London's Livingstone looks to Linux

In an attempt to get more citizens to use IT and the Internet, London's Mayor wants the inside track on the 'costs, benefits and risks' of open-source software

London Mayor Ken Livingstone has ordered a report into the benefits and pitfalls of open-source software, as part of an attempt to close the UK capital's digital divide.

A policy statement on London's strategy for information and communication technology (ICT), published on Thursday by the Greater London Authority (GLA), reveals that Livingstone is looking to Linux as a way of fighting social exclusion.

"As a further means of making the Internet more easily affordable, the Mayor believes that there is a strong case for businesses, Government and the community sector to consider using open-source software," states the report, called "Connecting the capital: information and communications technology in London".

Livingstone has asked LondonConnects, an agency responsible for e-government services in London, to draw up information for him on the "costs, benefits and risks" of open-source adoption by organisations and individuals in London.

There is considerable concern in political circles over the digital divide. A key thrust of the drive for e-government is that it should improve the delivery of public services to those in society who need them the most. However, research shows that individuals and families are much more likely to have access to the Web if they are well paid.

A study published by the GLA in November 2003 found that nearly 90 percent of London families with children and an annual household income of £52,000 or more have the Internet at home, compared to just 20 percent of married couples with an income of below £10,444.

Livingstone says that ICT and the Internet can play a valuable role in building communities and helping individuals to engage in the democratic performance. As might be expected from a staunch left-winger, he's unhappy that such opportunities could be denied to the poorest in society.

If LondonConnects can assemble a persuasive case for Linux, Londoners could soon see their elected Mayor urging them to install and run open-source software.

Many government bodies are considering whether they should roll out Linux across their IT systems, rather than their existing proprietary deployments. This has encouraged software vendors to cut their prices, rather than lose business to the open-source industry.

To read the GLA report, click here.