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NSW government Linux plan close to fruition

A protracted NSW government project to give its agencies cheaper and quicker access to Linux and open source solutions is reaching fruition with several vendors preparing to sign contracts as pre-approved suppliers. Small Australian Linux services consultancy Solutions First told ZDNet Australia it had signed an agreement on Friday formalising its membership of the state government's Linux procurement panel following several months of negotiations with Department of Commerce officials.

A protracted NSW government project to give its agencies cheaper and quicker access to Linux and open source solutions is reaching fruition with several vendors preparing to sign contracts as pre-approved suppliers.

Small Australian Linux services consultancy Solutions First told ZDNet Australia it had signed an agreement on Friday formalising its membership of the state government's Linux procurement panel following several months of negotiations with Department of Commerce officials.

Solutions First's signature is a key step towards effective operation of the panel of vendors which agencies can approach directly to purchase Linux and open source solutions at set prices rather than go through relatively costly, lengthy public tendering processes for each project. NSW is the first jurisdiction to adopt such an arrangement.

Formation of the panel is expected to level the playing field between open source and proprietary software solutions, with the government adamant that the overriding concern in any contract is obtaining the best value for taxpayers' dollars.

The NSW government's chief information officer, Paul Edgecumbe, told ZDNet Australia  the panel was now "operational" and more companies were expected to come on board shortly.

"Negotiations have successfully concluded and deeds are being sent to the companies involved," he said. "The first deeds were sent out last week and Solutions First has been the first to return the signed document".

He described the agreement as providing a "formal contractual framework" for increasing uptake of Linux, "both for agencies already using it and those considering it".

The NSW Minister for Commerce, John Della Bosca, unveiled the names of the vendors to be invited onto the panel on 5 April following an evaluation process that dragged on for several months after the request for tenders closed on 28 October last year.

The two-year panel contract had originally been scheduled to take effect from December last year.

Solutions First and two other small-to-medium enterprises were named as panellists together with a who's who of international tech brands, including CSC, Dell, Fujitsu, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Novell, Red Hat and Sun Microsystems.

The panellists are expected to bring on board around 15 agents and 20 subcontractors to help fill orders from agencies.

Red Hat's general manager Australia and New Zealand, Max McLaren, told ZDNet Australia one reason for the length of the contract negotiations with Commerce was that -- because open source software is owned by a community and not an individual vendor -- indemnification and intellectual property (IP) clauses would not be the same as for proprietary software.

"IP was one of the things they were worried about," McLaren said. "We have a standard guarantee that we will support anyone in any litigation if there is an element of our software claimed to be violating IP [which Commerce could interpret as per the government's requirements]".

While he confirmed the indemnification clauses would not be the same as for proprietary software contracts, McLaren declined to specify how, saying it was up to the government whether they wanted to make that information public.

He said a contract was likely to be signed shortly as there was just "one little wrinkle" remaining to be smoothed out.

A spokesperson for Dell said the company also expected to "sign shortly", while Big Blue declined to comment.

Solutions First general manager Andrew Kempe blamed the lengthy negotiation process on the state government's use of the relatively new ProcureIT framework -- which defines terms and conditions for NSW government information technology contracts -- in the case of the Linux panel.

He echoed McLaren's comments about software ownership, saying several of the modules in the documentation initially used by Commerce had been written for providers of software rather than supporters.

Kempe lauded NSW officials' efforts, however. "The government …has made a big effort to include local small to medium enterprises and the fact that Solutions First is the first company to sign this agreement is a clear indication that [local SMEs] haven't been left on the back-burner".