Open source barred from Australian government

Open source barred from Australian government

Summary: Government was once the great hope for open source but it will continue to diminish due to a lack of support according to the CIOs of Australia's largest government agencies.


Government was once the great hope for open source but it will continue to diminish due to a lack of support according to the CIOs of Australia's largest government agencies.

A study released today called The Australian Open Source Industry and Community Report 2008 claims that the use of open source software is on the rise. No longer a "cottage industry", businesses spend over AU$500 million a year on open source.

The report, which National ICT Australia (NICTA) has thrown its support behind, claims the argument that open source is not well-supported is a "misconception".

But according to the CIO's of Australia's three largest government departments — Defence, the Australian Tax Office and Centrelink — support is a very real concern — the central reason why more open source is not widely used in government.

"I've always been interested in open source," the Department of Defence CIO, Greg Farr told "I was interested in it in my previous role."

"As with Tax, Defence is in the same boat — we need to have it supported. So open source that is supported is interesting to me, but obviously we can't have a product where we have a problem and we don't have readily available support."

Centrelink's CIO John Wadeson also said open source will not likely find its way into the department due to support, despite the department "fairly widely" using Linux.

"For our really big core stuff, we really need the support we get. We buy the support, so we're not likely to see massive open source right through the place," he told

"We're not going open source because the industry thinks it's the thing to do. We will go there if the business case exists. You've got to look at the support levels you get," he said.

The ATO's Bill Gibson is concerned that open source software could not be as easily scrutinised as proprietary software, but adds that the ATO simply has not found an enterprise-wide open source application suitable for the department.

However open source software may find its way into the ATO's offices later this year, said Gibson.

"We may explore that as part of our end user computing outsourcing bundle."

IBRS analyst James Turner told that the cost of change management can also prevent the introduction of open source software into a large organisation.

"When a techie can get their fingers deep into the code, of course they will want to tinker and make everything just right ... And what happens when you upgrade a system which interacts with your open source stuff? Suddenly you have to waste time and money making sure that the two systems play nice," he said.

There may also be general disillusionment with open source in government and not just in Australia, according to Hydrasight analyst, Michael Warrilow.

"Open source hasn't revolutionised the world the way they thought it would five years ago. Three years ago it was much more fashionable," he said.

"Governments were talking about mandating use of open source. Malaysia is a great example of that. It was going to be open source everywhere in government but they have walked back from that due to the support bucket."

Topics: IBM, Open Source, IT Employment

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Unbeleivable !

    The amount of times we've struck problems with proprietary software and been told that there was nothing they could do, and we were a MAJOR federal gov dept spending bucket loads !
    Once the vendors have your cash then you're on your own. As for the 'support staff' argument, it is an absolute fact that if government was run like the private sector, where incompetent fools could be easily replaced with skilled workers, then most of those problems would simply go away. There is such a dire need for vendor hand-holding within the public service because the APS is FULL (and I do mean full) of meagre people that can't be sacked easily, thus they stay. You want Linux support, go buy support from IBM or SUN or Redhat or Novell, aren't they good enough for ya ?
  • Open source barred from Australian government's CIOs not CIO's. No need for the apostrophe.
  • Government CIOs

    Should stop giving interviews if they wish to retain any credibility at all, every time they speak they just dig a deeper hole demonstrating a profound lack of knowledge and some would say intelligence.

    Sad, truly sad.
  • Support IS the issue - open source or shrinkwrap

    for gods sake - get over this war of ideologies.

    Regardless of the wrapper - everything needs to work as expected and have the support needed.

    Both camps have good an bad points.

    If they spent their time adressing their own shortcomings instead of sniping at the other side - then they might just get a strangle hold on the market.

    We CIOs are sick of the war of words between open source and not open source. We don't care - we want it to work, we want it supported across te country 24x7x4, we want it to interoperate seamlessly with other systems, we want to be able to upgrade or migrate to another version without having to recode anything, we want it integrated and we want it easy to use and maintain. Not too much to ask is it.
  • You're a CIO?

    If you're a CIO and think that software is going to operate the way you want it to because you're "sick of the war of words" between software camps, I think you should be look at a new career. Get a grip.
  • Ummmm........

    .... I don't think an internet cafe tech support guy qualifies as a CIO Matt.


    I"m interested to hear your views on coffee resistant keyboards though.
  • Public service is about...

    I think "public service" is about providing quality services to citizens at the best price possible and not checking that you have someone to blame if something goes wrong.

    The impact of software choices on local economy should also be taken in consideration.

    Is the service better when public servants use a 400$ or 500$ MS Office software or just the same as with a 0$ OpenOffice ?

    What part of this n x 400$ goes in local economy and what part abroad ?
  • Open source support has been around for ages

    Firstly, open source HAS changed the way things work, deep inside the most proprietary - due to cost savings and/or quality, you will more often than not find open source components.

    Governments in general make stupid decisions, not just political ones (sometimes I wonder if they're synonymous however); there are heaps of support - yes commercial support by various companies for very specific open source products.
  • What Gartner predicts

    In a new report 'The State of Open Source 2008' Gartner predicts : 'In a few years' time, almost all businesses will use open source ... By 2012, more than 90 percent of enterprises will use open source in direct or embedded forms ... Users who reject open source for technical, legal or business reasons might find themselves unintentionally using open source despite their opposition.'
  • Unbeleivable !

    In the Web sphere we used to use Open source Joomla and Mambo to produce websites for our clients with CMS funtionality. But couldn't get real value level one Support even when we did purchase it. This left us in more than one spot of drama with clients. We now use a proprietry system called Pegboard and the support has been liberating!
    So from our perspective it makes sense. Of course Im not sure about other specific software apps.
  • Support: The most important factor in Open sourcedeployment

    I run my website - The online shopping store on Zen Cart - An open source solution. The support is very good for the Shopping Cart. And there are a plethora of support available from many different providers.

    However, for companies or businesses there is always a need for Formal IT Support for the solutions implemented. As such the cost of the non-open software is negligible. It is the support that is important. If Open Source could match the support for non-open software solutions, then there is nothing to beat open source. In fact, the mere contribution from a varied community makes open source systems more advanced and feature rich.
  • Open Source/Linux Is Like a Swimming Pool

    You're either in or out. I'm "out of the pool" because I don't have time for the learning curve right now, but I'm well aware that bugs and glitches in Linux platforms are usually solved by Somebody, Somewhere on Planet Earth, and the Support network in that regard is running 24/365 days a year.

    Problems in M$ windows that have taken three new releases to get fixed have been handled in the Open Source community, usually within a few hours.

    I don't use Open Office because of certain deficiencies that may not affect other users, but I promise that if I'm going to have to send electronic documents to any government agency it will be in ODT format.
  • great April 1 joke guys

    great April 1 joke guys, anyone see the date of this post?
  • April fools..

    Boss, excellent FUD work... and we got OOXML through as well...
  • Of Course it has to say that...

    "A study released today called The Australian Open Source Industry and Community Report 2008 claims that the use of open source software is on the rise. No longer a "cottage industry", businesses spend over AU$500 million a year on open source"

    If it didn't pump up the facts, get executed by internal supporters who salary packets get fat from open source I would have been very surprised if the report didn't make it sound like a huge industry irelevant of any real facts.
  • purchase is cheap

    I think you're missing that these are large organisations.

    Typical costs for MS Office is significantly less than $100 when you are buying large volume. [It also is often bundled with other MS apps] Deployment, training, maintenance and IT troubleshooting are much greater costs.

    This doesn't eliminate OO (or any other product), but don't mistake open source products for being free in total cost for any organisation.

    [Specifically in terms of Office applications - Outlook is very often the killer. Show me something that works as well when used for enterprise calendaring that _is_ $0 to buy]
  • Suppoooooooort

    Support? Support. Support! Support!!! Use the word support some more! The first 50 times wasn't enough. By the way, what are we talking about again? Oh yeah, SUPPORT.
  • Supported open source thrives despite government

    Australia enjoys a strong reputation globally for technology leadership as developers of popular (and well supported:) open source solutions (like SAMBA, joomla, uCLinux etc.)

    As individuals (and as consumers) we are generally acknowledged to be early ICT adopters ... but when it comes to ICT technology adoption by our consevative organizations, particulary by our governments, we consistently are technology lagards ... and I think Liam missed all this in his report. Sure the conservative CIOs interviewed have good reasons for being slow adopters. But the fact is that open source is a wave that eventually will prevail.

    So at the macreconomic level Australia misses out on all the productivity benefits that could flow from innovation and early adoption. However we luckily live in an economy blessed with rocks, crops and beaches ... and as a result at the micro level we can afford to continue to pioneer on the open source technology frontiers.
  • MS OS in COrperate Enviroments

    I worked for a smallish enterprise of 12,000 employees with 9,500 workstations & 170 Servers.
    Our MS XP & Office 2003 Productivity agreement was $48.00 Australian per desktop on volume licensing and $178.00 Per Server (non enterprise edition add 200.00 for enteprise edition excluding data centre 2000)
    Todays pricing I believe is around $72.00AU per desktop/laptop & a nickle under $200.00AU per server and we have all of the dev app's, support and some integration assistance thrown in for free.
    I am not an Open Source Engineer, once worked unix like a deamon(Pun intended) but moved camps 15 yrs ago so I cannot comment on the cost of deploying open source to such an environment.
    Just wanted to clarify the misconception of deployment licensing costs of the devils toolkit.
  • Whos actually barring what

    There's a pretty significant difference between not finding a product with support and barring the industry.

    Is there an explicit barring of open source by government? IMHO, Not based on the evidence presented in this article.