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AU Government to use open source to break lock-ins

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IT vendors pushing costly proprietary software lock-ins have been warned that feeding at the $4.2 billion IT trough of the Australian taxpayer is over and a strict and a new procurement diet for vendors will be personally enforced by the Special Minister of State, Senator Eric Abetz.

A copy of "A Guide to Open Source Software" prepared by Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO), exclusively obtained by Computerworld, reveals new guidelines that state if an equal or superior open source product adequately fits the government's needs, it will be expected to be objectively considered by public servants alongside proprietary offerings.

Due to be officially released at the Open Computing in Government conference in Canberra next week, the government guide to open source is the most exhaustive analysis and evaluation of open source for use in government to date.

"This is an important document for both the government and for the open source community. For the first time, government agencies will now have access to an explanatory document about open source software," Abetz told Computerworld.

"The aim of this document is to explode some of the myths surrounding open source software and to acknowledge it as a viable option which should be considered when undertaking government software procurement," he added.

The document's forward from Abetz states, "All solutions - open source or proprietary - which can meet an agency's functional specifications should be considered by an agency when it is undertaking software procurement."

The document also cautions that government agencies preparing "requests for tender need to take care to avoid introducing unintentional barriers that may discourage or inhibit open source vendors and resellers from submitting responses".

Specifically, agencies are advised to avoid specifying products by name or mandating that solutions be delivered using a named proprietary or otherwise named solution.

On the licensing front, the guide goes as far as to provide a matrix as to what sort of open source licence is most appropriate for various government uses. This includes not only the development and sharing of open source solutions (presumably applications) by and for the government, but clear guidance that government agencies can "link open source product with internally developed code and distribute beyond the Australian government as a proprietary product".

However, it is on the subject of lock-ins that the open source guide by far delivers the strongest warning yet the government will not tolerate being led by the nose by vendors at taxpayers' expense.

Under the heading "Risk analysis and risk management", the document states: "One high-level risk associated with proprietary software technology (particularly software only available from a single publisher or supplier) is the financial risk of potentially high termination costs. This risk arises for a number of reasons, but the most important issue is the lack of alternative support for the software in question.

"The result is a lock-in scenario where an agency is tied to a particular supplier with little room for negotiation. This stems from the prohibitively high cost of moving away from a particular piece of technology for which there is no functional or interoperable equivalent from an alternative supplier.

"Such scenarios allow the current vendor to increase future product pricing, support cost structures or other contractual terms," the guide states.

It also refers to previous advice from AGIMO that, "...agencies develop a transition / termination strategy during the original procurement process to reduce the risk of future problems for the agency".


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