The panel format not only allows agencies to select services and solutions directly from a list of approved vendors, slashing procurement costs, but provides a formal contractual framework designed to increase purchasing officers' confidence in Linux and open source offerings.
According to the government, establishing the panel alone can help agencies cut 12-25 percent from the costs of procuring solutions or services.
The signatures of the two heavyweights comes after CSC and a handful of small to medium enterprises signed on, with other leading players such as Hewlett-Packard and Red Hat likely to follow suit shortly. Their move goes a long way towards legitimising the path the NSW government opted to take to encourage agencies to use Linux and open source software, despite the length of time it has taken to reach this point. (The government first released the request for tender to secure expressions of interest from prospective panellists in September 2004.)
In anticipation of the panel project getting this far, NSW government officials have been eagerly spruiking the benefits of Linux and open source software and what state agencies are doing in that area.
One Department of Commerce officer, Cameron Parle, last year publicly described Linux as "truly robust and flexible" with the potential to save agencies "huge sums of money". The manager, strategic projects, from the Government Chief Information Office, Dr Elizabeth Gordon-Werner, has hit the conference circuit to detail how the state plans to "change the mindset" of agencies when it comes to Linux and other open source solutions.
There has already been some adoption of Linux and open source solutions within the state, notably by the NSW Department of Education, Roads and Traffic Authority and Judicial Commission. However, Dr Gordon-Werner acknowledges there is still plenty of education to be done and thinking to be changed before those solutions and services are given proper consideration by a lot of managers within government.
However, no-one from the Linux and open source community should fall into the trap of thinking the state is embracing a community development ethos. The reality is that the state government is desperate to foster real competition to the offerings of proprietary software heavyweights in an effort to slash its overall information and communications technology spend.
The NSW government's initiative is no doubt being closely watched by Microsoft and other proprietary players. Microsoft will be particularly keen to see what the ramifications of the NSW moves are in states like Victoria, which has a highly valuable existing relationship with the software heavyweight. You can be damn sure Microsoft will not lie down and roll over when valuable government business is at stake.
Microsoft's local boss Steve Vamos and his team will be doing their very best not only to retain their government contracts and lock out potential competitors, but working to ensure Linux and open source does not gain sufficient credibility within government to be used as a stick by agencies trying to win big discounts from Redmond.
The success of the NSW government's move will only really be clear once a cycle of agency renewal and upgrade schedules has been completed. It will certainly be interesting to see what deals are struck and at what value over the next three or four years. Your writer thinks Linux and open source software will make some headway -- but Microsoft will continue to wield its extensive commercial muscle to dominate the state government sector.
What do you think? Will Linux and open source achieve its potential in Australian government or will Microsoft keep it out? E-mail us at email@example.com and let us know.
Iain Ferguson is the News Editor of ZDNet Australia.
To take your opportunity to vent about what's bugging you in enterprise technology, ZDNet Australia's disaster recovery blog, penned by myself and journalist Steven Deare. The blog can be accessed at http://www.zdnet.com.au/blogs/disasterrecovery