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24 February 2009, 18:36

UK Government policy update supports open source

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The UK government has published an updated policy on open source in government. The new policy takes a more aggressive position on government use of open source than the original policy, published in 2004. That document set out five policy points that allowed open source based solutions to be considered alongside proprietary solutions and tried to avoid lock in to proprietary software. The new policy document notes how the 2004 policy has already had effects, such as 50 per cent use of Apache web server within departmental web sites, and the NHS "Spine" migration to a Linux based infrastructure, which will cover 35 per cent of NHS organisations.

The updated ten point policy is more explicit on how the goals should be reached. For example, where the previous policy would award contracts purely on a "value for money" basis, the new policy says "Where there is no significant overall cost difference between open and non-open-source products, open source will be selected on the basis of its additional inherent flexibility".

The policy makes things harder for non-open-source developers. For example, it requires that proprietary software vendors price in the exit cost of stopping using the software up front, and provide an exit route when bidding. Non-open-source vendors will also now be expected to deal with all government departments as a single entity and purchased licenses must be freely transferable between government departments.

A new element of the policy is an emphasis on re-use, with plans to secure full rights to custom software that has been developed for contracts, so it can be reused elsewhere. General purpose software, developed for the government will, "where appropriate", be released as open source. Another element of the re-use plan is to require suppliers to show they have not previously developed similar systems for the government, and where they have done so, to reflect this in "reduced costs, risks and time scale".

The new policy is accompanied by a ten point action plan which will, among other things, require procurement documents to "state positively that the Government’s policy is to consider open source solutions on their merits according to total lifetime cost of ownership", challenge existing suppliers to show their open source abilities, require official support of the Open Document Format alongside "open versions of previously proprietary standards" and see the government actively encouraging open source projects.


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