Birmingham Council plans 1,500 seat trial of open source desktops

Birmingham City Council is to carry out large-scale trials to evaluate the viability of open source software on its desktop PCs....

Birmingham City Council is to carry out large-scale trials to evaluate the viability of open source software on its desktop PCs.

The council has secured government funding to run 1,500 PCs using the Linux operating system with Openoffice applications and Firefox web browsers. The open source trial will include public-facing PCs in libraries as well as those used to access core systems in council offices.

Glyn Evans, director of business solutions and IT at the council, said he was keeping an open mind going into the trials. “I don’t have any desire to use open source just because it is not Microsoft,” he said. “I am not sold on open source software personally. I think the case has to be made. We need to cut through the hype from that community and cut through the cynicism from Microsoft.”

The council is investigating whether an open source desktop could produce efficiency savings and help contribute toward the Gershon agenda - which outlines plans for efficiency savings - in local government.

The Open Source Consortium, funded by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, will provide the council’s funding, running into hundreds of thousands of pounds, said Evans.

The trial will last a year, and there will be an independent evaluation at the end. “We will measure costs, both initial and ongoing. We will look at the costs of retraining end users and IT staff,” said Evans.

“Productivity will also be measured – does open source technology make people more or less productive? We will also look at integration costs. Overall we want to find out if there is a sound business case for the open source desktop.”

Meanwhile, public sector IT directors’ organisation Socitm has produced research on attitudes to open source software in local government. It surveyed 99 local authorities and found that more than half were using open source software somewhere in their IT department. The vast majority were using the technology in applications and infrastructure, while only 8% were using it on the
desktop.

Meanwhile, 60% of councils questioned thought their use of open source software would increase over the next three years.
Evans said there was growing interest in open source in local government. “Even if we did not have funding for this desktop evaluation project we would be looking at open source in the back office,” he added.

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