Microsoft to talk open computing in government

Microsoft will sit down this April with policy makers, IT officials and open source vendors at the second Open Computing in Government Conference (OCG) in Canberra to talk about how open computing can aid in the provision of services by government.

Microsoft will sit down this April with policy makers, IT officials and open source vendors at the second Open Computing in Government Conference (OCG) in Canberra to talk about how open computing can aid in the provision of services by government.

Speaking with ZDNet Australia this afternoon, conference spokesperson Grant Allen said that Microsoft's inclusion -- the company will present a paper to the conference -- represented the growing notion that it was time to think of information technology in less ideological and more practical terms. This is particularly important in government, Allen said, where the focus is on the provision of services to people.

Allen cited several examples of government initiatives that had utilised open source software or open standards due to practical considerations. For example, he said, in one project the Commonwealth Department of Health had utilised open source software to lower the barrier of entry for people to use IT to facilitate healthcare services. The project had "a very clear goal, and a very clear idea about how improved services could help the community".

In another example, the MySource Matrix content management system (CMS) was developed by local open source online developer Squiz for the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO). AGIMO had originally embarked on a project early in 2003 to replace its Web sites. Now the organisation has made the software freely available for re-use across other government and not-for-profit agencies. Both of these case studies will be explored in more depth at the conference.

Last year's conference saw high-profile attendees like ALP Senator Kate Lundy and South Australian Legislative Councillor and Democrat Ian Gilfillan. According to Allen, attendees at OCG 2005 have not been finalised, but the conference is currently "holding discussions with all major parties", including the offices of Helen Coonan, Federal Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, and her shadow counterpart Senator Stephen Conroy. Allen said that he had "a month's worth of negotiation" ahead, but that there was "lots of interest from NSW and locally within the ACT", and from all levels of government.

With respect to the current relationship of Australian government to the phenomenon of open computing, Allen said that AGIMO was "taking a lead role" in advising government departments and agencies and "breaking new ground" in the area. Many government agencies, Allen said, were following in AGIMO's footsteps when it came to open computing.

Although not officially announced yet, Allen told ZDNet Australia that Mark Shuttleworth would be the keynote speaker at the conference. Shuttleworth is a well-known personality within the digital world for several reasons. He first became known for founding Thawte, a company specialising in digital certificates and internet privacy. After selling the company to Verisign in 1999, Shuttleworth formed venture capital company HBD as well as the Shuttleworth Foundation, which funds educational projects in Africa.

However the enterpreneur is perhaps best known in recent times for being the first South African national in space, having paid US$20 million to be launched with the Russian Soyuz TM-34 mission in 2002. With his feet safely back on the ground, long-time Debian GNU/Linux developer Shuttleworth then founded Ubuntu, a Linux distribution based on Debian and currently making waves in the open source community.

Finally, Allen spoke of one final aspect of the conference of note: rather than focusing on awareness raising as has previously been the case, two panel sessions at OCG 2005 will focus on how Australian companies can get involved in providing open source-based services to government. As Allen said, "people have had enough of talking about it" -- they want to do it.

The Open Computing in Government Conference 2005 will be held at the Australian National University this April 18th and 19th. The conference will run in conjunction with Australia's Linux conference, linux.conf.au 2005.

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