The government is getting serious about using open source as a building block in systems development.
Yesterday its top IT policy-making body, the CIO Council, published a10
point action plan that frees central and local government departments to use open source systems where possible.
This is the first review of government policy on open source since 2004. Since then, some very large government systems have been built using open sourcve principles. They include the use of Apache as the core web server by half the main departmental websites, and the use of open source components in Directgov, the government web portal, and the Electronic Vehicle Licensing system.
The CIO Council said the NHS Spine, the private network that connects NHS trusts, uses an open source operating system. The replacement of Netware by Open Enterprise Server will mean that 35% of NHS organisations, covering almost 300,000 users, will be supported on Linux infrastructure, it said.
The council said it needed to ensure that there was an effective level playing field between open source and proprietary software "to realise the potential contribution open source software can make to wider aims of re-use and open standards".
The key objectives are to ensure that the government adopts open standards and uses them to communicate with citizens and businesses that use open source systems.
It wants to ensure that open source systems are considered properly and are adopted where they deliver best value for money, taking into account other advantages, such as re-use and flexibility.
More controversially, it aimed to embed an open source culture of sharing, re-use and collaborative development across government and its suppliers.
This idea, given effect in the Coronors and Justice Bill, has drawn criticism from many quarters, including former home secretary David Blunkett and the Information Commissioner's Office, for being too wide-ranging and for defeating the provisions of the Data Protection Act.
Nevertheless, the council hoped wider use of open source would stimulate innovation, reduce cost and risk, and improve speed to market.
The council also hoped to ensure that systems integrators and proprietary software suppliers showed "the same flexibility and ability to re-use their solutions and products as is inherent in open source".
It said it would work with systems integrators and software suppliers to open up their software to meet open standards, to include open source, and to facilitate re-use. It would also share with industry information about current deployments of open source and testing already performed so that knowledge can be re-used.
On a more practical level, it formally adopted the use of Open Document Format (ISO/IEC 26300:2006) as well as emerging open versions of previously proprietary standards (eg ISO 19005-1:2005 (PDF) and ISO/IEC 29500 (Office Open XML formats).
It said it would work to ensure that government information was available in open formats, and it would make this a required standard for government websites.