Richard Steel, the chief information officer of Newham Borough Council, and president of the Society of Information Technology Management (Socitm), created quite a stir on the Socitm blog last week when he wrote that open source software "lags behind" proprietary software development by "several years".
Speaking to ZDNet UK in an interview on Friday, Steel explained his position. He said that perhaps he had not used the best choice of words, but essentially, he stuck to his guns.
"In some of the areas we want to exploit – secure working, identity management, authentication, telepresence, and tablet PCs -- there isn't the product availability from open source," said Steel. "Open source's strength is in web technologies."
Earlier that day one irate member of the open source community had almost bitten my ear off when we were discussing Steel's comments, and sent me a copy of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) that Newham council members had entered into with Microsoft in 2003.
I had been aware that Newham had chosen to use Microsoft as its IT supplier in 2003, instead of using Linux vendors.
Under the terms of the MoU, Microsoft agreed to no direct charging mechanism with Newham, although rates and terms for specific work packages and consultancy would be agreed on an individual basis.
Signatories of the MoU, which included Steel, agreed to advocate the relationship between Microsoft and Newham.
"Through matching executives from Microsoft, it is expected that the MoU signatories would advocate the partnership to other Microsoft customers, elected members and other interested parties," stated the memorandum.
While the memorandum was updated in 2008, Steel told me on Friday that to his knowledge that clause hadn't changed.
"It hasn't changed, so far as I know" said Steel. "That is the case, [for example, with] the exemplified leadership of the Microsoft shared networking group."
So, those links are clear. Steel advocates the relationship between Newham and Microsoft.
Steel also is of the opinion that open source is behind when it comes to software development, although he does believe in mixed environments (Newham uses Apache web servers).
With the government promising to use open-source rather than proprietary alternatives (if there is no significant cost difference in products and services), I asked whether there will there be a Socitm/local government pushback against central government policy on open source, if Steel thinks open source is behind?
However, Steel said that his personal opinions were not Socitm policy.
"I will quite freely express my views, but they are in no way Socitm policy," said Steel. "Socitm is interested in promoting and using open source."
Steel said that "within a structure you're going to use a balance of products," and added that it was "important to have a sense of balance". He said that some of the comments on his blog post had been "extremely emotional".
"They tend to be narrowly focused," said Steel. "People get really hung up about [open source vs. proprietary]. People get emotional. I think [they] need to stand back, be less passionate, and more objective."