Federal politicians should dump their policy of procurement neutrality and actively encourage agencies to adopt open source software, OSS supporters claim.
Ubuntu Linux founder Mark Shuttleworth and Australian open source lawyer Brendan Scott both put the case for a stronger stance on OSS adoption by government after both the Special Minister of State, Eric Abetz and the opposition spokesperson on Communications and Information Technology, Stephen Conroy, advocated competitive neutrality.
Shuttleworth told delegates to the Australian Unix User Group's Open Computing in Government conference there was a global window of opportunity for countries like Australia to embrace open source software.
He said open source software adoption could be compared to some countries' embrace of the Internet in the 1980s and 1990s. Nations that were prepared to take a risk and invest heavily in open source could reap strong economic benefits over the next 10-20 years. They would lead the rest of the world, the former astronaut argued.
Scott agreed with Shuttleworth. Although he welcomed the NSW government's preferred Linux supplier panel, Scott said other countries' efforts eclipsed Australia's.
The lawyer said Australia should follow France and encourage the adoption of open source software. The country has migrated several of its government agencies -- including the police force -- to the office productivity suite OpenOffice.org.
Scott also said the Australian government was "trapped in a procurement box" rather than exploring other opportunities to promote OSS takeup. "Elsewhere in the world people have moved past that; they take procurement for granted."
Both open source advocates contended that Australia was well positioned to take advantage of opportunities offered by open source. Shuttleworth told the audience when he founded Ubuntu Linux, he expected to draw talent from the European Union, the United States and developing countries like India.
However, "there is great depth to the open source talent base in Australia," the Ubuntu founder said, adding "Australia is well ahead of India" in this regard.
Scott agreed, saying: "Australia is over-represented in per-capita developers of open source software."
Special Minister for State, Senator Eric Abetz, said the release of a new open source guide yesterday allowed "open source and proprietary software to operate in a neutral, competitive environment.
"The Australian government's position on open source software is simple, and consistent with its procurement policies and guidelines: agencies use the software that best meets their needs, and delivers best value for money."
Conroy said "open source and proprietary software should both have a level playing field," he said. "Government departments should weigh up and choose [what software to use]."