Neither open source or proprietary software should be default choice in government?

There has been lots of talk recently about the UK government increasing its use of open source software to cut costs.

Service providers are being expected to slash costs so the choice of software is vital.

For a long time commercial software from companies such as Microsoft have dominated the public sector. But things are changing. For example a deal with Microsoft was recently scrapped.

In response to a parliamentary question cabinet minister Francis Maude, who is at the heart of government IT cost cutting plans, said: “The Government are committed to using more open source solutions where possible.”

But speaking at a Westminster eForum event, about free and open source software today, the Business Software Alliances senior director of government affairs Francisco Mingorance warned against the government choosing a default preference between open source and commercial software.

“Public entities should procure the software that best meets their needs–based on functionality, performance, security, and cost of ownership–and avoid dogmatic preferences in favour of open source or commercial software. Governments that attempt to favour one software development model as superior in terms of a particular variable risk making incorrect choices among the full range of solutions available in the marketplace.”

Mingorance said the proprietary versus open source controversy no longer exists in practice. He said instead, so-called mixed source applications and hybridisation are becoming increasingly prevalent.

But its not as simple as that and there will also be challenges associated with this.

I had a conversation with a software testing expert when I was at the Gartner outsourcing event this week and he told me the challenges the public sector will face if it has a wider variety of software.

Jitendra Subramanyam, who is director of product strategy and research at software testing supplier Cast, says when you have a patchwork of systems there can be problems. This is related to the fact that systems have to interact.

“These problems are not usually with the systems themselves but when different systems interact with each other,” he says.  These boundary points are difficult to manage.

He says the more you go for best of breed systems, the more attention you have to pay to the entire system infrastructure.

Vinay Joosery, EMEA VP with open source business intelligence vendor Pentaho welcomed the  comments from Mingorance as a clear sign that open source software can no longer be considered a niche technology. “Open Source is not for everything, but with this sort of an economic advantage, government users, such as the NHS, need to think very hard why the alternative is better.”


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