back to article Tories put toes on Linux bandwagon

The Tory party will if elected end government over-spending on IT projects by simply choosing open source alternatives and splitting projects up, it believes. This cunning plan will save us £600m a year, we are told, mostly thanks to increased competition. According to figures from Mark Thompson of Judge Business School, 80 …

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  1. K
    Thumb Up

    Pie in the sky ...

    But still they should be applauded for recognising the ludicrous current spending.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    hmmm...

    "the Labour government's management of IT projects is utterly awful - even given the rubbish record of governments of all colours"

    Let's face it, I.T. has only really taken off in government in such a big way since Labour came to power and decided that massive databases and the internet could fix everything, so there's really not much to compare it with.

    As to the Tory idea, have they factored in the cost of staff retraining?

  3. spegru
    Thumb Up

    Well it's a start

    While just as in the tone of the article there will be alot of cynicism about cost reductions anything that opens up the powers that be to open source has to be good

    With so many other governments doing the same, you might say 'it's about time!'

    But it does go beyond this specific announcement - the announcement could also have an effect on other corporate and gov initiatives.

    Who knows it could even filter into EDUCATION!

    That would be something....................

  4. Kobayashi Gimp

    decide on the technology first

    shoehorn the requirements into it at a later date. Ermm excellent solution to getting Public IT out of the mess it is currently in.

    How about a novela pproach that is extremely daring........

    Get the requirements right before chosing a partner and technology!!!!!!

  5. Jon Bradley
    Black Helicopters

    Pie in the where?

    Not exactly a great achievement to spot the bleedin' obvious though is it...?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Unhappy

    Support Support Support

    So we have are software form Emo and Boris it runs like a dream then we srick it on an industrial sized infrastructure. Problem is Emo only ever tested it on his mac VM player running a test harness for 50 connections (because he never expected it to get so big and no one will give him backing to test it properly as it's free) so he has no idea whether it will work which means we now have to employ specialist consultants to help re engineer the thing at !K per day but not to worry because its not like anybodys life depends on it;( not as though any of the contracts are critical.

    Get with the program guys next you'll be suggesting we run it on OS2.

    El Reg please write a BOFH spoof about this shower

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    Easy tiger ...

    This reads as:

    * read the press release;

    * haven't read anything else;

    * must be shit.

    ... who knows, you might be right.

    Personally I think 'open source' and 'free software' being on the agenda of any political party other than the Greens is a *good* thing.

    The current state of ICT procurement in government is foobar.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Here we go....

    Leaving aside the fact that Windows is indeed awful and should be eliminated at all costs, even if that cost is Linux, this is not the reason why government projects fail.

    They fail because :

    1/ The are specced out by people who don't know what they are doing, or who are being paid off to deliberately spec them in the way they do.

    2/ The contracts are not nailed down. They have unenforceable penalty clauses for failure or such clauses are never exercised. When things go wrong, the supplier ALWAYS manages to wriggle out of their responsibilities.

    3/ Time and time and time again, projects are handed out to the same tired group of companies that consistently screw up and cost a pile of money. It's like the big defence (not necessarily IT) projects going to the BAe's and Marconis and GECs and Plesseys of this world (not all of which still exist, of course) - they ALL screw(ed) up, usually BIG time, ALL the time, and they STILL get/got more work. It's the same now, except the focus is on outrageous IT systems for the NHS or police or whoever.

    4/ No accountability. Nobody (NOBODY) ever takes the heat when it all screws up. They just walk away and (in the case of the suppliers) bid for the next job or (in the case of the ministers and politicians) give up politics and go and work for the suppliers!

    5/ Many of the projects (and this is where the Tory's may have a point) are WAY too big. They are bound to fail simply because it's not possible for something THAT big to succeed.

  9. Martin Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Of course it won't work

    Ever split an order up so it goes in under your purchasing power? Dell's web site even lets you do this automatically now.

    It will involve the contracts going to the same big firms - small Linux based consultancies can't pay big enough bribes. EDS etc will simply split the contract up to a number of subsidiaries.

    In addition, a lot of the 20Bn wasted on It projects is because everything gets tacked onto this nice new big budget, every manager's company car, every admin staff, every bit of rewiring or office refurb. These are all going to still be spent, it will just take more effort to hide them on 1000 different projects - but we can always hire more managers an accountants to do this.

  10. Andy
    Stop

    Smaller projects discourage 'grand vision' projects

    It has to be said that, if you commit to smaller projects designed to co-exist it makes it far more difficult to come up with overblown meta architectures and over complex infrastructures typical of this government's IT strategy.

    The article is right to suggest that the National Programme for IT would be poorly served by 12 separate project managers and specs. However, if you've committed to smaller, achievable projects, you wouldn't try to design something like the National Programme for IT as your final solution.

    If you discover that road bridges with impossibly long spans cannot safely be built using long beams, choosing to build out of small blocks doesn't preclude building bridges - it just means you have to cut your cloth to suit the more conservative material.

  11. Steve Wehrle
    Happy

    Missing the obvious?

    Having a good idea of the requirements before they start these billion-pound projects would be a good start. Too many government projects start with "we'll employ a team of external consultants to work out the requirements, and another team of external consultants to answer the first team's questions".

  12. Matt V
    Thumb Up

    Why not?

    <quote>Is this true? Would the disastrous National Programme for IT...work better with 12 separate project managers and specs?</quote>

    I seem to be able to make our own in-house application share data with 3rd party applications developed independently through published APIs and the odd conference call. IT.Gov is bigger, but otherwise, where's the difference?

    And as for any lame "our software can't even do an export to CSV for a civil servant flunky to upload into yours" - then surely a definite criteria for selection must be the availability of an API that a techie can read and believe - not sweet smelling bull#### around a boardroom table.

    Certainly the idea of mulitple vendors competing for projects rather than an incumbent racking up the expenses bill must deliver some benefit.

  13. Ferry Boat

    @Kobayashi Gimp

    Interesting idea. Tell me though, when have you ever seen an IT project where the requirements are defined at the beginning and don't change? Never is the answer. Live date is just the date when the requirement changes become a little more urgent.

    There is a lot to be said for the idea of breaking these large projects down. It would reduce risk and also spread the cash around. The likes of EDS and co are just getting huge amounts of cash for delivering stuff that does not work. Smaller companies deserve that chance too. Although I'd think they'd be better at delivering what is required.

    We are almost at the stage where you can take pieces of open source software and plug them together like Lego. Easy on the scripting glue. It would be nice for the Tories if there were lots of government orientated chunks of software sitting on sourceforge just awaiting download.

  14. breakfast
    Thumb Up

    Smaller projects are a good idea

    They are right to go for smaller projects- if they are claiming to be market-oriented then rather than, for example, establishing a national Police IT system, they could be establishing a national data interchange specification that describes exactly what data other police forces or agencies need to be able to obtain from any given Police Force IT system and then allow the police forces to do whatever they need to in order to make sure their system is compliant with it. This gives the opportunity for smaller companies to specialise in creating software to comply with that standard and potentially sell it to many regional forces, or allows police forces to build something that works with existing software to do the same job.

    As long as it looks the same from outside, the implementation can be absolutely black-box.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Govt has no clue how to do IT projects,...

    - They never have the cojones to hold vendors to contract (I saw one Army Colonel who tried, so Big Blue went above his head and had him "re-assigned").

    - Institutional memory on previous cockups is extremely short

    - Most IT effort is spent building empires, not solutions

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Go

    Open standards

    Open standards are more important than the specific type of licence here.

    Different systems, from different suppliers being able to work properly with each other would increase competition and lower costs. That has got to be a good thing.

    The press release says "create a level playing field for open source software".

    It doesn't actually mandate it.

  17. O
    Thumb Up

    Excellent

    Not only should it speed the downfall of the protected software monopolies (M$ et al), increase compeition, reduce cost and deliver increased functionality, but it should ensure that many smaller and often more innovative firms get a slice of the pie. Our economy stands to benefit far more from such an approach than by offering huge, bloated IT contracts to huge, bloated IT multinationals (almost none of which are UK based).

  18. Don Mitchell

    Cost of ownership

    It's funny to hear people go on about the cost of Linux. A couple of my friends work for a large e-commerce website, and I hear nothing but horror stories about Linux and MySQL and some horendous open source message-passing package they bought. Their IT resources are spent entirely on work-arounds and dealing with the fact that almost nothing in Linux actually works as advertised. Without an in-house wiki, they'd be lost. "I tried to use this screen widget", "no, don't toucht that you fool!". It just goes on and on. It has cost them a fortune to use open source software.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Happy

    "Get the requirements right before chosing a partner and technology!!!!!!"

    But how would Microsoft and BT and their stooges ever get any money from that?

  20. Jerome
    Flame

    Great idea!

    "Would the disastrous National Programme for IT, currently spending £12.7bn, work better with 120 separate project managers and specs?"

    Yes, of course it bloody would! That would mean NPfIT had about one tenth the number of specs, and about one hundredth the number of project managers, that is does currently. This would undoubtedly cause the whole thing to go considerably more smoothly - so much so that we might even get around to smoothly abandoning the whole thing in 2013, a couple of years ahead of schedule.

  21. b
    Flame

    The main requirement for government IT...

    Fire.

    Cleansing Fire.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    @Here we go....

    > 3/ Time and time and time again, projects are handed out to the same tired group of companies that consistently screw up and cost a pile of money.

    Well they should have given the contract to BT then. All our Intranet stuff works hunky-dory, tickety-boo & all-systems-go!

    What's that you say, 'BT are implementing the NHS IT upgrade?'

    OK, Fail!

  23. Joe Carter
    Thumb Up

    Tories with good IT idea. Kill me now!

    This is an excellent idea. Define standards (communications/data formats etc) and let companies complete to produce solutions that are sold to the individual trusts. The hopeless stuff will soon be weeded out and instead of a one-off monolith doomed to be out of date before deployed, then we could have a dynamic market. Government should pay for a reference solution for the actual formats and let the companies sort out the features to provide.

    It just hurts that the Tories have come up with this!

  24. Saul Dobney

    Publish it

    I would have thought the Government could do worse than require all specs, docs and code to be published as open source code for all Govt projects then allow evolution to happen. We, the taxpayers, do own the code I presume.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Boffin

    If you had to choose one...

    "Smaller IT projects mean less risk of failure."

    Sure, there are plenty of reasons why IT projects fail, but if you had to choose one way of making failure almost inevitable, it's planning a multi-year IT megaproject. After the technology choices (typically those from proprietary solution vendors sucking from the teat of the civil service) become obsolete after a couple of years and the nasty dilemma of either reworking everything or just ploughing on regardless is encountered - it's extra, unplanned work either way - deadlines will slip, features will fall away, people will jump overboard, cancellation is frequently inevitable.

    So, I don't think the Tories are talking nonsense on this (admittedly rare) occasion.

  26. Chika
    Coat

    Last man out please switch off the lights

    Except that the last man will probably not know where the switch is because the switch project was separate to the light project.

    Open source? Well, I've no objection there. I use it personally and it has even been creeping into some of the works kit. My biggest problem, one which some folk have touched on here, is that the whole government (sic) of IT is being done using rhetoric, politics and sheer flim-flam. The question is, inevitably, what are you going to use it for? The whole history of computing under various governments has been littered with the result of poorly conceived policies and ideas at which there has been much money and effort flung into what turns out to be an embarrassment for whichever party was in power.

    Instead of throwing spin at us, therefore, why not give us a concrete plan? What do you want to do, what are the options and what are the best ways of achieving that goal. This would serve the country far better than promises about how you intend to set up projects and what source you are likely to use.

  27. David Wilkinson
    Thumb Up

    You can't get the requirements right

    Requirements change as the system is developed. A large part of that is unavoidable because some many problems are impossible to understand until you invest a lot of time into solving them.

    People who want software development to proceed along a well defined path ... follow that path to failure.

    ---

    Also there needs to be a healthy feedback between the available technology and the design. Design choices influence technology choices. Technology choices then make some things easy to implement others very difficult. The design them is shifted to leverage the unique characteristics of the chosen technology.

    Anyway breaking things down into small loosely coupled projects ... makes a lot of sense. Some will fail, some will exceed expectations. Even if as some say it will be subdivisions of the same companies .... those subdivisions will be competing against each other.

    Also when you break things up into smaller parts ... well it suddenly becomes more obvious when certain features/capabilities cost far more than they are worth.

  28. Mark
    Paris Hilton

    @martin

    Here's how you cut up NPfIT into 100m chunks:

    1) Common data format. Find one.

    2) Write or procure sw to use #1

    3) Write or procure internal exchange processes within the same area

    4) Create a secure VPN for NHS use

    5) Extend #3 along #4.

  29. Dave Bell
    Gates Horns

    It's all so Eee-asy.

    Asus have demonstrated that a lot of people will cheerfully use Linux and Open Office.

    They also, alas, demonstrate how to get things wrong. Despite a physical UK keyboard, they don't supply a UK dictionary.

    The Linux enthusiasts often criticise Xandros,and they have reason to criticise the Linux supplied with the Eee.

    Guess what: Microsoft get things wrong too.

    Open Source is working.

  30. dale

    omg

    Kobayashi Gimp wrote :

    "How about a novela pproach that is extremely daring........

    Get the requirements right before chosing a partner and technology!!!!!!"

    Yep - because the world stands still right?

    The contract will be satisfied but the poor tax payer will be left with a system that can only solved last years problems f$%kTARD!!!!

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Open sauce ... pass the ketchup

    As far as the government goes, opposition or not, that is about the extent to which they understand the concept.

    One thing that seems to be missing from the spending to the retraining of all the people involved in maintaining the systems that are going to be introduced through a plan like this, on top of that what about the users, do you think they are going to be happy trying to work out whether to click the gecko, penguin or foot to do something.

    The simple truth is that open source will have to overcome some hurdles before it can get close to being used on any major government project, the first is training; get it in the schools first, the second is familiarity, make a UI that looks similar to Windows, but not too close to infringe any patents, and a third is a simple one, make it work the way that people are used to, no installation from a command line, that is so 1990; get rid of the shell, provide drivers with hardware and software on CD/DVD. If these basic things can be achieved then an OS desktop could be used en mass within the next 10 to 15 years, without them power usage of Linux et al will remain the pervue of server admins, those with an interest and geeks. Joe public will just go "Meh" and pass it by.

    I have not commented on the track record of the government IT projects as that is very well documented for prosperity

  32. peter collard
    Thumb Up

    Torys get it right for once

    Seems they have listened to people who know how to deliver projects on time and on budget.

    -Project size, complexity and risk correlations were known about in the 80's but no one bothered to read the research as it didn't look good on the CV.

    - Why pay M$ when you can get what you need for free - and the support is better too. If you need features adding, a small amount of money spent on it works wonders - eg Amazon & HTML::Mason

  33. Sam

    At least

    ...the Tories know Linux exists.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    Open source can work - But......

    .....there needs to be a raised standard in technical support and project staff. This is the problem. When a large number of support staff (I used to work for EDS (cough cough)) work on MS products, many of them wouldn't know what hit them with Linux and other Open Source stuff.

    I really can't be bothered over who is best Windows or *nux. But I think everyone will agree that *nix is a much more technical. The question is where will the likes of EDS, Siemens, Crap gemini get these staff from?

    We have MCSE on £20k a year, but try and find a RHCE who's willing to work on less then £30k. Then, multiply that by 100's of staff on large Govn projects.

    Sorry, but MS wins, afterall the Govn. probably only pays a few £ per license (The DWP had over 30,000 MS W2k Licenses not being used in 2005 and never realised it.)

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    For maximum amusement, read this article in conjunction

    with Ted Dziuba's latest and the truly epic war raging on its comments page

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/01/26/dziuba_linux_desktop/

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    Its nothing to do with the software costs

    What a FARCE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    These software projects go over budget and fail. REGARDLESS of the software costs. The software costs are normally insignificant to the cost of consultants, and the staff etc.

    1) Spec your requirements correctly

    2) use appropriate tools and software

    3) buy in expertise where necessary

    4) deliver the requirements

    or the govement way

    1) be vauge about requirements but promise the earth

    2) be vague about the budget and end up spending shit loads more

    3) buy in expertise from everywhere even if its not relevant and hope they agree that its all someone elses fault

    4) retire

    5) or get promoted to another degree of incompetance

    6) or point the fingure at one of the large consultancies you contracted on really vague terms

    7) get laughed at by their solicitors who are much better than civil servants

    8) end up explaining to a select committee where the fck all this tax payers money is going

    9) wish you had never started

  37. John

    Steve McConnell

    hire him. Maybe get Joel Spolsky in as a consultant, though the coders might rather have Aeron chairs.

    On OSS vs MS: use the best tool for the job. The government shouldn't be mandating technologies or solutions before the project begins.

  38. Mike Gravgaard

    Interesting

    As somebody who likes open source software, I think this is brilliant news but I have some concerns:

    * The problem with government projects, it that they change the project mandiate as the project is developing.

    * Government don't seem to understand what they are asking for and see to make it up as they go along.

    * Contracts and suppliers don't really care how well it works or don't understand the project (refer to point one) - EDS are an example of this.

    * Interlinking projects - these BIG projects do tend to join/link to other projects and they contractors don't always fully understand the entire system.

    I don't have a problem with open source (I prefer it to other commercial software products from the likes of Microsoft but, I have some issues which using open source without understanding some key points (these are the ones I can think of).

    * Open source software is normally started by somebody which either wants to make a program to fix a problem or to improve an existing idea.

    * As the software is maintained by these people in their spare time, there is no support offered from the original author unless that software is made or maintained by a distro or support company and if this is the case support is available.

    * Interoperability between open source and commercial products can be patchy (look at Samba and Windows Vista - I remember listening to a FOSS radio station on how Microsoft worked to break computability between Samba and Windows Vista - not sure if it's true or not as I don't use Vista but it wouldn't surprise me).

    * Support staff - you need the support staff which understand the system and problems (you need with all systems but Linux for example tends to need a lot of support from people who understand the issue - not sure this is very understandable. A lot of Windows admins seem to be scared for Linux/Open source (not sure if this is fear or change or what though).

    * Project managers and managers - you need managers and project management whome have some technical understanding of the problems not just button pushers - the managers I have come across don't seem to understand open source and seem to have little to no technical ability, they also push the problem onto the technical staff rather than understand what the technical people are actually telling them.

    I personally think that open source is a great idea for the long term but is difficult to achieve in the short term due to these problems.

    I think if this was done we would have cheaper, more robust and more reliable services. We would also move to a more internally run and better maintained services (this is something you don't really get with Windows services in my opinion).

    Mike

  39. Roger Heathcote
    Alert

    Tories in unexpected outbreak of common sense!

    Hmm, something's wrong with this picture, it, it... sounds thoroughly sensible, almost like they... they know what they're talking about. How deeply strange, it must be a fluke.

    If I could trust the awful desperate pro-"life" c***s as far as I could throw them I'd be impressed.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    It's a great idea but...

    I doubt that the control management to make things work will exist in a cost cutting environment.

    And fear that the end result will be:

    - rather than chasing one organisation for its shortcomings some quango or committee meeting quarterly in the House will have to chase 120! organisations all saying "Not me guv! S'one ov them mate"

    In an ideal world there would be no differences between appointing one large commitment or 120 smaller commitments.

    The truth is (as we all know?) that 120 commitments in software without good project management is going to go extinct as a dinosaur but only rather swifter.

  41. Roger Heathcote

    @Don Mitchell

    " It just goes on and on. It has cost them a fortune to use open source software"

    It has cost them a fortune to use THE WRONG open source software, or maybe it has cost them a fortune to underestimate the cost of using this particular piece of open source software. It doesn't seem to have hurt companies like Google and Amazon.

    Of course your friends bitch about work, who doesn't bitch about work? Do these things never happen with commercial software? I remember the YEARS of problems trying to get CA Unicenter running at my NHS trust - the big difference being it was proprietary software so we couldn't sack CA and hire someone else to work on it.

    Anyway, I hope your friends are contributing patches, maybe that software will get better over time eh?

  42. Avalanche
    Boffin

    Rather naive

    I think it is rather naive to think that using open source and cutting projects up into smaller projects will automagically fix all problems.

    First of all, most of these projects are bespoke work and there won't be any 'existing' open- or closed-source solutions available.

    Second of all, even though smaller projects make managing complexity easier, it won't be easy getting a working, complete solution on the rails that should have a large scope (I have seen systems that were built piecemeal by one company and even then there a problems with data-consistency and -compatibility between various parts and/or systems).

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Suport Suport Suport

    And what exactly is wrong with OS/2?

    There are lots of large enterprises still using it because it 'just keeps on working', which is more than can be said for the windows crap I encounter in my work.

  44. Andy Bright

    Money talks

    We went the other way, and if there's a good reason for increasing the cost of internet services per workstation from about $5 to $20 per week I don't see it.

    We moved from a Mozilla based system to an Exchange system, lost features, decreased security and increased cost.

    Simple things like auto-completing from your online email address directories aren't possible with Outlook or an Exchange system. And just because it comes with a built-in calendar doesn't make it better. There are plenty of online calendars that are open source and work just as well as Outlook. We used one from Oracle, which integrated into our email system perfectly.

    This example isn't true of all applications of course. But there is no reason to pay for software if your main applications are internet based or along the lines of word processing, spreadsheet and database applications.

    Support is no more expensive for open source applications. They're not more difficult to maintain, and given the reliance that almost every business puts on community based support forums, there's actually not a lot of difference in support. At least none that has anything to do with the software costing money or not.

    Autodesk for example, relies extensively on it's own community to provide support. That's not even a criticism, you usually find the people that know the most about a piece of software and how to get something out of it are the everyday users of that software. In the 8 years I've been supporting Autodesk products, I can remember only 2 occasions when I needed support that went beyond their forums and actually required their own people to come visit our offices.

    Given the $50-60 thousand dollars a year we pay in maintenance, there just might be a saving somewhere if an open source product was available that does the same thing. Most of that maintenance cost comes in the form of annual upgrades to the latest versions of their software, not from direct customer support. Open source software doesn't come with an upgrade cost, except that of implementation (something that all software shares).

    So I would say that if you are using nothing but Microsoft Office applications in addition to the usual internet services you'd expect in a modern office or school, then there is no reason why you should pay more for something that isn't open source.

    Fine if you feel more comfortable running Windows, go ahead. But don't waste money of things like Office 2007 when Open Office does exactly the same thing for free.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Awesome...

    ...make every computer in government run Linux and even the simplest tasks will become so complex and time consuming there won't be any time left over for any Orwellian projects.

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    Penalty Clauses

    To answer a couple of posts on penalty clauses, for large government projects they simply don't work. This is almost invariably down to the fact that the people speccing the system have no idea what they actually want from their system and thus underspec it, they then constantly add new bits to the project. Then when the project is late the supplier points to the spec, points to all the extra emails saying "Please add x,y and z" and passes the buck right back to the customer.

    If you want to have a flexible spec then you need to start off the contract with that in mind, you have milestone payments for specific deliverables and make sure that everything that's added is properly costed a part of the project. Sadly, few companies seem to have grasped this idea.

  47. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    @ AC 00:01

    It makes sense.

    Firm & tidy spec, firm & tidy response, firm & tidy result, firm & tidy invoice.

    Sloppy & shabby spec, Sloppy & shabby response, Sloppy & shabby result, Sloppy & shabby invoice?

    It seem to cascade from the original spec/managers all the way down.

  48. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    Right direction, but...

    All of these are good suggestions that will help. But as someone who has helped write government software, and bailed when they knew what was good for them, the biggest problem of writing software is the laws that it is coded around! The law is in inconceivably complex beast that isn't even understood when it is passed, and takes successive rheams of judges and court cases to determine its interpretation. And each successive government changes it every four years! In the law there can be no basis for software, as the latter requires strict and rigid interpretation of *very* simple rules in order to execute.

    Software as it is today is inherently incompatible with law. Or should I say law is inherently incompatible with software, take your pick.

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Huh

    Given how poorly managed government IT projects are, I honestly don't think going FOSS will help. I mean, sure they'll cost slightly less, but they still probably won't work at the end. The contracts will STILL go to the lowest bidder, and there still won't be any consequences for failing to deliver, or running over budget or over deadline.

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Boffin

    misonomers about open source

    Open Source worked well for operating systems and single applications because the scope was limited and function required was specific. A corporate application is a multi-faceted entity with wide-ranging interfaces and data structures required. (Remember the last time you sought consensus internally on some requirements, and then imagine including the cleaner and the tea lady as well).

    Sorry, but the "bazaar" approach does not apply here. This is just pollies throwing around buzzwords to sound "with it".

  51. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wrong people in IT

    it has been that way in the UK for years, just have the wrong people, with no interest, no talent, no capability trying to make decisions in IT.

    I have heard the most ridiculous things come out of the gobs of people responsible for IT systems, and invariably they always fail.

    Opensource is not a magic wand, neither is off shoring, having the right people with the necessary skill in IT in positions of authority is. Until the charlatans are removed from the IT sphere it really doesn't matter what they do, it will never work.

  52. Tim Bates

    @ Mike Richards

    Awesome... Comments on some software from someone who's:

    a) never bothered to sit and learn to use it.

    b) never actually supported users who are using it for job related tasks.

    On the other hand, I HAVE trained users to do everyday tasks on Linux boxes (multiple distros). After 5 minutes, most start to get the idea that it's actually pretty much the same as they were used to.

    I give the Tories points for recognising the savings from choosing alternative software... However the other part of the plan is a little crazy. 100m pound cap for a project simply means projects will be split into a series of 90m pound projects. Plus smaller government groups with an annual budget of under 100m are going to be able to blow everything on stupid stuff still.

  53. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    MCSE £20K RHCE £30K

    "We have MCSE on £20k a year, but try and find a RHCE who's willing to work on less then £30k."

    So you used to work for EDS did you? So you'd be used to getting paid top whack for incompetent staff, for getting paid the agreed price for projects that didn't work, etc.

    Maybe if competent experienced EXPENSIVE (and £30K isn't expensive) people rather than school leavers who'd passed the MCSE quiz had been employed, maybe some of the projects might actually have been delivered on time and on budget, and actually been useful to the end user? Maybe? Maybe that's the cost of doing business when your company's owners aren't best mates with the procurement people in the Cabinet, whereas EDS's clearly are?

  54. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No news here...

    I work on numerous Goverment projects that already use Open Source. They have exactly the same issues as the ones that use proprietory software.

    Must be a slow news day because this a complete non story.

  55. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dear god

    What a load of bollocks some people spout - so many contributors to this thread seem to be on one bandwagon or another and tell us that this tool or that system will be cheaper, better, easier and so on.

    The fact is that you need to know what you are trying to achieve before you choose your tools. Travelling cross country with a trailer? Get a landrover. Want to get from Russell Square to Trafalgar Square at rush hour? Get the tube. Want to be laughed at by your colleagues? Get a Rover.

    On the question of cost, sometimes MS is best, sometimes Unix wins, sometimes Linux and generally never Apple is best. I know because I have, on many occasions, done true "total cost of ownership" numbers for various options for my clients. As a project manager, I am agnostic about the toolset that is used on projects. What I want is the best outcome for my clients and therefore what wins depends on the particular needs of the project.

    I agree with those of you who have said that (Govt) projects don't generally fail because of the OS technology used. They fail because of the competence of the people involved. Sometimes this is the decision makers, sometimes it is the developers (I'm having trouble with out offshored developers who can't seem to package a working release...), sometimes it project managers (I know I have made mistakes) and sometimes it's the fact that the world has moved on.

    The much vaunted Prince2 methodology is meant to minimise project disasters. There are government bodies that are meant to scrrrrrrutinise large gov IT projects. There are post-mortems of dead/finished projects that are meant to be learnt from. And failure still happens.

    I believe that one of the issues is that many government IT projects are simply too large. This plays into the hands of the big players, who are the only game in town for large projects. So, it's no surprise that we see the usual suspects time and again. So what is to be done? Well, one part of the answer would be to break up projects, make them simpler, and make them more achievable. I heard some guy on the wireless yesterday talking about the giant NHS project. He said that the core patient record is never going to work, but that online prescriptions and the radiology bits are working really well. Perhaps if they were all modular & independent, but architected to a set of standards, you could stand a chance of delivering some or all of them right. And each module would have its own requirements in terms of tools and systems.

    So before telling the world to use Linux, Unix, Windows or CP/M, put your personal prejudices and preferences aside, act like a true professional, and determine what really is best for the task (and client) at hand, even if it means going with something that is not your hobby horse or security blanket.

    Well done Tories for raising the issue.

    AC so that I'm not hunted down by some phantom Linux hit squad.

  56. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @MCSE £20K RHCE £30K

    Some good points, well made.

    When was it we lost sight of the idea of paying people to be employed directly by El Govt, on DECENT salaries, but expect commitment and quality from them?

    The other big issue is timescales. Government projects get started late, and often have to fit in to political timeframes.

    I do applaud the Tory initiative to question some of the assumptions. Open Source may not be the solution, but it might lead to a better approach. Here's hoping....

  57. philbo
    Happy

    This sounds remarkably like..

    ..a suggestion I sent to my MP (Paul Goodman, a Tory) in '07.

    The idea that instead of running one huge monolithic monster of a system, places like surgeries and hospitals which have (working) systems already running ought to be able to use their existing suppliers to add data I/O to a defined spec, meaning the only central system is a simple (if fairly large-scale) data collator, and distributed systems are a lot more robust, anyway.

  58. Alexander
    Flame

    ROFL

    Do you think the tories have been watching the net and how linuts defened and promote linux beyond reason, maybe they hope these brainwashed few will now run round posting on the net how good the tories and how much better they really are compared to other OS' S...sorry political parties.

    What next..will we have david cameron saying Chrome is an OS or the Noobs in labour dont a kernel from a GNU....

    this is so funny I had to stab myself in the leg to stop laughing.

  59. Walking Turtle
    Paris Hilton

    Law vs. Software vs. Humanity

    @ Brent Gardner Wednesday 28th January 2009 02:29 GMT

    "Software as it is today is inherently incompatible with law. Or should I say law is inherently incompatible with software, take your pick."

    1) As a psych prof I met long ago in an alien bookstore far, far away once did put it: "If you think you really understand anything of human behaviour, model it in code and see how far you get." But that was back when Fortran was where the jobs were at.

    2) Being no programmer but rather more the fly on the IT world's wall these days, is this not where a "Fuzzy Logic" approach fits best? Strict Boolean constructs seem so clear-cut, rather like, "IF TAG %defendantID = "sentenced" THEN HANG %defendantID AND NO BUT OR IF".

    But doesn't fuzzy-logic coding (of which I really know next to nothing) actually allow for flexible decision-tree constructs something like, "If TAG {%defendantID} = "convicted" BUT %mitigation > 50 NOW GO THINK {gosub kickout | admin-desk} THEN CALL retrial-scheduler", or along such general lines as those?

    Just askin'. Paris, because there was mitigation for neither her lag-time sentencing "guidelines" nor her own prior unmitigated-though-lovely self, either.

  60. Mark

    re: misonomers about open source

    You kids. Your big misnomer is thinking that closed source is the normal way. Open source was the normal way.

    Source code was how you got your OS and applications out there.

    The source code being available WAS THE WAY.

    It is only a recent invention where you sell a binary blob and keep the source code closed.

    And the computers in the 40's-80's worked absolutely A-OK. Even though the source was open.

  61. Mark

    Copyright is not amenable to software

    There is no expressive content in the binary. Copyright law is all about expressive.

    Derived works do not work in software. Take linking. Even symbolic linking. You run the program and it loads and executes the library linked. But that then constitutes from copyright law a clear case of derived work: you have now effectively quoted huge sections of the library code to ensure YOUR code works. Illegal.

    Two clear examples of where copyright does not work with software.

    And it used to be that copyright DID NOT APPLY to software. That's why all that bollocks about AT&T vs BSDL went on. There was no copyright on code, so no license so no mention of licensing or anything ON THE CODE.

    Then people started finagling copyright to apply to source and the trouble started.

    Then people started finagling copyright to apply to binary output and the trouble got much much worse (you no longer owned the work and when copyright expires, the public have NOTHING to show for it). Then the accountants started applying copyright to the Look and Feel. Worse.

    Then SCO tried "Negative Know-how" (i.e. "When they tried this, it didn't work, so don't try it" is benefiting from the work of the person who failed, so you OWE THEM).

    Copyright on software:

    Only with the source code. (NOTE this doesnt mean you have any license to copy chinks any more than having the plain english latin character set of "Harry Potter and the Higgledy Piggles" in the pages of the book lets you copy JK Rowling's work [though, it does let HER copy someone else's work, but let's not get into that]).

    No source code = no copyright. You can use trade secret.

    No EULA on non-copyright controlled actions. E.g. You can say "for one computer only" but not "No benchmarks" or "You must activate your copy".

  62. Michael Nielsen
    Thumb Up

    Hollistic

    The interesting thing about this article is not so much the open source but, rather the bit about splitting projects, and increasing competition. Though the open source will open op competition a lot more than staying propriatory.

    Most Government projects, at least in Denmark, where I live, and other countries, have the problem that for one thing, governements being humanists (of sorts) tend to believe in the hollistic point of view,

    That is all or nothing.

    The next bit is what goes in to the project, everyone who can wants their finger print on the project, therefore the planning phases, become enormous, development interrupted, concepts skewed, basically, too many cooks ....

    As an engineer, I have learnt, that if a project cannot be split into small very manageable components, then the system cannot be constructed, within any kind of given time frame. Having teams of 120 people working together on a single project is far too much, the intercommunication will blow your budget. I know most people believe teams are the best, well yes and no, a team of 5 is optimal, any bigger and it risks becoming slower than if just one person was on the task.

    However, having an over all goal, with general design guidelines set at the start, and building it like you build a house, one brick at a time (task), working towards the plans that the architect has drawn up, is far more efficient than trying to get the carpenters, brickies, electricians, et. al. running on the work site at the very same time, falling over one another.

    I seem to notice that most government projects are like the state it self, huge monoliths that are designed all at once, and they try to build them hollistically, while trying to bring in the various political changes that changing polticial power wants, ofc it will end in a disaster!

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