Cabinet wants open source openness, with chocolate biscuits?

Press reports have been circulating since the start of this month analysing the government’s attitude towards open source technology procurement. As we now know, the traditional approach within Whitehall has been to opt for some of the most costly proprietary technologies.

Has this situation occurred due to perceptions of the ‘safety factor’ associated with big brand vendor products?

Is this a case of ‘nobody ever got fired by buying Microsoft’ asks the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has said that he wants to shift mindsets and see more open source software deployment considered across a so-called “level playing field” now.

That’s great – Maude’s problem is chocolate biscuits. Allow me to explain.

I once spent a year working in a communications support function for UK Trade & Investment and attending plenty of internal meetings alongside civil servants. I would like to politely suggest that getting a solid decision out of these people is hard; aside from what kind of chocolate biscuits ought to be ordered for the next meeting, not a lot happens.


Obviously I am exaggerating, but I tell you – to this day I know more about Hob Nobs and Ginger Nuts than I do about the Department for Trade & Industry.

I digress…

According to the BBC’s Cellan-Jones, Maude and his Home Office homeboys have spent somewhere over £26m on proprietary software since the start of 2010. Cellan-Jones writes, “Of that, £21m went to just one business, Raytheon Systems for IT, Broadcasting and Telecoms software. It seems extraordinary to push something like 80% of your software budget to one provider – but who knows whether an open-source supplier could have provided a product that would have done the job?”

For our own industry view, Computer Weekly Open Source Insider spoke to James Peel, product manager at open source network, server and application monitoring company Opsview.

“There is a stigma around open source software but there shouldn’t be. The reality is its just software – some of it good, some of it bad. The key is to evaluate the technology before signing up – just as you would any piece of software. The problem is that too many people think the best software is the most expensive software. As a result they end up wasting money on expensive proprietary technology,” said Peel.

“However [in most cases you will find that] there are viable open source alternatives. Some of these are pure open source projects and some are built on open source platforms which are perfectly fit for purpose and can be used at a fraction of the price. What we need is a culture change. Is a bit likes cars – you don’t need to buy a fleet of Jaguars to transport the whole of Whitehall around. A simple leasing contract for a Ford or Toyota would more than meet everyone’s needs. The private sector is starting to wake up to this idea. Companies are questioning their investments in proprietary monitoring software from the larger vendors and starting to adopt open source solutions instead. The public sector needs to follow suit. In a time of austerity, the government can’t afford to ignore these more cost effective options.”