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18 March 2013, 15:32

GOV.UK manual suggests a preference for open source

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  • submit to reddit logo Open source use in UK government has been establishing itself, in both the Government's G-Cloud and in procurement standards. Now, the publication of a beta of the UK's "Government Service Design Manual", part of the Digital by Default Standard for government services, is writing in a preference towards using open source into the guidance for service managers, developers and web operations.

The comprehensive manual, which should become final in April, offers guidance on how government employees should express a preference for open source. In the specific Open Source section they are told that they should consider it for operating systems, networking software, web servers, databases and programming languages. There is a get-out clause though for rare or domain specific tasks which may be best served by software as a service or proprietary software, but even there, the suggestion is that risks should be mitigated though the use of open standards. Where new software is being developed for either "unique needs or common problems", the guidance suggests coding in the open.

The manual points out that this is the basis for the tenth design principle developed by the GOV.UK team – make things open: it makes things better. The manual also discusses open source and security and licensing and open standards, with recommended licences. How well this advice will take within a bureaucracy that has historically proven resilient to the ideas of open source remains to be seen, but the GOV.UK team have shown how well they work in practice with their delivery of the well received GOV.UK site.

The Government's Chief Technical Officer, Liam Maxwell, is also a noted supporter of open source. Maxwell told Computer Weekly that "nobody makes packaged software for digital public services. With the software we are making, we have a preference for open source, because it means other countries can use it too and help make that software better. This approach will also ensure we are not locked in to some mad oligopoly outsource".

As a demonstration of how deeply the developers of the guide feel about open source, the guide itself is open source and is available on GitHub for cloning, re-use and corrections.


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