Skip to main content
Two Jags and a Penguin

The last day of The Great Linux Debate and with it, the news that Open Source had established its first real beachhead in Government. “It might not be the beginning of the end for Microsoft but it is the end of the beginning”, someone said, possibly Winston Churchill but the anticipation of a Death Star spiralling slowly out of orbit, was certainly there to be seen.

But wait a minute, let me look back to my notes from a EURIM meeting at IBM South Bank, less than twelve months ago. Here we are. “Linux is an unstoppable disruptive technology that IBM needs to make money from” and “How do we separate Open Source from Open Standards” and from Government, “We need to avoid proprietary lock-in and for that we need an interoperable IT structure that also solves the single supplier dilemma”.

There is more of course in my little black Moleskine notebook but it strikes me that in ten months, we actually haven’t come all that far. In fact, this rather sounds like the trials that were discussed around the table at the same meeting, in the face of mounting pressure from the Open Source lobby for Government to be seen to be acknowledging the existence of an Open Source alternative to its software supply dilemma. So now, we have The Office of Government Commerce (OGC), responsible under Peter Gershon for all Whitehall’s IT procurement, announcing that it will conduct nine trials of software packages, which include both Microsoft and Linux solutions, across Government departments chosen for the task.

In order to demonstrate the necessary impartiality, the OGC said it would “measure the effectiveness and cost-benefits of IT systems based on open source products.” IBM, one of the leading advocates of open source software, will carry out the tests.

This is perhaps rather like asking Microsoft to run a credible comparison between Linux and Windows or New Labour to measure itself against the Conservatives or vice versa. The result is likely to be the one that everyone expects and I can tell you now that Open Source will emerge from the trials with flying colours and Microsoft is surprisingly sanguine about the whole thing. After all, “You can’t beat city hall”, it still has £100 million pounds of business passing through the OGC, and although the trials may represent the very thin edge of the wedge, we won’t see members of the Microsoft government sales team selling copies of The Big Issue on Westminster bridge just yet.

Is this good news for the taxpayer? Possibly. It is evidence of Government jump-starting its own Open Source initiative to bring it in line with the interests of other European states. The OGC is looking for value-for-money procurement and if an Open Source solution can deliver the goods at a fraction of the cost of another option, then perhaps, we will not see Government spending £96 million on the NHS email system again, when the original specification suggested £3 million.

Although several local authorities are involved in the trial, I will reach for my little black book again, as I’ve been writing case studies in the local government sector recently. Here’s a quote from one of the UK’s largest city authorities which illustrates the enthusiasm I’m seeing for the adoption of Open Source solutions. “We have resisted the community software argument and will continue to do so, because you cannot run global organizations on a spindle of credibility, you need a strong, robust strategy and a reliable and consistent point of contact”.

The current initiative can best be seen as a 'policy enabler,' in that a UK government policy on Open Source (OSS) already exists, and has been public since July of last year. This states that the government will "consider OSS solutions alongside proprietary ones in IT procurements and award contracts on a value for money basis, seeking to avoid lock-in to proprietary IT products and services." As yet this theoretical level playing field does not seem to have had a massively visible effect on government use of open source, so by running a series of test deployments the OGC is probably trying to kick-start the policy.

This may make me sound anti the whole idea and I’m not. I’m simply presenting what I’m seeing as the facts behind a certain amount of ‘Blue’ spin. Central Government needs to avoid lock-in and it’s looking for better value for money. Windows NT is being phased-out rapidly in the public sector and now is as good a time as any to decide whether the future is one that is wedded to Microsoft on the one side or EDS and IBM on the other. If this creates a level playing field, stimulates competition and Government stops squandering money on software and produces more reliable and secure systems then we should all march on Whitehall and cheer. It is however a little premature to celebrate the real arrival of Open Source in Government unless of course it has arrived to fill the gap left by the loss of democracy.


Popular posts from this blog

Mainframe to Mobile

Not one of us has a clue what the world will look like in five years’ time, yet we are all preparing for that future – As  computing power has become embedded in everything from our cars and our telephones to our financial markets, technological complexity has eclipsed our ability to comprehend it’s bigger picture impact on the shape of tomorrow.

Our intuition has been formed by a set of experiences and ideas about how things worked during a time when changes were incremental and somewhat predictable. In March 1953. there were only 53 kilobytes of high-speed RAM on the entire planet.

Today, more than 80 per cent of the value of FTSE 500* firms is ‘now dark matter’: the intangible secret recipe of success; the physical stuff companies own and their wages bill accounts for less than 20 per cent: a reversal of the pattern that once prevailed in the 1970s. Very soon, Everything at scale in this world will be managed by algorithms and data and there’s a need for effective platforms for ma…
A Christmas Tale

It’s pitch blackness in places along the sea wall this evening and I'm momentarily startled by a small dog with orange flashing yuletide antlers along the way. I’m the only person crazy enough to be running and I know the route well enough to negotiate it in the dark, part of my Christmas exercise regime and a good way of relieving stress.

Why stress you might ask. After all, it is Christmas Day.

True but I’ve just spent over two hours assembling the giant Playmobil ‘Pony Farm’ set when most other fathers should be asleep in front of the television.

I was warned that the Playmobil ‘Pirate Ship’ had driven some fathers to drink or suicide and now I understand why. If your eyesight isn’t perfect or if you’ve had a few drinks with your Christmas lunch then it’s a challenge best left until Boxing day but not an option if you happen to have a nine year old daughter who wants it ready to take horses by tea time.

Perhaps I should stick to technology but then, the instruc…

An Ockham of Gatwick

The 13th century theologian and philosopher, William of Ockham, who once lived in his small Surrey village, not so very far from what is today, the wide concrete expanse of Gatwick airport is a frequently referenced source of intellectual reason. His contribution to modern culture was Ockham’s Razor, which cautions us when problem solving, that “The explanation requiring the fewest assumptions is most likely to be correct;” sound advice which constantly proves to be true.

A week further-on since Britain’s second busiest airport was bought to a complete standstill by two or perhaps two hundred different drone sightings, it is perhaps time to revisit William of Ockham’s maxim, rather than be led astray by an increasingly bizarre narrative, one which has led Surrey police up several blind alleys with little or nothing in the way of measurable results.

 Exploring the possibilities with a little help in reasoning from our medieval friar, we appear to have a choice of two different account…