Use open source software - it makes things better, says UK

Use open source software - it makes things better, says UK

Summary: Open source gets the official seal of approval from the UK government in new guidelines that mandate its use over proprietary products.

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Open-source software must be the first choice for all new UK government projects, instead of proprietary or closed-source alternatives, according to new guidelines.

Use open source software in preference to proprietary or closed-source alternatives — UK government guidelines

Even in the "rare or specific" cases where managers can choose proprietary or on-demand software, they should ensure open standards are available for interfaces, to cut the risk of vendor lock-in, the Government Service Design Manual stipulates.

The manual, which comes into force in April, sets out the standards for new and redesigned public digital services.

"Use open-source software in preference to proprietary or closed-source alternatives, in particular for operating systems, networking software, web servers, databases and programming languages," says the section for service managers, entitled When to use open source.

The UK government has discussed increasing its use of open source since October 2004, when a study of its open-source software trials concluded that computers running Linux generated substantial long-term software and hardware savings.

However, the new manual is the first time the Westminster government has mandated open-source software over proprietary alternatives for new public service projects.

It sets out its rationale for increasing the use of open source in a subsection in the manual entitled Why we do this. "Free and open-source software has a number of architectural benefits over closed-source and proprietary alternatives and is the basis of our 10th design principle — Make things open: it makes things better," the manual says.

Dangers of vendor lock-in

As well as setting out the dangers of vendor lock-in, the manual argues that open-source coding facilitates collaboration with others inside and outside organisations, increasing the productivity of developers.

The manual highlights the benefits of developers' increased familiarity with open-source tools and approaches and how freedom at the point of use allows the downloading and assessment of software without "payment, prior agreement, a need to sign non-disclosure documentation, needing to waiver rights, or enter into aporia agreements on behalf of themselves or their organisation".

Other government bodies in Europe have adopted strategies based on open source, including the city of Munich, which recently hit back at Microsoft over the software giant's suggestion that open-source would end up costing more than a proprietary approach.

In May 2012, the UK government revealed that it was holding more than six million unused software licences and that only 668 of the total 18.5m licences it held were classified as reusable.

Topics: Enterprise Software, Government, Government UK, Open Source, Software Development

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11 comments
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  • Good and bad

    "As well as setting out the dangers of vendor lock-in, the manual argues that open-source coding facilitates collaboration with others inside and outside organisations, increasing the productivity of developers."

    If your business happens to be built from popular Open Source then yes this is true. if its built on something that no one wants to develop for or an older version that is out of direct support, then the costs can be through the roof. Only FOSS that has a revenue generating business model with a clearly identified support model behind it should be consider for heavy lifting in IT departments.
    ammohunt
    • For example?

      So please give an example of a likely "older version that is out of direct support" application or software system that is likely to:

      a) get used by a government mandated contract,

      b) does not have a modern replacement that is maintained, and

      c) is not a leaf node in the usage tree of software (has other software that is dependent on it for data and/or workflow)

      Note that I am contending that for software at leaf nodes it does not matter much or increase costs significantly to use unmaintained or obsolete software - aside from use case dependent security concerns. Since there are no dependencies - and presumably no-one wanted features that the software did not already have, then it must be good enough already.

      Obviously - as has been worded in the article - if there are no good candidates, then one can use proprietory software as long as that software can and does use open-usable file formats. This is just plain good sense.

      I would also argue that the entire statement is a straw man, since proprietory software can equally suffer from unexpected obsolescence and lack of maintenance. Witness the numerous packages from vendors even such as Microsoft that have been quietly axed - even with government and big corporation customers using them.
      dimonic
      • Never mind

        dimonic beat me to it.

        Quote:
        "I would also argue that the entire statement is a straw man, since proprietory software can equally suffer from unexpected obsolescence and lack of maintenance. Witness the numerous packages from vendors even such as Microsoft that have been quietly axed - even with government and big corporation customers using them."

        That's even ignoring the terrible results that have been manifested over and over with proprietary software sink-holes swallowing up corporate resources despite the supposed corporate-vendor concern and support of "not obsolete"/mainstream software.

        All too often, the proprietary response is "can't fix", "won't fix", "it will cost you thiiissss much, to make the product do what you want it to/what we claimed it would do for you", and/or "like it, or lump it -- or spend the same again (time, effort and money) to put in something else that might not work any better."
        bswiss
  • "It makes things better"? Cheaper, perhaps. Better? Unlikely...

    since, a product which needs to be supported and maintained by a parent company, will likely get the attention it needs, constantly, to make sure it does the job as promised, otherwise, it could mean a lost customer and loss of revenue. Open source cannot compete with the hungry companies which need to get companies on-board using their products and services.
    adornoe
    • You're so funny! Do you perform here often?

      And...

      That theory *also* explains why I get such excellent service from my cellphone service provider, too, right?

      Thought so.

      {Ba-da-bing}
      bswiss
      • That was so DUMB! Try using your head instead or your rear,

        and you'll realize that, there is absolutely nothing wrong with what I said. Meanwhile, you managed to contribute as much to the conversation as a 2nd grader who knows nothing except what he hears in the schoolyard, which is kids' gibberish.

        Cellphone service? Fact is that, service comes from the service providers and not from the software inside, and what is being discussed is software (like in Linux vs Windows and other free vs paid software), not the cell service. There are no free cell service providers, and what you get is what you pay for, and if you don't like what you get, there are others.

        So far, in this discussion, it is you that is performing like a clown and a child.
        adornoe
    • Not necessarily cheaper

      Many open source products can be more expense in the long run.

      Just because the license is free doesn't mean that a company doesn't have to spend a lot of money to use it.
      wackoae
  • You're so funny! Do you perform here often?

    And...

    That theory *also* explains why I get such excellent service from my cellphone service provider, too, right?

    Thought so.

    {Ba-da-bing}
    bswiss
  • Open Source Ensures Open Data

    The number-one priority is ensuring that your data is not trapped in some proprietary format, held hostage to the whims of some proprietary software vendor that may or may not give you the upgrade path you need.

    That can't happen with Open Source, and I would say that is the most important reason for anyone to use Open Source.
    ldo17
  • The hidden costs of MS

    Does anyone have any figures on the time wasted downloading and installing updates, service packs, fixes, warnings, incompatiblity with non-MS products, incompatibilty with MS products. features omitted which are needed, features which are included and aggravate. My guess is something approaching our national debt, speaking of companies which leap into every breach in search of a buck and force breaches when there aren't any handy.
    robapacl@...
    • Why don't you conduct that study yourself, and while you're at it,

      make you that you consider the hidden costs of using any piece of software and any service. If a study is to be conducted, it should reflect all of the costs for all of the software in question, including the "hidden" costs of using Windows and the "hidden" costs of using Linux (including the migration and conversion and maintenance of all of those pieces). Chances are that, a lot of those "hidden" costs people like to talk about, might be all imaginary, simply because people don't like to pay for anything, especially something they perceive as being "expensive".
      adornoe