Gov websites to use open source 'whenever possible'

In the response to a pretty innocuous parliamentary question from Tom Watson, new Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude makes a statement which could, on the face of it, be of monumental significance for UK e-government.

The Government believe that departmental websites should be hubs for debate as well as information-where people come together to discuss issues and address challenges – and that this should be achieved efficiently and, whenever possible using open source software. Any future development of websites run by the Cabinet Office will be assessed and reviewed against these criteria.

We’ve heard the ‘hubs for debate’ line before, in the Conservative tech manifesto, but the other part is quite startling. Open source software ‘wherever possible’. An unqualified statement of policy. No caveats at all; not even financial. That takes us far, far beyond the ‘level playing field’.

4 thoughts on “Gov websites to use open source 'whenever possible'”

  1. “whenever possible using open source software”
    I suppose the first question here is WHY?
    Maybe these non IT literate ministers are under the deluded impression that Open Source = Free (indeed I would put money on it)
    Maybe they are oblivious to the fact that a fully supported Red Hat web server costs pretty much the same as a fully supported Windows web server these days.
    It’s this sort of thinking that has allowed some very large companies to get very rich on the back of these well intended government IT contracts.
    Isn’t it about time the government left the IT strategy making to the people that actually understand these things. There are plenty of them employed by government today so let them decide on strategy. After all, isn’t that what we are paying them for?

  2. The point wasn’t about Linux vs Windows, but since you brought it up… I’m not going to argue that the cost of maintaining a Linux server will probably work out roughly the same as for a Windows server. In fact, if you look at market prices for hosting, a Linux package usually works out a couple of quid a month cheaper; but it’s not enough to be the decisive factor, certainly not at enterprise level.
    I could happily recite a list of reasons why Open Source is fundamentally better for government: freedom to alter / enhance, flexibility, availability of expertise (or scope to gain it), potential to return benefits to taxpayers, lack of vendor lock-in, reduced bureaucracy around procurement / licensing, potential to encourage the SME sector in what is undoubtedly a growing sector of business, etc etc.
    We’ve already seen numerous examples of this in UK government, particularly around the use and development of WordPress. If you click around this blog a bit, you’ll soon find them.
    I’ll stand by the notion that it’s probably a little bit cheaper to go with an open source OS. But the case is strong enough without it.

  3. I have to come back on this one.
    I don’t disagree with anything in your comments. Indeed I will support and promote open source wherever it is the right choice to make but to mandate it?
    Is it not about using the right software for the job in hand? Putting cost aside (yes I know I brought it up) there are still applications and situations where the best solution available is NOT open source.
    So in these situations, by mandating open source one is simply shutting the door on a potential solution that could offer better flexibility and better value for the taxpayer.
    Yes open source should be promoted but mandating like this is actually the wrong way to do it.

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