Government promises more open-source use

Government promises more open-source use

Summary: The government has announced its policy on open-source software, and says it will attempt to avoid vendor 'lock in' and save taxpayers' money


The government has published its policy on open-source software, promising to use open source rather than proprietary alternatives if there is no significant cost difference in products and services.

In a statement on Tuesday, the government said IT procurement decisions will be judged on total cost of ownership (TCO), including exit and transition costs. Open source will be favoured if the TCO is similar for open-source and proprietary products and services.

The stated rationale behind the move is that open-source software and technology based on open standards are more flexible and can offer better value for money.

"Open-source products are more competitive and have become easier to include in business, and major players in the IT industry now support the use of open standards," said minister for digital engagement, Tom Watson, in a statement. "Several government departments already use open-source components and I hope this new policy will encourage others to follow suit."

Watson said open source was not a "cure-all remedy", but said "levelling the playing field" would give better value for taxpayers' money, which was "more important than ever during the worldwide financial climate".

The government action plan on open source was published in a document entitled Open Source, Open Standards, and Re-Use. The government pledged that, where possible, its departments would avoid becoming "locked in" to proprietary software, and that it would take into account exit, re-bid and rebuild costs. The government said it would also "require those proposing proprietary software to specify how exit would be achieved", and would support the re-use of products and services where possible.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson on Wednesday insisted that the government had implicitly followed best value-for-money practices in IT procurement, despite numerous failed government IT projects. In December the Liberal Democrats called for an immediate halt to the NHS National Project for IT, describing the programme as "a shambles". In 2007, the government admitted that seven out of 10 government IT projects fail, falling down on value for money.

"We have had an open-source policy since 2004, where we said we would take every opportunity to level the playing field," the Cabinet Office spokesperson said. "Since then, we have taken on open source in government departments and the NHS."

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The spokesperson said the policy was being made explicit "to make sure the playing field really is level", and denied that the policy had been formulated in reaction to opposition party criticism. The Conservative party said last month that the government was "falling far behind" in open source.

"It's not a knee-jerk [reaction]," the spokesperson said. "We've been working on this policy for several months."

Open-source vendors welcomed the government policy. "In the current economic climate, attention is focused on ways to keep down costs while increasing return on investment," Sun's UK managing director Kim Jones said in a statement. "The UK government could save millions of pounds every year if it made more use of open source as part of a competitive procurement system."

Mark Taylor, chief executive of Sirius Corporation, the only open-source supplier on a list of IT companies approved for use in UK schools, reacted positively but cautiously.

"The UK government's announcement looks good on paper, but everything depends on what comes next," Taylor said in a statement. "Now is the time for the government to match its words with actions, and prove it is serious about saving taxpayers' money by making the change to open source, open standards and open content."

Topics: Apps, Software Development

Tom Espiner

About Tom Espiner

Tom is a technology reporter for He covers the security beat, writing about everything from hacking and cybercrime to threats and mitigation. He also focuses on open source and emerging technologies, all the while trying to cut through greenwash.

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  • UK Government reckons this open source thingy could catch on maybe

    Yep - in typical fashion, even the government's tacit admission that it was behind the curve on open source was released late.

    The press release/statement/apology - Government levels the playing field for open source - wasn't sent out from the Ministry of Truth until at least 7.00pm - when most reporters are tucked up in the nearest hostelry.

    And what about that headline - "levels the playing field' - that seems to imply that until now the government has been quite happy with uneven playing field when it comes to procuring anything but proprietary technology but I might be being unfair.

    Interestingly though the release also states that "major players in the IT industry now support the use of Open Standards". For major players basically read Microsoft as I am not sure what other major players have recently stumbled over this open source thing: IBM, HP, Dell - have all been supporting Linux (to some degree or other) for years.

    More on my blog here:,1000000567,10012221o-2000331759b,00.htm
    Andrew Donoghue
  • This is a spoiler

    Your cynicism is well founded in my view. This announcement is a classic spoiler tactic and a direct result of the Tory party's recent pro-OSS policy announcements.

    Now Labour can claim, as they have done, that they've had an OSS policy in place for years (since 2004!) and so they're leading the agenda not following it.

    The reality is that the Labour Party's OSS policy has consisted of ignoring every vendor that didn't provide it with 'incentives'. OSS vendors don't do slush funds for political lobbying quite like the incumbent proprietary vendors. For example, MS's US lobbying budget was something like $80m last year. It would be interesting to see how that compares in the UK.

    Tom Watson is learning fast. Minister for Digital Engagement indeed. What balls.

    This looks like good old fashioned realpolitik to me.
  • Government promises more open-source use

    Talk is cheap. But, if you think Microsoft is going to let you change to an open source solution, good luck. They have been known to give software away for free to preserve their stranglehold. Be interesting to see how this plays out.