Open source software can benefit government and the wider community through improving interoperability and reducing costs, according to the Australian Government chief information officer, Ann Steward.
In her forward to the newly updated and released Guide to Open Source Software for Australian Government Agencies, Steward wrote that the guide needed to be revised and updated due to the increasing maturity of open source software and the release of the government’s Open Source Software Policy.
“This guide provides practical information to assist agencies assess open source software solutions, including the key issues to consider when procuring open source software,” the forward reads.
“This guide also provides information on the types of open source software licences, licensing risks and risk mitigation techniques.”
Steward also offers an updated definition and recognition of open source, which is likely to please advocates of the software form such as Richard Stallman, who has argued that governments should be required to abandon proprietary software if they are to properly serve their citizens.
“Open source software is an alternative to proprietary software that provides users with the ability to view, copy, modify and distribute the software, subject to licensing conditions,” the forward reads.
“Open source software can offer benefits to both the Australian Government and wider community, such as improving interoperability and possible cost savings.”
The guide itself also seeks to define open source and dispel what the government views as common misperceptions about the software, such as its confusion with public domain software, shareware, community source software and freeware.
"Open source software is often linked with open standards; however, not all open source software products use open standards,” the guide reads.
“Another common misconception about open source software is that it can always be obtained free of financial cost.
“When open source software is labelled as 'free', that word refers to the ability of people to read, modify and redistribute the source code of the software, not the cost of the software.
“The definition of open source software does not preclude people from selling the software. However, despite this, open source software is usually available free of upfront costs, although agencies still need to be aware of the total cost of ownership (TCO).”
The guide also lists what the government views as the many benefits of open source software, such as lack of upfront payment, the encouragement of a competitive support services market, collaboration, fewer restrictions, direct user control, the potential to reduce vendor lock-in, quicker additions of functionality and the ability to view and modify source code.
The Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) is calling on industry comment on the updated guide on its official blog.
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