Government departments could demand that IT outsourcing partners demonstrate open source capabilities, following the recommendations of an Office of Government Commerce report published last week.
The OGC is taking the lead in the Treasury’s drive to save £20bn across the public sector. After a year-long series of trials, it reported that open source software was a "viable and credible alternative to propriety software" for the public sector.
"When making a decision on the selection of a future service provider, the user organisation should satisfy itself that the provider can deliver capability on open source and the Linux platform. Even if these are not a defined requirement, it would be wise to ensure the service provider contract has this capability as an option," the OGC said.
Eric Woods, government practice director at analyst firm Ovum, described the requirement as unusual. "Open source does not get a high profile when looking at the outsourcing of systems. It will need to fit into a broad set of requirements but it will have to be on the menu of potential outsourcers," he said
Commenting on the report a Microsoft spokesman said, "We understand it is the role of government to promote a level playing field and to foster increased competition. However, having read the report in detail, the findings do not align fully with the feedback we regularly receive from our customers who have evaluated Microsoft software against open source software.
"We would encourage interested parties to read the report, its recommendations and conclusions to enable them to reach their own informed conclusions."
In two weeks’ time, Bristol City Council will vote on whether to proceed with a 5,000-seat open source desktop project.