solutions where feasible. It will support the use of Open Document Format (ISO/IEC 26300:2006) as well as emerging open versions of previously proprietary standards (eg [sic] ISO 19005-1:2005 (“PDF”) and ISO/IEC 29500 (“Office Open XML formats”)*. It will work to ensure that government information is available in open formats, and it will make this a required standard for government websites.
* = Whether this standard is truly open is a matter of debate. Ed.
Government website compliance with open standards and open formats is a great change. It wasn’t always so and huge swathes of the Whitehall estate still run on proprietary.
It’s reckoned the UK Government spends some £600 mn./year on proprietary software licences. Will the new-found conversion to open source mean taxpayers money won’t be wasted paying any more Microsoft tax? We’ll have to see.
Finally, if the Minister is keen to show his commitment to open source, we’d be pleased to put Debian on his laptop for our usual consideration – even making him a coffee while he waits. 😉