Canberra's shared services organisation InTACT came under fire at the state's budget estimates for not allowing members of the Legislative Assembly to use Mozilla's popular browser Firefox.
The deputy chair of the state's estimates committee, Greens MP Caroline Le Couteur, made her complaint at a hearing last month, pointing out that one of the state's procurement guidelines was a commitment to open source software.
"What efforts do we make to fulfil that requirement? I am thinking here particularly of a piece of software that does not even cost money, Firefox, which InTACT, I am told, refuses to let us have on our computers," she said.
"It is a nice piece of open source software which I use at home, and Mr Coe [another committee member] has informed me he does also. We would like to be able to use it. Why can't we?" she continued.
InTACT general manager Michael Chisnall said that his organisation hadn't lapsed in its commitment to open source software. He said that InTACT was using open source software and that more and more tenders included open-source elements to them. Yet the licensing costs weren't the largest cost of owning the software, he said.
"As I am wont to say to my colleagues back at InTACT, there is no such thing as free software. When we look at those positions, we always try and take in a total cost of ownership model. Indeed, the advice from places like Gartner and so on is that in some cases the open source total cost of ownership is on par with the proprietary product if you take into account the total lifetime cost," he said.
He was unable to comment on Firefox, but said that it wasn't possible to support every product. He said he'd take the problem on notice and look into it. Le Couteur agreed that it wasn't possible to support every product, but argued that she would like to install Firefox whether she received support or not.
"I do appreciate that support can be a major cost component, but where you are thinking about things like Firefox, which are end-user tools, would it be possible to have a situation where they were allowed to be installed, but just not supported? So if I have a problem with Firefox, you are not going to help me."
Chisnall said that this issue came up often in schools where the government couldn't support software but didn't want to kill creative student initiatives. "Our level of support in relation to those activities is obviously different from a government-sponsored and supported area. I refer to this as the sandpit proposition. Certainly, I am happy to take that suggestion and give it some more thought and respond," he said.