Government websites to use Open Source “wherever possible”

In response to a question from Tom Watson, Government minister Francis Maude asserted that Government departmental websites should “wherever possible” use Open Source Software.  This is very significant change in emphasis from the previous government, which merely said that open source and proprietary solutions should both be considered on an equal footing.

The implication, if this policy is implemented, will be departments having to justify not using open source for their websites should they choose to go down the proprietary route.  We await seeing how this turns out in practice, since warm words from the cabinet office don’t necessarily translate into firm action at the departmental level.

Tom Watson (West Bromwich East, Labour)
To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office what plans he has for the future of the (a) Number 10 and (b) Cabinet Office website; and if he will make a statement.

Francis Maude (Minister for the Cabinet Office; Horsham, Conservative)
The Government believe that departmental websites should be hubs for debate as well as information-where people come together to discuss issues and address challenges-and that this should be achieved efficiently and, whenever possible using open source software. Any future development of websites run by the Cabinet Office will be assessed and reviewed against these criteria.

Hat-tip to @glynmoody

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16 Comments

  • Great news – for the country (due to money saved) and for open-source geeks like me!

  • Julia Hayward 4th Jun '10 - 12:16pm

    A rather naive (or perhaps dogmatic) approach, to be honest. Going open source, you’ll find a lot of very competent and inexpensive standard tools, but individual websites need to be built with those tools, and need to be maintained and administered. The open source world is not a charity, of course, and it makes its living on providing consultancy, training and relying on the relative scarcity of the skillsets needed compared to a certain well-known proprietary operating system.

    Every procurement should look at the whole life costs of the application in question – and it may well be that the proprietary solution wins because the learning curve is so much less, you can take on staff at a lower level (or give it to existing ones) and still afford the occasonal consultancy day to get out of a hole if required.

  • Paul McKeown 4th Jun '10 - 12:46pm

    And howabout government mandating that no public service computer should be using Internet Explorer version 6 by the end of this year… ? Talk about ante-deluvian infrastructure.

  • Paul McKeown 4th Jun '10 - 12:55pm

    Anyway, the weasel word lies in “website”.

    Most websites in the world are already hosted using LAMPS, Linux, Apache, MySQL, php/perl/python, rather than closed source solutions, e.g. based on Microsoft technologies using Windows, IIS, MS/SQL and ASP or .NET. Of course, with government, it may be that there is a preponderance of closed source, who knows.

    But the important point to note is that this applies to “websites” which undoubtedly applies only to a tiny fraction of government IT. I hear no one saying that government staff are to use PCs running Linux with OpenOffice, or that general government data processing systems are to be Open Source.

    Assessment: a useful step forward, but nothing revolutionary.

  • Paul McKeown 4th Jun '10 - 1:23pm

    @Iain

    All good points and understood, but without a genuine ambition nothing ever happens.

  • Andrew Suffield 4th Jun '10 - 2:04pm

    it may well be that the proprietary solution wins because the learning curve is so much less, you can take on staff at a lower level (or give it to existing ones)

    This sort of “we want to employ completely unskilled and incompetent staff, and hope the contractors won’t screw us over because we sure won’t be able to tell” thinking is how Labour managed to make such a mess of every IT project they ever handled. We would probably be much better off if the government stopped working that way. Skilled staff usually cost less anyway, because they get a lot more work done (factors of ten or more are typical).

    When you accept the need to hire skilled staff, this sort of objection no longer applies.

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