It feels like a week hardly goes by without public sector organisation on the European mainland announcing a migration to Linux or some other open source platform. UK government organizations, meanwhile, seem more reluctant to commit to despite the existence of some real open source success stories.
The APLAWS (Accessible and Personalised Local Authority Web sites, pronounced "applause") content-management system (CMS) is a stand out example of the flexibility that community built software can provide. The four-year-old initiative, backed by the British government, has resulted in an open-source CMS, customised for UK local authorities. Local governments are now adopting it at a rapid clip — about 40 now have the system up and running or are rolling it out. The project managers for the APLAWS project went with an open source scheme almost by accident, but now claim the open source licensing arrangements and development model have become one of the project's strongest benefits.
APLAWS was one of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's original 25 Pathfinder projects, nationally-funded schemes designed to develop technology that could be reused across the country. The project was particularly important to local authorities facing a deadline of getting all their services online by 2005.
Five London boroughs were involved, with Camden taking the role of project manager; Alasdair Mangham, the head of Camden's e-services development team, and Jeremy Tuck, Camden's APLAWS programme manager at the time, spearheaded development work. In 2001, when APLAWS kicked off, there was one very simple reason for going with an open-source solution — it existed, and it was far less expensive than proprietary alternatives, says Arturo Dell, who recently succeeded Tuck's in Camden. If circumstances had been different APLAWS could easily have ended up with a proprietary license, says Dell.