The Cabinet Office has published a consultation paper on use of Open Source Software (OSS) within the UK Government sector –- including the NHS — that concludes the development of OSS represents a fundamental change in the software market.
OSS, software whose source code is openly published, is usually available at no charge, and is often developed by voluntary efforts.
The Cabinet Office discussion paper, "Open Source Software, Use Within UK Government", notes that the software industry is very fast moving, and frequently throws up new developments that initially promise to make great changes in the marketplace, but which ultimately fail to live up to their initial press hype.
However, the consultation paper concludes OSS “is indeed the start of a fundamental change in the software infrastructure marketplace”, but it is "not a hype bubble that will burst and UK Government must take cognisance of that fact".
The report also notes the European Commission project “eEurope – An Information Society for all” is supported by a June 2000 Action Plan, that sets the target that: “during 2001 the European Commission and Member States will promote the use of open source software in the public sector and e-government best practice through exchange of experiences across the”.
The UK’s response to this action to date has been through mandating open standards and specifications in its e-Government Interoperability Framework (e-GIF) and allowing market driven products to support these.
The paper concludes though, that it is now considered necessary to have a wider, more embracing policy on the use of OSS within UK Government.
Key elements of this policy will include: the UK Government considering OSS solutions alongside proprietary ones in IT procurements; seeking to avoid lock-in to proprietary IT products and services;
In addition, the paper says the UK Government will "obtain full rights to bespoke software code that it procures and all customisations of COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) packages that it uses wherever this achieves value for money".
The UK Government will also explore further the possibilities of using OSS as the default exploitation route for Government funded R&D software by academic research institutes.
The Office of e-Envoy (OeE) and Office of Government Commerce (OGC) will jointly publish this policy on behalf of UK Government, and the OGC will update all their Procurement Guidelines to reflect this policy.
The consultation period on use of open source software within UK Government closes on 12 March 2002. All comments should be mailed to email@example.com
The e-Government Interoperability Framework (e-GIF)
Further information on OSS is available at http://www.opensource.org/