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 ZDNet.com.au. "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 ZDNet.com.au.
"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 ZDNet.com.au 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."