back to article UK government ignoring own rules on open source

Open source vendors are calling on the UK government to put its money where its mouth is and police its own rules on public sector open source software procurement - which were revised in February this year. Some OSS makers argue that despite the first major overhaul to the government’s open source and open standards strategy …


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  1. Mike Bell 2
    Paris Hilton


    "We’ve been clobbered completely by vendor lock-in"

    Well, fancy that! And there was me thinking that vendor lock-in was the most common business model in the IT industry.

    Paris, because she can lock me in any time she likes.

  2. James Blessing

    The problem isn't just the choice stage of the tender

    Have a look at what happens when you try and register for a tender...

    Its a joke that 'Netscape' isn't supported

  3. This post has been deleted by its author

  4. Tommy Pock

    A small flaw in the analogy

    “How many of us would obey the speed limit if

    there were... no laws...” argued Alfresco’s president

  5. Roger Greenwood

    @James Blessing

    The UK highways agency was the same until recently and they got with the program. Worse than a joke of course, more like disbelief they could be so blinkered. Needs lots to complain . . . .

  6. Tom 7

    Just because you pay tax

    doesn't mean you have a say in how the moneys spent.

    Government of the people, by big business, for big business.

    Until FLOSS can afford to put on offshore bank account parties and spend millions on lobbying and other jollies.

    IT managers don't want to spend all their time in the office - until FLOSS can guarantee either 3 or 4 weeks training in 'where we moved the menu items to this time' every couple of years and regular updates to the software to give them a feeling of importance they're not going to be onside either.

    FLOSS is better, its also a lot cheaper - that's why it doesn't stand a cat in hells chance.

  7. pedrodude

    Police the document?

    Er... shouldn't the point be that software is chosen on best value in terms of fit-for-purpose versus total cost of ownership? If that happens to result in (as in a lot of cases where retraining would be required) proprietary software being chosen, so be it. Managers shouldn't have open source shoved in their faces as they'll just choose whatever is the most similar clone of what they've been using, which may not be the best choice.

    The point is to remove any barriers to choosing a different software vendor. Not push people in a direction if they don't see any benefit to it, gonna do wonders for user satisfaction that way... If anything, regulate contract lengths perhaps. Otherwise these particular whingeing OS vendors would do well to shut up and concentrate on developing killer products and marketing them.

  8. David Webb

    The answer

    “How many of us would obey the speed limit if there were no policemen, no laws and no speed cameras,"

    The correct answer is, everyone, the law dictates the speed limit, so if there are no laws there are no speed limits and we end up with the lovely German system where you can go as fast as you like on certain roads.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cost of implementation

    "Do you guys want your taxes to go on re-training every civil servant who for the last 25 years has used the same software?"

    Changing the desktop OS may well cost more than it benefits, but many applications that are used from the desktop can be web -based, which is a familiar experience and can be made to work across platforms, thus making retraining costs negligible.

    Similarly, the servers and applications behind the interface can be chosen on the basis of "best fit". Providing reasonably accessible API standards are agreed on, communication between applications can be made easier making cost savings. Talk JSON between applications and you can have a .NET app interacting with a Java app relatively painlessly, for example.

  10. James R Grinter


    @Tyrunn: "Do you guys want your taxes to go on re-training every civil servant who for the last 25 years has used the same software?"

    That's ok (assuming by 25 years you mean something nearer 18, if you got into Windows really early *) Microsoft's completely changed the interface of Microsoft Office 2007. You won't be able to find most of the functions now, so you might as well consider other software at the same time.

    [* On the other hand, if you're still happily using WordStar or Word Perfect - well...]

  11. Eponymous Cowherd

    Where's a policeman when you need one?

    Probably blaming the colour TV.....

    Mine's the one with a Discography CD in the pocket.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    Time to upgrade ?

    "re-training every civil servant who for the last 25 years has used the same software"

    Blimey, I had heard the Civil Service could be a bit slow to upgrade but 25 years seems a bit excessive.

    Clearly there's no IT angle here.

  13. Ben Tasker

    Usual FUD

    "re-training every civil servant who for the last 25 years has used the same software"

    Same old argument being rolled out.

    There's nothing to say that the interface the user sees has to change dramatically. Either way, if Office 2007 ever gets adopted, there will be a certain amount of retraining involved.

    There's not a lot of difference in basic use of OpenOffice versus MS Office, so why use one that leads to vendor lock in?

    Let me rephrase your question, and chuck it back at you;

    "Would you like to see your taxes spent on ensuring we can still access documents created in a closed format, when we could have used a free format for free?"

    This doesn't just apply to Office, or even just to Microsoft. There are plenty of closed formats in use around the world, many of which have suitable free alternatives. It should be a case of best fit, but when Total Cost of Ownership is considered, you need to think long term.

    I'm also a public sector worker, and yes, there will be users who struggle, but they probably struggle to some extent anyway.

    With regards to the developers, where app development is outsourced it would be down to the contracted company to deal with that. Where the developers are in house, yes they may need retraining, but it does depend what they are writing in, and which platform they would then need to write for.

  14. spegru


    @James Blessing: Strangely I get that Netscape waning in Firefox but not Opera 10.

    @Tyrunn: Why is it we always here that nonsense training thing? How much training do you get really?? I simply don't believe that standard office apps email/word proc/spreadsheet / browser are an issue. Macro's pah who uses them? Sure some do - but the entire civil service?? this sounds more like malingering out of change to me --- ooh I cant do that I might have to think and they dont pay me enough for that etc etc.....

    Then there's the good point that most openoffice etc is now more similar to msft than msft 2007 anyway

  15. Jimbo 6
    Big Brother

    Where's a policeman when you need one?

    Well they're obviously out catching REAL criminals - amateur photographers...people wearing coats in Tube stations...newspaper vendors on their way home, etc

  16. Remy Redert


    No. Hence why I'd like the government to switch to open source software. That way, we won't have to retrain all our staff every few years when Microsoft deems it necessary to change the UI so that everyone requires retraining anyways.

    As for the devs. Good devs shouldn't have much of an issue switching to linux. Unless you're implying all your devs can use is .net and Visual Basic. And in that case you might be better off hiring new ones indeed.

  17. Juillen 1


    Interestingly, I'm working in the public sector too.. As an ops manager, so I have to deal with this kind of thing all the time.

    We run open source quite happily in areas where it can be brought in cost effectively, and have replaced some of our old windows infrastructure with open source equivalents without the end users even knowing.

    The joy of the (very overworked) staff here is that they actually keep an eye on the ball; if there's new tech, they'll experiment with it in test, judge its applicability and then roll out on pilot to see how it floats in the real world.

    It's a little known process called 'Evolution'. Oh, and it applies to our technicians, systems admins and developers, all who are conversant with the main open and closed technologies from the last decade, and in some cases, a fair bit longer than that. If you're incapable of learning the best technologies for the jobs (from a limited, but slowly changing set) then you've no business being in systems ops or development.

    I've been working in the IT game for a smidge over 25 years now, and the only things that'll be near the same over that time period are the Mainframe apps which steadfastly refuse to go away because they're so damnably efficient. The back end will remain the same, but open alternatives for the console apps can easily be open source on the user end, no retraining required.

    Everything else has changed drastically (and does so with a period of approximately 5 years).

    Despite your belief that users are there to be spoon fed every little bit, there are actually a minority like that; most of them are quite happy to pick up something new as it's phased in. That's called a normal learning process.

    Due to the whole NPfIT project in the NHS, there's a huge quantity of information on the feasibility of retraining a large amount of people in a very short amount of time. It can be done, but the efficiency is over a couple of years (i.e. phasing in the new cheaper tech over time, thus new purchases should be based on 'Standards', as the report advocates, not proprietary locked in closed spec). This is more the way things would go, as ripping out the whole infrastructure overnight, as you seem to see it happening, and replacing with new would make the cost of training seem to be a small drop in the ocean.

    Anyway, enough of the badgering, and end of lunch break..

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    feckin eejits

    The Government's directions on OSS purchasing were not intended to cause the uptake of OSS. They were intended to shut the OSS sector up so everyone could carry on taking it up the ass from Microsoft and ministers can carry on getting backhanders and jollies.

  19. Asgard

    This CEO sounds arrogant and manipulative...

    "“How many of us would obey the speed limit if there were no policemen, no laws and no speed cameras,” argued Alfresco’s president and CEO John Powell"

    Its called empathy and he should try it and its no surprise someone as powerful as a CEO would fail to see empathy is a reason to consider others on or near roads, as people who fight that high up the hierarchy of power in a company rarely have much empathy towards others. Its a very good sign of a Narcissistic Personality Disorder and they lack empathy and consider everyone else as lacking empathy as them.

    No laws, ok I'll drive pass this school at 120 miles an hour, then down this back residential street at 130 miles an hour, past where kids are going home and playing on the pavements and may cross the roads behind parked cars. No laws on this large road, ok I'll see if I can get my (hey look at me everyone) expensive car to 150. NPDs only consider themselves. The irony is laws are created to stop and protect us from this arrogant minority of people, but not everyone is like them, but this kind of person always assume everyone is like them and tries very hard to convince us all that everyone else is like them. :(

    “In the UK you have a situation where there is no enforcement,”

    Yeah great so he wants to force people … what a surprise, his kind always thinking in terms of finding ways to force people and gain power to force and influence people ... yet another sign of an NPD seeking ways to force people to do what they want, so ultimately they can personally gain from it.

    So this is a CEO using the “Open Standards Government Action Plan” to create a press release for his company, but trying to sound like its about Government managing open standards etc.. and what does his Alfresco company do, Enterprise Content Management, so what he is really trying to say is, hey government you are doing it wrong and need our help with this, give us some money.

  20. Alan Brown Silver badge

    I'd settle for open web standards

    The number of gov sites which are still IE only beggars belief.

  21. Marco van Beek

    Evolution not Revolution

    The subject line makes me sound like I would support the current status quo and leave all as it is, but in fact, with any sold software with free support (rather than free software with sold support), they need the end user to buy into "the next best thing". If the user sees no reason to upgrade, they won't. Hence the reason why open source software will always be superior to closed source software.

    Marketing people need lots of new features to promote a new version of a product. If you are talking about a major new application or OS, that also means new hardware. So you get a revolution. Every few years the old all gets thrown out, and we all get shiny new toys that we hate because they are different. Menus change, buttons are no longer where we expect, and so on.

    If you want true stability, you want lots of little bits of evolution, changing one thing at a time. For me, this is the overwhelming reason we use Ubuntu on our servers. Facts to support this: Doing an in-place upgrade of production file and email servers from 6.06 LTS to 8.04 LTS took an average of 37 minutes, over SSH (This will work on any Debian related OS). Doing a hardware replacement of a local server took 2 x ~ 15 mins outage, by swapping software raid disks into the new box and rebuilding the mirrored array onto brand new disks, one at a time. The drives were hot swap, so in theory we did not need to power the server down more than once, but we wanted to make sure it booted properly on the new drives.

    As we move to virtual servers & virtual desktops where we can, there will no longer be any reason to replace the "hardware", as it won't exist, so if you want to minimise business downtime, disruption, and avoid spending the next 25 years training staff to learn something that has just been replaced, stick with evolution. It's worked for at least the last 6000 years...

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