UK Government Endorses Open Source and ODF

Tower Bridge

Late today (UK time), the British Government issued a bold new strategy for use of open source software - and open standards - in Great Britain. In Open Source, Open Standards and Re-Use, the government's Minister for Digital Engagement (yes, really, and he's on Twitter too) significantly revised the brave but toothless policy of 2004 "that it should seek to use Open Source where it gave the best value for money to the taxpayer in delivering public services". This is fantastic news - the digital tipping point is at hand. (The publication is also progressive in having nominated use of the tag "#ukgovOSS" in comment and coverage so it can be found and aggregated).

Like other fine policies before it, the core of the document asserts that the government

  • will actively and fairly consider open source solutions alongside proprietary ones;
  • will consider exit and transition costs as well as the total lifetime cost of ownership;
  • will pick open source where it doesn't cost more;
  • will insist proprietary vendors explain exit, rebid and rebuild costs;
  • will expect proprietary licenses to be transferable throughout government;
  • will expect public sector solutions to be re-usable
In support of this there are some key action items that include:
  • develop clear and open guidance for ensuring that open source and proprietary products are considered equally (action 1);
  • keep and share records of approval and use of open source (action 3)
  • support the use of Open Document Format (action 8);
  • work to ensure that government information is available in open formats, and it will make this a required standard for government websites (action 8);
  • general purpose software developed by or for government will be released on an open source basis (action 9).

This is all to be warmly welcomed and encouraged, and I congratulate the government on this progressive step. The endorsement of ODF is especially welcome, and would have seemed no more than an impossible dream to those of us associated with and involved in it at the start of the decade.

I will be very pleased to support and assist in any way that appropriate. In particular, I encourage the CIO Council to consider switching from an assumption of a procurement-driven approach to software acquisition to an adoption-led approach. Doing so does not favour open source; rather, it levels the playing field so that open source solutions can been seen alongside existing approaches. Sadly, if we stick with procurement-driven approaches and try to force-fit open source into them, we will be gamed.


Simon, be grat to see you at the Hack the Govt day, London March 7th.

Posted by Mark Baker on February 24, 2009 at 05:38 AM PST #

This is to be welcomed. There is too much automatic purchasing of software in the public sector, especially in Education. I agree with what you say about making it adoption led, but you have to deal with the entrenched automatic thinking that standardisation on proprietary software is better. One way to do this is pointing out that the benefits of so called standardisation are lost when vendor induced upgrades change file formats, user interface, and exctract eye watering upgrade pricing committments.

Posted by Angus Fox on February 24, 2009 at 06:04 AM PST #

Not all of this is great news.

The "receive full rights" actions (e.g. 9) have already been in place for some time, and the contracts are written such that procurers receive IPR transfer.

That actually discourages release of free software as customisations disappear into the black hole of Govt.

Indeed, software isn't the only area this policy has been used in.

Posted by AH on February 24, 2009 at 04:30 PM PST #


Action 8 does indeed support ODF but adds: " well as emerging open versions of previously proprietary standards (eg ISO 19005-1:2005 (“PDF”) and ISO/IEC 29500 (“Office Open XML formats”).

Posted by John Ingleby on February 24, 2009 at 05:21 PM PST #

[Trackback] In May 2008 OSS Watch published a workshop report with the title “Levelling the playing field: developing a mixed economy for software procurement”. This report focussed on procurement in the Higher and Further Education sectors and recomen...

Posted by OSS Watch team blog on February 24, 2009 at 07:49 PM PST #

We are an education Regional body who are a partnership of 18 Local Authorities. The North West Learning Grid. Last year we investigated putting in a national Repository of free educational digital resources. Had we gone down the licenced commercial product route, the more we shared, the more it cost - up to £5M of public funding per year to include all schools. Almost like a tax on learning, certainly a restriction on sharing.

We looked at Open Source solutions and found one in Spain and 2 weeks ago we signed an agreement to not only use their AGREGA Open source code but also share digital learning resources with them.

This announcement looks like we were being smart going for Open Source but we aren't doing anything other than looking at which is the best solution and what value for money is achieved by it. The probelem with most public sector IT decsion makers is that the see the use of Open Source as being riskier than a more commercially licenced product and to assess solutions there is no imperative to look for such an alternative. The traditional "three quotes" rule rarely included an Open Source alternative as one of the three options fully costed. What I'd really like to see now is an Open Source solution being sought for all appropriate public sector IT projects. Then maybe we will quickly move into a situation where Open Source is actually competing fairly against other offerings.

Posted by Gary Clawson on February 24, 2009 at 09:56 PM PST #

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