Socitm president rethinks open-source 'lag' comment

Richard Steel says his statement that open-source software development 'lags proprietary development by several years' may not have been the best choice of words

The president of the Society of Information Technology Management has diluted his statement that open-source software development lags proprietary development by several years.

Richard Steel told ZDNet UK that a blog post he made on Wednesday as president of Socitm, which aims to promote the efficient use of information technology in the public sector, may have been too strong.

"Probably 'lags' wasn't the best choice of word," Steel said on Friday. "However, 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."

Steel's blog post was a response to the publication on Tuesday of a government policy statement, in which the government promised to use open-source rather than proprietary alternatives, if there is no significant cost difference in products and services.

In the post, Steel wrote: "'Open source' software development, in my experience, lags proprietary development by several years. I don't think we could achieve the anytime, anywhere fixed and mobile infrastructure with telepresence we require, now, for flexible and new ways of working using only open source."

On Friday, Steel expanded on this statement, telling ZDNet UK that there is a place for both proprietary and open-source products in business. "I didn't intend to dismiss open source — it keeps people on their toes," said Steel, who has been seconded to the Socitm presidency from his job as chief information officer for Newham borough council. "Newham uses Apache as a web server. Most organisations do use open source, at some point."

But he stood by his comment that there is no real cost difference between open and proprietary software. "In general, businesses buy [commercially] packaged [open-source] software with support, which means there's not much difference between proprietary software and open source," he said.

Mark Taylor, chief executive officer of open-source vendor Sirius, rejected Steel's appraisal. "The reality is that open source reduces costs by giving greater flexibility of licensing, while up-and-coming open-source technologies are well ahead of proprietary software," he told ZDNet UK.

Taylor said that browsers such as Mozilla's Firefox contain features that still have not been incorporated into proprietary browsers.