back to article Number 10 shuts wallet on closed-source IT projects

Government IT projects that don’t explore alternatives to closed and proprietary software are getting kicked back and denied funding. The civil servant running open source, open standards and information management under No 10’s digital change agenda called such spending controls a “key gateway” in complying with new IT …

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Linux

"Government IT projects that don’t explore alternatives to closed and proprietary software are getting kicked back and denied funding." -- Whereas, open source based projects get denied funding, but, hey it's free* software anyway.

* Certain aspects of an open source project may cost money to actually implement.

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Anonymous Coward

A sensible and lucid statement

that balances the importance of both closed and open source, and makes good use of taxpayers money by forcing vendors to work for contracts rather than just "roll them over".

I give this Rahid guy 12 months before he quits over the stress induced from trying to overcome the public services natural reticence to change.

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Re: A sensible and lucid statement

I give this Rahid guy 12 months before he quits over the stress induced from trying to overcome the public services natural reticence to change.

I'm not sure about that. All he has to do is read the request and stamp it with the 'Funding Denied' stamp if he can't find any information about Open Source in it. All the stress is going to hit EDS and friends as they suddenly discover that any one who knows about this open source stuff doesn't want to work for them.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: A sensible and lucid statement

Nah, the knocked-back party will go above this guys head to his boss and ask for an exception "because I saved your life at Umbuto Gorge" (or the current public service equivalent).

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Re: A sensible and lucid statement

More likely he'll run off to a cloud consultancy at a grossly inflated salary because of his special insight into government cloud strategy.

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"The government has convinced the CESG, which sets security standards in government, to address this issue with a statement saying open source as a category is no more or less secure than closed proprietary software."

What makes you believe that CESG thinks *any* software is secure? All this says is that CESG will apply the same rigorous standards irrespective of where the software originates, it says nothing in favour of open source derived software.

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Anonymous Coward

What makes you believe that CESG thinks *any* software is secure?

I can tell you for certain that they are of the belief that no software is secure. It may be secure enough (with or without added mitigation tactics) but they definitely don't ever described something as actually being secure!

Quite rightly IMHO

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Linux

Sense from the public sector? wow I am shocked...

Open source software is great at many generic tasks, and I hope they start to switch away from MS to Linux & LibreOffice, and use Apache/MySQL or similar for all their new web services.

Of course not all software will be open source, it makes sense to use the right tool for the right job.

And just because open source is used, it does not mean its free, the suppliers who will install/develop for you still need paying, the difference is there are less licenses to pay so costs should be lower.

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Free as in beer, or not.

"And just because open source is used, it does not mean its free,"

That depends on what you mean by "free".

Free, as in free beer, no, I agree, free software is not without cost. But free, as in the ability to hack, alter and mould to your requirements, free software does offer all those possibilities.

Its not just the monetary implications that government should be looking at, just as important, if not more so, is the freedom from vendor lock-in and the knowledge that if one supplier goes under there are many more ready and willing to pick up the pieces.

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I always thought schools should move over to open source alternatives.

Not only would money be saved in licencing (I don't believe the argument that the increased cost of support would negate this - as support skills increase in open source alternatives this would drop anyway), but kids would leave with skills in Linux and cheaper office tools, opening the doors to employers to use them, and they too would save money. The cost of getting your kids a home computer for school work would drop as well.

Worse case, employers still use Windows, tax payers have still saved and our kids have broader computer knowledge.

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Childcatcher

Schools move to open source? Why yes. Why not?

After all, it wasn't the schools that asked to use Windows & Co. in the first place. It was misinformed governors and politicians that thought that the only thing a computer was good for was for teaching the upcoming generation how to use Word, Excel and so forth.

Of course, now we know better, which is why projects such as the Rasberry Pi or that programming project that introduces prospective programmers to old 8-bit computers are getting increasing support. Now all we need to do is convince the same people that computers aren't just for teaching kids how to program as well! If open source can do it, then I've no problem.

I'm still sceptical...

(...the greater good...)

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Not there to make friends

The Cabinet Office defined in five words there...

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Genius!

Evil. But whoever thought that up is a genius!

Now they get to spend entire IT budgets arguing between themselves, with no contract awarded whatsoever! By the time it's all sorted, the budget has been burned by the civil servants!

You got to admit, that's really really clever! I just love these guys!

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Re: Genius!

What do you mean now, they always have behaved like this, and not just in IT, but it's not the Civil Servants who burn the budget, its usually the lawyers and procurement consultants.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Genius!

By that logic they should accept the first contract that passes their desk so that the smallest amount of the budget is burned by the civil servants.

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I bet its busy in the Cayman islands at the moment.

what with all the lobbying money being prepared to fight this!

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Anonymous Coward

Great,but

Open source isn't the fix for big government IT disasters. Most big public sector software suites are huge monolithic beasts. They are designed to micromanage a billion complex little processes and are not just the imaginary 'office user' environment certain zealots dream of. Even if open source, you'd have to be a suicidal IT manager to try to fork off from the main suite as the guys selling this stuff have you by the short and curlies. Most will go out of their way to make sure you don't bolt on unapproved third party products for example, usually at a contractual level for a start. At a very basic level, even using your own unapproved reporting suite can be a headache - SQL data structures will change between releases so you can't just say sod it, I'm using Crystal. Given reporting endless meaningless stats is the life blood of public sector, nah.. , Other components you might want to use from the main build will suddenly not interoperate, you won't get support etc etc

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Re: Great,but

The problem with government IT is that they start large. They try and define what it is they want, up front, and spend years doing it. Then they wonder why their Chinese-whispered definition of a giant ball-of-mud process that they've cobbled together from treasury tags and paper mache moistened with the tears of their employees, doesn't produce good software.

Sit the developer with the users. Get them to explain what it is they are actually trying to achieve, rather than trying to define the voodoo ritual they currently use to achieve it. Implement something small. Repeat.

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Re: Great,but

> The problem with government IT is that they start large.

Yes, it's government. It works on a national scale. That's what

government does.

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"Sit the developer with the users."

Truer words were never spoken. Governments come, blather about the changes they want to make, and then go. Ministers are replaced by ministers. Public servants - the people who actually use the software - remain. Software programmers should spend their time asking then what they want before a single line of code is written. It might be something that handles payroll or inventory - unromantic but necessary topics. So make the software fit to use.

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Re: Great,but

>> The problem with government IT is that they start large.

>Yes, it's government. It works on a national scale. That's what government does.

Most of the time the problem is that it doesn't work, at any scale. And just because the same job is being done all across the country does not mean that a single system is required for everyone doing that job.

There has been in government IT projects over the last decade and more an assumption that monolithic solutions are the only ones that a government should be trying, and eyewateringly humungous amounts of money have been wasted trying to replace working multiple local systems with single national ones (usually written by EDS). I hope the new approach they're showing now is more than a nod to "open source" as a freebie buzzword, but also rethinking how government IT development ought to be done.

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It won't really happen

What software, exactly are they going to use in a cloud. Government is shifting towards ERP and packaged solutions, very few of those, if any, are open source, some can use databases or Linux, but certainly don't integrate to Open Office et. al. The vast majority of applications work on Windows and rely on Orifice for desktop integration.

Don't get me wrong, I think it's a great idea, it'll keep me in consultancy fees for years to come, but you can bet those in the cabinet office who had this idea, really don't understand their domain, or Open Source.

The outsourcers have spent years paring down their software support to just a few key vendors that they can charge low rates for, an Ok we can and do do open source, but you pay a premium because it's not mainstream technology.

How most users will react to having to use an Open Source Office alternative is anybodies guess, most civil service departments went Office because that was what their users had at home and the users liked it.

For open source to really get traction, there needs to be a coherent plan to try it out, with the cabinet office saying, this project will be open source, and it will be a pathfinder, but they don't want the cost or risk, and competitively it's too much risk for an SI to bid open source against, say Microsoft.

So Rahid, if Open Source is the way to go find a proper project you can actually deliver and take the risk.

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How can we support this guy?

Tariq will come under immense pressure as there is so much money involved. He'll probably be offered a consultancy job with MS/EDS/usual suspects - millions per year - no need to actually do anything - in other words 'the usual'. ISTR MS have previous in this area.

Obviously, as anyone with experience and intelligence knows, open source software is a huge, massive improvement. Reduced costs, more flexibility, improved security, etc etc etc. Problem is - huge corps will lose out on lovely guaranteed government (taxpayer) money. Switching to open source software could go a huge way towards reducing our deficit.

Let's hope Tariq can get his dept filled with other intelligent people - or can get other informed people into positions within other departments. Or get backing from other open source friendly companies such as Red Hat.

Either that or let's hope he's on a mission.

Tariq - if you're reading. The pressure on you is going to be huge, subtle - stick, carrot - they'll probably try both. Please stick to your guns. You have a chance here to transform IT and stop billions of wasted pounds going to the US. You will get your reward later - the thanks from the British people. Also, there's no point in being extremely rich if you feel like a shit.

My other half worked at a company where a guy worked who had sold out his great graphics app to MS who then shut it down. He was then forbidden by the buy-out contract from working in that area of software.

OK, he could come to work in a different car every day - but he was a miserable little guy.

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Anonymous Coward

Maybe I misread it

and it's just second-hand info read here at ElReg anyway, but did they say "*look* at Open Source"?

Does that mean that all BigGovITSupplier has to do is add a sentence to their bids with something like "we look at Open Source alternatives, and we still think what we're selling is better"?

I'm not a big fan of the US in many angles, but their policy that government-funded works (including software) are in the public domain is very laudable. Why do we on this side of the pond copy them on all the bad things and can't take an example on any of the good stuff?

Any software bought by government should come from the best supplier, and any software written *for* the government should be free and open source.

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Shouldn't there always be sourcecode?

I mean seriously, imagine spending money on some software, for example 100k for some specialized piece of program. Back then you had a PDP-11 running RSX. Now slowly your hardware is falling apart. How can you switch to something easier to maintain without having the source code?

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Free to download, 400 per annum for security patches.

Free software is more expensive to support, but the APIs, quality and performance are MUCH better. And, you are free to alter and share.

The big difficulty is: None of these strong points are of much interest in government or public sector circles.

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its not about the type of software

Its all about the people who manage the project, if smart they will pick the best long term, cheapest solution for their needs. With proper contracts you'll own the IP and source code and have good documentation to go elsewhere when needed.

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Anonymous Coward

Reading between the lines,....

insisting on "looking at open source" isn't just asking for a response saying "yes, we did". I expect there will need to be some concrete analysis done and presented to the hierarchy to demonstrate that it took place.

This seems to me to be the start of an attempt at culture change. The smart move is in not making so much of a wrench that people start resisting from the outset. I expect further announcements on IT strategy once the public service has gotten used to the concepts of more analysis and accountability in IT.

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Windows

Living in the 'Land of the Penguin' as I do...

I just don't understand why, in my municipality of Oulu, the local Gov. don't just 'grow a pair' and get cracking, making an example for the rest of Finland. Grief, if this village (by American standards) of 140,000 folks can get this far* we should be at least looking a bit deeper. German Foreign Office tried**, but reversed, for unclear reasons.

After this incoming price-hike (I understand only UK gov. is 'protected' - please correct) they might think again.

If it's training, it's a big heads-up for the universities to pal up with other firms (F-Secure, Codenomicon etc. are on my doorstep) and get that sorted.

"Oulu - Poster Child for FOSS in Government" has a nice ring to it, somehow...Surely this soon-to-be-lit firecracker means the time is NOW!

*http://www.intelligentcommunity.org/index.php?src=news&srctype=detail&category=Partner%20News&refno=682

**http://www.h-online.com/open/features/Background-German-Foreign-Office-drops-Linux-1194263.html

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