The Department for Work and Pensions is to trial open source desktop software in a move which could pave the way to the large-scale deployment of non-Microsoft PC software in the public sector.
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The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – which operates around 150,000 PCs – is preparing to run a small-scale trial, using open source software on 1,000 desktops.
Mike Truran, customer delivery director at DWP, told the Datacenter Dynamics Convergence conference the DWP had not yet moved to open source on the desktop because the department relied heavily on Microsoft Access and Excel. "If the pilot works we will take it forward," he said.
Truran said the DWP is committed to open source, to meet the challenges set by Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude.
If the DWP can make open source software work, Truran believes it will be difficult for other government departments to ignore open source desktop software. “There will always be exceptions, but it will be very difficult for other departments not to comply.”
The responsibility for desktop systems falls under the remit of Phil Pavitt, director general for change and the CIO for HMRC.
The interest in open source stems from the government’s strategy to move away from supplier-lock-in, allowing departments to switch suppliers more easily.
In December 2010, Maude stated: “The days of the mega IT contracts are over, we will need you to rethink the way you approach projects, making them smaller, off-the-shelf and open source where possible.”
Along with the obvious zero licence fee benefit of using open source – compared to a product such as Microsoft Office, which retails for over £216 per user – open source allows government to avoid supplier lock-in. The Cabinet Office’s All About Open Source paper states: “Open source software can be operated and maintained by multiple suppliers encouraging competition and providing an opportunity for SMEs to compete in the government market; which leads to code sharing cultures, better citizen accessibility and greater control over IT projects.”