UK city council claims open-source success

Birmingham City Council talks of Linux project success

Vendor lock-in

Graham Taylor of Open Forum Europe (OFE) said one of the key concerns emerging out of the trial is the effect of vendor lock-in, with particular key applications dictating the choice of operating system. "For me this was the major issue emerging," Taylor said. "Our estimate is that up to 90 percent of U.K. public-sector organizations have this as their current position, and can no longer freely choose next steps in procurement."

OFE and OSA have developed a certification scheme called Certified Open, designed to encourage applications to certify on open source platforms, which will launch in the new year. While attempting to design and implement a Linux desktop system that could be used by staff and the general public with limited technical knowledge turned out to be an onerous and frustrating chore, by contrast, many of the open source applications themselves ran smoothly and went over well with users.

OpenOffice, for one, met little or no resistance with most users, many of whom said they didn't notice they'd been using a different application. (Power users did face some problems.) The public had no trouble using Firefox on public terminals and some said they preferred the open-source desktop to Windows. "It appears that OpenOffice provides a satisfactory equivalent to Microsoft products for those using basic or intermediate functionality," iMpower found.

Future impact

The trial's findings will be used by the OSA to give other public-sector bodies background when they consider using open source. The OSA has backed other, more unambiguously successful open source projects, such as Bristol's implementation of StarOffice, which saved it hundreds of thousands of pounds in one-off licence costs.

The U.K. has less than average usage of open source compared with other E.U. countries, according to a report by the University of Maastricht, with 32.1 percent of all U.K. local government users on open source compared to the 78.7 percent European average.

That lack of experience adds to the difficulty of public sector bodies getting involved with open source, iMpower found. One high-profile open source failure was the London borough of Newham's decision to scrap an open source trial in favor of upgrading to Windows XP in 2004. That came following Microsoft's offer to provide free consultancy to the council and a subsequent deal struck with Newham Council that remains undisclosed but which is widely assumed to offer a huge discount on Windows licences. Newham Council will be appearing alongside Microsoft today at the launch of Windows Vista and Microsoft Office 2007.

In October 2003, the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) and the Office of the e-Envoy (OeE) announced they would fund IBM to run nine proof-of-concept open source trials designed to measure the cost-benefits of open source over proprietary software such as Windows. Participants were to include the OeE, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Powys CC, Newham and Ofwat, with Newham dropping out. None of the trials have led to further rollouts.

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