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14 June 2013, 16:46

Open source preference blunted in UK Government guide

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The UK Government has muted a preference for open source in the UK's "Government Service Design Manual", published in March 2013. The changes were quietly made to the manual and removed a statement that open source was a preferential choice for operating systems, networking software, web servers, databases and programming languages, replacing it with a new section: "Level playing field". This section reads

"With the growth of free/open source software, many high quality technology products (databases, operating systems, programming languages, development tools, etc) are freely available for government and its suppliers to use and improve. But a large market still exists for commercial software products, and the availability of open source software doesn’t automatically mean that you can’t choose a proprietary technology if it meets our needs."

Government CTO Liam Maxwell told Computer Weekly that the change was made to reflect a reprioritisation which moves creating competitive markets to the fore. The only concession to open source given in the revised document is in the paragraph that follows, which says there will be a preference to open source when software with identical functionality is being compared. This is a mere echo of the policy of the past though and that was easily gamed by proprietary vendors introducing cosmetic differentiators.

The change makes it far less likely that the extensive use of open source seen on the web site will be reflected in other government IT projects, where there is little use of open source and where what has been described as an "oligarchy" of big proprietary IT suppliers has been dominating. Whether the government's open standards guidelines from the same document survive lobbying from that "oligarchy" has yet to be resolved.



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