Proprietary software companies reacted sharply on Wednesday to plans by the UK government to enforce stricter rules on the use of their software, particularly where there is a potential for lock-in or where there is an open source alternative.
In a draft consultation document published on Tuesday, the office of the e-envoy sent its clearest signal yet to government departments that they should pay more attention to open source. The guidelines say that departments should consider open-source software alongside proprietary software in IT procurements and award contracts on a value-for-money basis -- a measure bound to rankle with proprietary software vendors, who increasingly find it difficult to compete against open-source software in terms of value-for-money.
Furthermore, government departments are banned from using products that do not support open standards and specifications, they will seek to avoid lock-in to proprietary products and services, and will consider obtaining full rights to any bespoke code that they commission.
But the measure that most acutely touched a nerve with proprietary software vendors appears to be the rule that says that publicly funded software will be released under open-source licences.
"Essentially, if this goes ahead, it will force public-sector bodies into using software that is not appropriate for them," said the Initiative for Software Choice (ISC), in a statement. The ISC is an initiative of industry association CompTIA, which represents several hundred proprietary software companies, including Microsoft -- one of the most outspoken critics of open-source licences.
"R&D project owners should be free to select the licensing model that best meets their particular needs and public authorities should maintain the broadest array of licensing options when pursuing R&D projects," said ISC. "For this reason, the ISC strongly encourages the e-envoy to continue to promote a technology-neutral policy with respect to government funded R&D, and it recommends that any discriminatory reference to a particular software licence be deleted from the policy currently under discussion."
The e-envoy's consultation closes on 11 June, 2004.