For all the other complaints I have about the British government occasionally they do something I agree with. Admittedly I’ve wanted them to do this for the best part of ten years but, hey, it’s finally happening.
Use open source software in preference to proprietary or closed source alternatives, in particular for operating systems, networking software, Web servers, databases and programming languages.
That little imperative comes from the beta version of the government service design manual. Essentially the UK government has formally expressed a preference for open source in IT policy.
I saw loads of Microsoft vendor lock-in happening when I was in school and it rather shocked me. Essentially that put the administration in a position where change was incredibly difficult and their bargaining power was essentially non-existent. Why would you agree to that?!
I rather like the way Liam Maxwell (the government’s chief technology officer) puts it:
…This approach will also ensure we are not locked in to some mad oligopoly outsource…
Open source isn’t always the best solution, sometimes something proprietary is streets ahead (*cough*) but this at least gives OSS a leg up. Personally I find it pretty abhorrent to see private companies putting our governing bodies over a barrel. If our money is to be spent then it should at least be used to get good value for money, not given away by the millions in exchange for closed-source stuff. I expect our public sector to be accountable to us for their deeds and the same should be true for their software.
Something else that comes out of this document is the following:
For unique needs and common problems which have yet to be solved well elsewhere, develop software by coding in the open and publish under an open source licence (Legal processes/Open standards and licensing).
This is something I like to see: code we paid for being available for us to check over and benefit from. We’ve got a great legacy of computing in the UK but it seems these days we’re not really doing much to encourage it.
Previously we manufactured stuff, these days we don’t really. It would seem we’re mostly just a service economy, from what I can see, and whilst that’s not the end of the world it might be nice to start making things again. In an increasingly digital environment why aren’t we striving to be a technology power house? Manufacturing can be outsourced but why not handle design and code here?
It makes me wonder what statistics will do for coding. Steam has a vast wealth of data on its users, Facebook too, the same can be said for any number of other things. Wouldn’t it be interesting to leverage this data to create digital products that are actually of use to the audience rather than guessing and hoping?
Anyway, if you’d like to read a little summary I found the news here.