The line which jumps out at me from today’s new government ‘Action Plan’ on open source software is quite a neat encapsulation of the entire document:
Where there is no significant overall cost difference between open and non-open source products, open source will be selected on the basis of its additional inherent flexibility.
Fundamentally, the policy on Open Source hasn’t changed much, if at all. Instead of just considering Open Source, civil servants now have to ‘actively and fairly’ consider it. I’m not sure what practical difference that tweak will make: but the subtext is pretty clear.
Likewise, I don’t imagine the ‘tiebreaker’ clause will be invoked very often, not explicitly. But what’s important is that it doesn’t say there’s potential to be more flexible, it says – rightly – that the flexibility is inherent.
The Action Plan reads like a document which wanted to say more, but didn’t feel able to. It sets out to reassure the bureaucrats that Open Source isn’t a risk, is already widely used, and can be taken seriously. It talks up the notion of ‘open source culture’, and warns against procedural barriers. It goes as far as it can towards saying ‘please use it more!’ – but in the world of procurement politics, and billion-pound budgets, perhaps you can’t realistically expect it to go any further. Opposition politicians aren’t under such restraint, of course.
Will this make a difference to me, as someone who ultimately makes most of his living from selling open source to government? Not really. In fact, I feel as if Puffbox has been putting a lot of these principles into practice for some time. We didn’t need to be told to; we just felt it was right to do so.
I’ve always felt perfectly comfortable making the case for open source on its own merits, and had plenty of success too, without having to wave around a Cabinet Office document – the 2004 policy has literally never come up in conversation. And whilst it might be useful to have a list of officially approved products (action point #4), I don’t expect departments to accept documentation in OpenOffice format (#8) any time soon.