Microsoft's SharePoint software is like a "Rolls Royce ashtray" for government departments: it's free with the car but it doesn't add much, according to Bryan King, director of strategy and innovation with the South Australian Chief Information Office.
Speaking at the Open Source Software Pacific Area Conference yesterday, King said that government departments were "trapped" into using certain parts of packaged vendorware that may not be useful for them, and that was an obstacle in moving to open source.
"A lot of really hard-working sales execs from a lot of companies have managed to sell a lot of proprietary code into government and to a certain extent many governments are trapped. Classic case in point is SharePoint. SharePoint websites are in the government are a bit like a whack-a-mole game. Every time you think you've got it, it pops up somewhere else," he said.
King pointed out that SharePoint was free in most licensing deals with government, though many had no use for it.
"I like to think of it as the free ashtray you get with every Rolls Royce you buy. If you buy the Rolls Royce the ashtray is there but it doesn't really work any more, it doesn't really serve any particular purpose but it's there so let's do something with it," he joked.
King admitted that open source in government hadn't achieved much penetration, often because government ministers were reluctant to take chances on open source.
"If we're innovative it means we're taking risks, we're working on ICT projects that end up in the newspaper and ministers don't like that," he said. "So we're not encouraged to take risks."
King has created an organisation called the Open Technology Foundation as a means for governments, academia and the IT industry across the country to begin working together to share their knowledge and what they have learned in their experiences with open source.
"Governments aren't in the industry of innovation," he said. "We look for the OTF to take the lead and get us over the hump and then get into it."