10 years on, where next for open source and open standards in UK Government?

10 years on, will the UK government’s latest policy pronouncement on open source and open standards prove any more successful than earlier attempts?

The Cabinet Office publication of a procurement policy note on open standards for government IT requirements is the latest in a long line of policy requirements concerning both open standards and open source.

In 2001, the Cabinet Office commissioned a study on open source and open standards, “Analysis of the Impact of OpenSource Software”.  With hindsight, the report seems optimistic:

“Within five years, 50% of the volume of the software infrastructure market could be taken by OSS”.

Elsewhere, it was more cautious:

“[we] recommend against any preference for OSS on the desktop, but also recommend that this issue be reassessed by the end of 2002, by which time early trials of the use of OSS desktops may have generated sufficient evidence to warrant a reassessment”

The report also recognised the dangers of lock-in and over-dependence on proprietary standards from dominant suppliers:

“This report argues that many of the Government’s risks that arise from over-dependence on proprietary free protocols and data formats for interoperability can be controlled by the selective use of open data standards.”

Also:

“This report concludes that OSS has shown that access to software’s source code is a major enabler of flexibility, and hence reduces legacy problems considerably. The report recommends that the Government obtain full rights to bespoke software that it procures – this includes any customisation of off-the-shelf software packages.”

In 2002, the government published its first open source policy. Its key policy commitments were:

  • UK Government will consider OSS solutions alongside proprietary ones in IT procurements. Contracts will be awarded on a value for money basis.
  • UK Government will only use products for interoperability that support open standards and specifications in all future IT developments.
  • UK Government will seek to avoid lock-in to proprietary IT products and services.
  • UK Government will consider obtaining full rights to bespoke software code or customisations of COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) software it procures wherever this achieves best value for money.
  • UK Government will explore further the possibilities of using OSS as the default exploitation route for Government funded R&D software.

The Cabinet Office also established its e-Government Interoperability Framework (eGIF) to help work with suppliers, academia and industry to agree the open standards that should be used in all government procurements. That regime developed as far as including an accreditation regime to ensure open standards expertise and competence both in the IT industry and amongst individual practitioners.

In 2004, “OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE Use within UK Government” was published. It reiterated government policy as follows:

  • UK Government will consider OSS solutions alongside proprietary ones in IT procurements. Contracts will be awarded on a value for money basis.
  • UK Government will only use products for interoperability that support open standards and specifications in all future IT developments.
  • UK Government will seek to avoid lock-in to proprietary IT products and services.
  • UK Government will consider obtaining full rights to bespoke software code or customisations of COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) software it procures wherever this achieves best value for money.
  • Publicly funded R&D projects which aim to produce software outputs shall specify a proposed software exploitation route at the start of the project. At the completion of the project, the software shall be exploited either commercially or within an academic community or as OSS.

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