Value 'sells Linux to government'

Demonstrating value for money convinces government departments of Linux's merits, according to delegates at an Australian conference

While government departments remain concerned about the implications of using open-source software, successful projects have overcome that concern by simply demonstrating better value for money.

That was the message that emerged on the first day of the Linux and Open Source in Government conference in Adelaide, which is preceding the 2004 gathering.

Speakers from a variety of government agencies said that while many managers had initially expressed concern over whether open-source products would be properly supported, they rarely complained once effective systems were up and running.

"The way we've done it is really by demonstration," said Graham Williams from the CSIRO.

Williams has helped develop a number of data mining applications for use in Commonwealth health agencies, all of which have made extensive use of open source technologies.

Williams said that concerns over security in open-source platforms were generally misplaced. "Everywhere you go people tell you how insecure Linux is, and it's a huge myth," he said.

When the National Office for the Information Economy (NOIE) sought a replacement for its Internet and intranet publishing systems, an open source solution eventually won out because of its standards compliance.

According to Web infrastructure manager Avi Miller, compliance was a more critical factor than either cost -- NOIE's shortlist was equally divided between commercial and open-source products -- or other concerns such as security.

"We would have run CP/M on an Amiga if it was the best standards-compliant environment," he said.

The Bureau of Rural Sciences chose an open-source solution for its geographic information systems (GIS) simply because commercial products lacked some facilities. "In terms of applying open source, we've done as well as we have because we've looked for niches where we can fill needs that other products can't," said Antti Roppola from the bureau.

Whatever core measures are used, government users do face the additional challenge of working within tightly-defined contractual guidelines.

"There's a lot of issues that arise with the interaction of an open-source licence and what you have to provide in a government contract," said Peter Bailey from Synod, which used a mixture of open-source and proprietary code for a content management system developed for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). "The acceptance of the use of open-source components can be an issue."