Is the Smart State confused about open source?

Big business, not individuals driving free software

The Queensland government may pride itself on being the "Smart State", but when it comes to open source software adoption it is still a hit and miss affair, a new study has found.

Brisbane-based research firm Longhaus conducted a survey of 21 public sector organizations within Queensland asking what factors are the main reason for adopting open source software.

Vendor neutrality was the leading driver with six responses, followed by cost with four. Reliability and responsiveness, and fostering innovation both scored two votes, and staff skills and policy requirement were at the bottom with one vote each.

Longhaus did not release which departments participated in the survey, only that "core" agencies like transport, health and education were involved.

The company's research director Sam Higgins said although Queensland has entered into high-profile and large-scale procurement contracts with the big software vendors, those large commercial agreements are not stopping people from investigating options.

"A couple said they were actively avoiding it, and when asked whether it was policy driven or risk driven, it was mainly policy," Higgins said, adding only one agency actively trying to stop open source use.

Higgins believes there is a strong emphasis on development and renewing vertical apps within the state government at the moment and that's where open source is most prolific.

"The days of paying a vendor for a development suite are long gone," he said. "There is a high degree of interest in application development, databases, and application servers which are being downloaded for nothing."

In a somewhat controversial view, Longhaus believes a lot of open source communities are now dominated by vendors who are in it for some financial gain.

"Open source is no longer a movement but it is a market and we see that by looking at large vendors being the driving force and less and less individual contributors," Higgins said.

Longhaus even goes so far to say its study highlights that community contribution dimension of open source development is under serious risk of collapse.

When asked how Queensland compares with other states for open source adoption, Higgins said is likely to be on par with the other states, but there is a perception that adoption is somehow stifled if large procurement agreements are in place.

"It's not stifled by Microsoft agreements [as] adoption is in the right areas," he said. "Should the government put effort in a CMS which is already commodity? It should be in vertical applications like school management systems and put those apps in the public domain."

Government departments with software IP should not just release the code as an open source project but should partner with an open source vendor to make it more successful.

"There should be a policy to release key government software as open source because government departments do not have a good history of commercialization," Higgins said, adding they should also look at creating "gated" open source communities where participants are other government agencies.

Longhaus' research also indicated a lack of interest in records and document management at the state level.

Regarding the upgrade of Queensland's existing Novell infrastructure, Higgins said Novell will need to convince the central IT infrastructure company Citec that Linux is a viable way forward.

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