back to article We really are going to start buying open-source from SMEs

Open source and open standards are the direction for UK government IT, the civil servant leading the government's technology change agenda has said. Liam Maxwell, Cabinet Office director of ICT futures, said Tuesday in London that open source has grown up and it's time to dispel lingering misconceptions about this technology …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Open Source custom apps

    But not Open Source Operating Systems, Open Source Office packages etc.

    Too many fingers in the pie.

  2. Roger Greenwood

    British Saddleback fuelled and ready to fly

    Gloucester old spot providing fighter cover.

  3. Kevin7

    Government in magic bullet initiative. Designed to fail I'd say.

  4. The BigYin
    Thumb Down


    Just like they were going to use open standards.

    (I just downloaded some documents from the ICO to lodge a complaint. They are Word format and password locked, so I can't use them. Yeah....that makes sense)

    1. The BigYin

      Note to self

      Save file as .odt, it magically becomes editable.


  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I just hope they MIGHT actually get it through their heads some day that open source is much better value and better for out economy than M$...

    It doesn't take a genius to realize that its better to pay nothing for the software but pay for for support to a UK company than spend the same money paying a US company and still need support.

    Its like it shouldn't take a genius to realize our government buying British for 20% (maybe even 30%) more cost than abroad is still a net gain for the economy as that 20% extra still goes on UK wages, which is spent on goods with up to 20% VAT and is taxed at up to 50%...

    You can't spend your way out of a deficit, but what you do spend should go internally if we make it here...

    I.E. Whomever chose to buy trains made outside the UK needs to be fired, out of a cannon, into the sun...

    1. The BigYin

      @AC at 10:32

      You forget one thing - the local company can't provide the same "support" and "fact finding missions" to the MPs and civil servants.

      Decisions are not based on what is best for the public/country, but which offers the bureaucrats involved the most benefit (either monetary of fiefdom gain).

      I note that Hungary is booting out proprietary formats/systems, good to see.

      1. MGJ


        Becuase when I was last buying a large SOA stack we looked really closely at Red Hat but it was no cheaper than Oracle once you put in 4 years of support and IBM and Oracle's hardware discounts were added, and it had none of the security ticks in the box required to run it on CJX. Apart from that, we'd have loved to use it, if we could have made sense of all the various options required; neither Oracle or IBM needed to offer any freebies (not that we are allowed to take them anyway - nothing over £5 value at our level) to beat that.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      "...Its like it shouldn't take a genius to realize our government buying British for 20% (maybe even 30%) more cost than abroad is still a net gain for the economy as that 20% extra still goes on UK wages, which is spent on goods with up to 20% VAT and is taxed at up to 50%..."

      What you are describing is basically protectionism, it is bad for the tax payer because they pay more for the product/service. It is bad for the company supplying the service because they have no reason to innovate and deliver a better cheaper product, if they can rely upon the state to pay over the odds for their product. It is bad for the company's stock because people won't invest in a company propped up by a state, rather than good products. It is also bad for the company and the tax payer because the company will stagnate and employ fewer people.

      Protectionism is never a good thing, there may be short term gains, but they are always outweighed by the long term consequences.

      1. zb


        "Protectionism is never a good thing, there may be short term gains, but they are always outweighed by the long term consequences."

        Like after WW2 the US government supported their aircraft industry in a big way and the British industry could not compete and died. Then Lockheed and Boeing ruled the roost. Once the opposition is destroyed there are long term advantages to a short term subsidy.

        Economics Nobel prizewinner Paul Krugman discussed this in his book "Peddling Prosperity"

        There could be a long term advantage in aggressively supporting open source in the UK thus helping build up the software industry.

    3. Anonymous Coward

      Especially when that company has fleeced other services, cough *bbc* cough under taxpayer control with questionable ethics.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I wonder how

    Mr B will bribe/blackmail/cajole/bully/etc them out of that decision.

  7. Graham Wilson

    "...built for bureaucrats, they were not built for people,"

    “For years we spent on IT systems built for bureaucrats, they were not built for people,”

    Open source won't necessarily solve this problem. Ergonomics is one of IT's most intransigent problems. More often than not, the more geekish the programmer/techie the less he'll understand how non-technical people perceive and use technology.

    Being 'open' may however widen the reviewing process.

  8. hold2ransom

    Muade - he for one does not get it!

    Just weasel words - Open Source OS's will never fill their troughs so OS will never get a look in with either central or local government. The purveyors of the standard preferred OS (M$ & their "Gold" standard partners and also Apple) will shovel loads of dosh into the troughs in order to keep central and local government customers tied in. Sure they'll announce very good deals on up front purchases but the hidden costs are never announced. It is those hidden costs which feed the insatiable appetite of both M$ and Apple.

    IT managers seem to get into the "Big Blue" syndrome but now it is mainly M$. They think users are unable to change from their precious M$ Office and god forbid allowing the use of a "new" operating system. The last to some extent I can understand as it is protecting their own jobs as they'd not have a clue how to support other OS's.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      SMEs (EU defined) are able to supply and support open-source Operating Systems to the levels required as current providers do?

      There are plenty of potential areas where software from SMEs is entirely suitable and competitive, but to get stuck in the rut that open-source software in Government must only mean displacing Windows and Office is taking an unrealistic and narrow-minded view of what is actually the focus.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Hidden costs

      What are the hidden costs? The pan-government agreements are straightforward enough to understand without any ambiguity.

  9. John Rose

    I'll believe it when I see it

    As an example the government has 'sub-contracted' advertising of contracts to the National SME Engagement Programme ( This seems to be avenue for advertising IT contracts that have already been awarded! Also, it's a mechanism for a commercial company to get free marketing for their money making seminars.

  10. Martin Peacock

    Not to be heckling the Big Yin...

    IMO the biggest issue is what should (in an ideal world) be the biggest plus - choice. Lets say a Gov entity tenders for service X - which is potentially provided perfectly well by OS software Y. There will be a (approx) gazillion SMEs submitting proposals - which nobody is going to wade through to assess properly. And in fact we'd criticise if it happened.

    So.. tenders will be subject to pre-qualification to sort out the 'serious players' from the - guess what - SMEs. In generall, one doesn't get to compete on price at pre-qualification stage.

    There's a reason why it is so costly to become a <strike>made man<\strike> incumbent vendor - because once the position is achieved - its bloody valuable.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Clearly if you want to destroy a creative sector, you need to remove any IP rights

    So mandating Open Source is the perfect move to complement removing author's copyright, which the IPO seems intent on at the moment.

    Open Source: a great way to screw software vendors - and many of them are SMEs, not mega-corps.

    Yes, I'm probably biased, but that's because I'm old-fashioned and believe in writing and selling quality software that doesn't need ongoing support contracts and consultancy services to make it work and bring in a revenue stream.

    1. Dr_Barnowl

      Open Source *requires* copyright to function. Copyright is what gives the original author of the code the right to state what license it is distributed under.

      What are you really selling when you sell software? An ephemeral pattern of bits on disk, which is cheap? Or the expertise and work you put into writing it? The sale of software as a commercial product is one way to solve the problem that the cost of the labour to produce it is often more expensive than a single customer is willing to bear ; Open Source is another approach which addresses this issue.

      It does, indeed, seem to be perceived as old-fashioned to believe that you can rest on your laurels and live off the fruits of your past labour ; this is a common argument against copyright extension for the music industry. I don't think anyone would begrudge me the literal fruits of my labour if I built a really good automated tomato production system, but conversely, I don't believe I would be upset if someone copied my design, improved it, and built their own system. Reproducing copies of software requires very little in the way of materials and labour though. I suspect the real issue is the retail model of software development - it just doesn't seem to be sustainable in an era where people are willing to legally share their software openly.

      To address the problem that some software is just too expensive for a single buyer to pay for development, perhaps the solution is to use the distributed patronage systems like Kickstarter - which just managed to raise over $800,000 in 24 hours for a well-respected game studio to develop a point and click adventure game.

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  13. Kubla Cant

    Not really interested in SMEs at all

    "Opensource software is not three guys in a shed anymore." That sounds like an SME to me. Presumably the Government is really interested in Open Source now that you can get it from the usual multinational megacorps.

    What the customers of Megacorp don't realise is that the three guys in the shed are probably really bright people who know everything there is to know about their product. Megacorp, on the other hand, delegates your support request to one of their offshore drones.

  14. Colin Millar
    Big Brother

    I'm not sure that Maxwell understands what open source actually is or the reasons why SMEs struggle to get work in the public sector. Hint - it's got more to do with accountants than techs.

    You can build black box software with opensource and you can build modular accessible software with prop tech. What is needed is better procurement so that people don't buy systems that lock up the data. The "Black Box" is more a product of the licence than any technical ability to extract the system data.

    Big Brother wants to record you but doesn't know how to programme the VCR.

  15. JDX Gold badge

    OSS != FOSS

    An AC made a comment about it being better to use OS because it's free. However, software being open-source and software being free are two entirely separate things. I can release the source to my app but require you pay to use it, and I can make my app free to use but not share the source code.

    In fact, a lot of OSS software would not be usable by the government for free. Anything under GPL, for example, would require the government to open-source their projects which is unlikely to happen. In such cases they'd have to arrange a separate license which would normally not be free.

    1. Rustybucket

      Free != Gratis

      The word ‘free’ in FOSS (‘Free/Open-Source Software’) has **nothing** to do with price. It means ‘free’ as in ‘Libre’ - i.e. that it can be used, studied, modified and re-distributed without restriction.

      However you are correct in that making software either OSS or FLOSS does not mean that one cannot charge for it.

    2. Lars Silver badge


      "Anything under GPL would require the government to open-source their projects".

      No that is not true at all.

      You can use GPL software as much as you want without open-sourcing your projects. And this is the normal thing to do, and what governments should do.

      It is only when you decide you want to, for instance, alter a Linux kernel when you have to open-source nothing more than just that contribution to the Linux kernel.

      This lie about having to open-source ones projects is old FUD and is used only bye people who very well know it is a lie. I lie for purposes one can easily understand.

      1. Ben Tasker


        You missed another important point -

        You'd only have to release the source to people you distribute to. It's not likely the Government would distribute installers for their systems to the world at large, so even if the OP was right it'd still not be a problem!

        1. Lars Silver badge

          Yes, I did


  16. JDX Gold badge

    @Kubla Cant

    >>"Opensource software is not three guys in a shed anymore." That sounds like an SME to me.

    In that case you don't know what a SME is. A SME can have hundreds of employees and a turnover of tens of millions of pounds.

  17. Jan 0 Silver badge

    Preposition rage

    "Liam Maxwell, Cabinet Office director of ICT futures, said Tuesday in London that open source has grown up...."

    You could write:

    Liam Maxwell, Cabinet Office director of ICT futures, said Tuesday in London would be a great day for pancakes....

    but I think you mean:

    Liam Maxwell, Cabinet Office director of ICT futures, said on Tuesday, in London, that open source has grown up......

    It's those little joining words that make the english language work!

    1. Lars Silver badge


      Lets hope that the Cabinet Office has grown up to open source.

  18. Tom 13

    That should be Charlie Brown kicking Lucy's football.

    It took a while, but Doofus learned in Groundhog Day. Charlie Brown is still trying, long after the esteemed Mr. Schulz has passed beyond the Great Divide.

  19. Dare to Think

    Good effort, but it's just a rewrapping of the old...

    I don't see how British SMEs are being helped when

    . the hardware comes from HP, IBM, Oracle...

    . the software comes from Oracle, SAP, Google...

    Where is the research project for a parallel filesystem going to a British SME, like FhGFS in Germany?

    Where is the protection of promising companies from takeovers from companies outside the EU e.g. IBM buying Transitive?

    Where is the development of the UKGov OS, which ensures no Windows malware works on UKGov's desktops? It's called compartmentalization and is e.g. is a project of the Chinese government.

  20. Mikel


    I hope they look into OpenStack. It could solve a lot of expensive issues for the UK government. It's basically a free "cloud" software set.

  21. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Stop calling them "Billion £ contracts" when its £100m a year running for 10 yrs might be a start

    A £1Bn contract split into 10 sub contracts is *still* £100m each.

    Which is still firmly in "usual suspects" territory.

    In *reality* that's £10m per *year*, which is definitely in the (larger) end of SME land.

    The bottom line is *always* proprietary lockin by the supplier.

    This is *all* about the rules in the contract on documentation, source code, compiled versions etc.

    Government systems are *likely* to be 1 off sales, as it is *highly* unlikely you can build one flexible enough to accommodate the UK NI systems (NIRS II anyone?) and then sell it to someone else (Although IIRC that's *exactly* what one of the US wanted to do with it or another system, when they pitched the system as client server).

    Things would probably go easier if customers accepted 3 things.

    1)No software is bug free.

    2)Suppliers will release software with bugs. The question is what is an *acceptable* level, what should be done about them and who is responsible (IE who pays for the work).

    3)Suppliers can (and *have*) botch the requirements analysis and know they will make any money they lost low bidding the contract by charging through the nose for change requests. CSA system anyone?

    More creative mapping of government tasks to COTS software would probably save quite a bit. Looking for the right *class* of COTS software to work on and being prepared to *change* your existing (non computer) procedures to improve the fit.

    The trick is to avoid excessive "customization." ending up with effectively yet another proprietary system that cannot leverage later upgrades to the core software (a perennial screw up of in house modified MRP systems back in the day).

  22. Crisp
    Stop needs to seriously scale back its investment in IT

    At least until they can prove that they can spend the money responsibly.

  23. JDX Gold badge


    If I write code which links to a GPL library, all my code has to be released under GPL as well. This is one reason L-GPL exists. No?

    Using GPL software is fine and dandy. Modifying GPL software is fine and dandy. Using GPL code is not.

    I'd love it if this wasn't the case, but I'm pretty certain it is?

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