Archive for May 28th, 2008

A level playing field for open source?

May 28, 2008

A few weeks ago I mentioned a conference on the issues surrounding the procurement of open source software which was being hosted at the University of Oxford’s OSSWatch service. I was there to write a report on the main events of the day so I thought you might be interested to know that it’s just been published.

For those of you who just want the edited highlights, the key question was whether or not open source software solutions get a fair shout when procurement managers (particularly in the public sector) start to think about bringing in new systems or upgrading existing systems (they don’t!).

For me, the most thought provoking comment came from Boris Devouge, from RedHat, who argued that the most important question anyone should be asking about a new system is whether it supports open standards or not.

Boris said: ‘”One of the very first questions when using public money should be: ‘Are you using open standards? Is my data safe?’ You need to know that [with] the solution you are advocating now, [that] in ten years’ time it’s not going to cost forty times as much to migrate the data somewhere”.

By this means he means that if you’re bringing in new systems you need to make sure that you will be able to take your data out and ‘migrate’ it to a new system (if you so wish) easily and with minimal cost. This is not necessarily about open source software per se. You can have closed source software that adheres to open standards for data exchange and you can have standards that describe themselves as open when they’re not really very open at all. If it sounds confusing, don’t worry. The important thing is to focus on the data and how easily you can transfer it to other systems. I think this is going to be one of the big issues over the next few years, as ordinary people start to feel the effects of being ‘locked in’ to things like the everyday Web services they use.