Minister backs open source as future for UK business users

Giving his strong backing for the open source movement e-commerce minister Stephen Timms this month called on UK organisations to...

Giving his strong backing for the open source movement e-commerce minister Stephen Timms this month called on UK organisations to take a close look at open software.

The occasion was the formal launch of an in-depth, qualitative survey of 60 IT directors from the retail, finance and public sectors, backed by the Department of Trade & Industry and organised by OpenForum Europe, a consortium of corporate IT users and open source suppliers.

One major finding from the survey was that whereas last year IT directors acknowledged they had heard of open source software, this year they said they intend to actually look at it.

"This year we see a growth surge in business confidence for open source," said Graham Taylor, chief executive of the group.

These senior users were more relaxed this year about security of Linux and open source software. Last year about 20% found security worries an inhibitor, while virtually none did this year.

Fewer respondents had worries about support this year, suggesting suppliers had got their act together better over the past 12 months. Last year 56% had concerns about support, that figure is now reduced to 29%, although that is still an outstanding issue.

Users still have difficulty with the support model for open source: they understand there is no such thing as a free lunch but do not appreciate how open source suppliers make their money.

Different vertical sectors pinpointed different benefits as the key ones for them.

Those from the retail sector reported that the greatest perceived benefit of open source was lower total cost of ownership

Top benefit for finance sector respondents was lower software licensing costs

Lack of lock-in was the most attractive attribute to those in the public sector.

"The survey marks the coming of age of open source," said Timms. "It is no longer the preserve of enthusiasts."

"Proselytising can be a turn- off. This report from the OpenForum Europe helps provide evidence for business to make its own decisions. We do want firms to understand the potential and grasp the opportunities offered by open source.

"It is proving effective in allowing flexibility to change some elements of computer systems without changing all of it."

OpenForum Europe reaches out to bridge the divide   

OpenForum Europe, a body of large IT users and suppliers launched a year ago, and supported by Computer Weekly, aims to strengthen the perception and credibility of open source, particularly in government and among IT management and boards of commercial user organisations.  

It focuses on the business issues of using open source software such as return on investment, true cost, and auditability.   OpenForum Europe is a not-for-profit sister programme to Interforum, the  Department of Trade and Industry-backed organisation that encourages small- and medium-sized companies to trade online. 

Like Interforum, OpenForum Europe is under the umbrella of the IT Forum Foundation which promotes use of e-commerce in UK business.  

Corporate user members include Citigroup, Financial Times, London Connect, the Greater London Authority and the National Computer Centre, as well as the standard open source suppliers such as IBM, and others.

OpenForum Europe aims to steer a pragmatic path among the open source purists and traditional software suppliers now offering open source products and services.  

This month the OpenForum Europe is conducting a series of meetings and seminars in London and the Midlands.  It is currently embroiled in the controversial issue of software patents, to be voted on by European MEPs in June. OpenForum Europe's view is that software patents are inevitable in Europe now so they should be made workable rather than go down the US path of ridiculous proliferation of software patents. 

The group also does its best to quell fears among open source purists that open source will go the way Unix did 15 years ago, and move from the ideal of openness to umpteen incompatible varieties. 

OpenForum Europe is confident that this will not happen as with Unix, although there was a common envelope, every supplier had their own version of the kernel. Today the common Linux kernel is tightly controlled by Linus Torvalds, and open software such as Apache and mySQL are highly controlled environments giving much greater homogeneity than under Unix.   '

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