Use open source software - it makes things better, says UK

Open source gets the official seal of approval from the UK government in new guidelines that mandate its use over proprietary products.
Written by Toby Wolpe, Contributor

Open-source software must be the first choice for all new UK government projects, instead of proprietary or closed-source alternatives, according to new guidelines.

Use open source software in preference to proprietary or closed-source alternatives — UK government guidelines

Even in the "rare or specific" cases where managers can choose proprietary or on-demand software, they should ensure open standards are available for interfaces, to cut the risk of vendor lock-in, the Government Service Design Manual stipulates.

The manual, which comes into force in April, sets out the standards for new and redesigned public digital services.

"Use open-source software in preference to proprietary or closed-source alternatives, in particular for operating systems, networking software, web servers, databases and programming languages," says the section for service managers, entitled When to use open source.

The UK government has discussed increasing its use of open source since October 2004, when a study of its open-source software trials concluded that computers running Linux generated substantial long-term software and hardware savings.

However, the new manual is the first time the Westminster government has mandated open-source software over proprietary alternatives for new public service projects.

It sets out its rationale for increasing the use of open source in a subsection in the manual entitled Why we do this. "Free and open-source software has a number of architectural benefits over closed-source and proprietary alternatives and is the basis of our 10th design principle — Make things open: it makes things better," the manual says.

Dangers of vendor lock-in

As well as setting out the dangers of vendor lock-in, the manual argues that open-source coding facilitates collaboration with others inside and outside organisations, increasing the productivity of developers.

The manual highlights the benefits of developers' increased familiarity with open-source tools and approaches and how freedom at the point of use allows the downloading and assessment of software without "payment, prior agreement, a need to sign non-disclosure documentation, needing to waiver rights, or enter into aporia agreements on behalf of themselves or their organisation".

Other government bodies in Europe have adopted strategies based on open source, including the city of Munich, which recently hit back at Microsoft over the software giant's suggestion that open-source would end up costing more than a proprietary approach.

In May 2012, the UK government revealed that it was holding more than six million unused software licences and that only 668 of the total 18.5m licences it held were classified as reusable.

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