Why is the UK so bad at using open source software?

As the economy suffers, and tax revenues start to fall, bearing down on spending within the public sector is becoming increasingly important. As just one example, the UK Government is looking for half a billion pounds of savings in the education sector’s total procurement costs. One would’ve thought, then, that open source software solutions such as Linux and OpenOffice, which have no licence fees associated with them, would be seeing an increase in take up.

Apparently not. At the Risk Management in Open Source Procurement conference in Oxford yesterday, speaker after speaker gave examples of other European countries with large-scale, public sector, open source procurement strategies. Notable examples that were mentioned included a 120,000 Linux-based desktop installment in schools across Macedonia and the outfitting of the French Parliament with open source-based desktop systems. But in the UK, we’re still lagging behind.

There are several reasons for this, but one of the most important is the number of barriers present in the process of procurement. It seems that open source software suppliers are not being offered a level playing field when it comes the bureaucratic procedures and check-lists involved in making procurement decisions within public sector bodies. A high profile example involves Becta, the school’s technology agency, and its recent decision not to include the popular open source package Moodle as a potential e-learning platform.

The good news is that, judging from the level of interest at the conference it seems there is growing willingness on the part of the public sector to work on this, alongside moves amongst open source developers to work together through consortia.

If this is something you’re interested in, watch this space. I’ve been commissioned to write up the main findings of the conference (in an interesting way!) so there will be more coming out on this in a few weeks’ time.

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4 Responses to “Why is the UK so bad at using open source software?”

  1. Martin Waller Says:

    I do think that open source software is sometimes its own worst enemy.

    Firstly, whenever I’ve tried installing open source software I’ve always been faced with the situation where I download what I expect to be ‘complete’ only to find that I have to then get the correct XML parser from here and the correct database software from there. I find this a BIG put off and nine times out of ten I’ll simply uninstall from that point and go in search for something else. Seldom has the installation been as clean as you’d find from vendors targeting Microsoft platforms.

    Secondly, you can normally tell that the software was originally written to run on a Unix machine. The integration into Microsoft Windows is never quite complete. The look is never a true Microsoft Windows look. The feel is never a true Microsoft Windows feel.

    Unix does seem to be the preferred and natural platform for open source software probably because it’s been ‘free’ for so many years. If open source it to really take off then we need to move away from Microsoft Windows and on to Unix-based machines first.

    But will this ever happen?

    In the good old days “No one ever got fired for buying IBM”. Can we say today that “No one gets fired for buying Microsoft”? I think we can.

  2. pdanderson Says:

    The process of moving towards Unix-based machines may already be happening and could speed up significantly in the next few months.

    There are a number of ultra-cheap, Linux-based PC-type machines coming to market with price tags of a £100 or there abouts. I was reading the other day about Everex’s gPC which runs Dave Liu’s gOS, a Linux variant, and costs $199 in the States. The initial batch sold out through WalMart in two days according to a report in Linux Journal.

  3. Martin Waller Says:

    Here’s an interesting link about a school using Linux-based machines: http://education.guardian.co.uk:80/link/story/0,,2266333,00.html

  4. A level playing field for open source? « Tech Lunch Says:

    […] level playing field for open source? A few weeks ago I mentioned a conference on the issues surrounding the procurement of open source software which was being hosted at the […]

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