MANHASSET, N.Y. The British are coming to the open-source software community.
This week, government agencies got the go-ahead to use Linux and other open-source products in a report published by the U.K. Office of Government Commerce (OGC). The report, which analyzed the costs and benefits of open-source software in several pilot programs, concluded that open-source infrastructure and server products provided a "viable and credible alternative to proprietary software" for the U.K. public sector.
"OSS server and infrastructure products," the report stated, "are now perceived by the market as mature, gaining increasing acceptance, and delivering significant value."
A number of governments around the world have adopted Linux and open-source software to some extent. In Europe, the city of Munich recently approved a switch from Windows to Linux for 14,000 PCs, and the city of Paris is reportedly considering a similar move. Other nations, especially in Asia and South America, mandate the use of open-source software wherever possible and are developing regional Linux distributions.
Microsoft, which continues to dominate the public-sector software market, has responded with price cuts and a program that gives limited access to Windows and Office source code. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer also recently circulated an email to customers and partners, reiterating the company's claims that Windows is more secure and offers a lower total cost of ownership than Linux.
According to the U.K. report, a variety of government agencies participated in open-source software pilot studies between late 2003 and mid-2004.
"These pilots provided us with valuable evidence on open-source software," said John Oughton, OGC chief executive. "They show it could support government bodies by offering efficient and cost-effective IT solutions."
The OGC report, Oughton stated, would give U.K. government agencies the ability to make "informed, value-for-money judgments when deciding upon which solution best suits their needs."
After evaluating the pilot studies, the OGC concluded that open-source software is "now a viable desktop alternative for the majority of government users" and that interoperability generally was not a major problem. The report identified major cost savings due to the use of open-source products, including server consolidation and delayed hardware replacement, and it noted the environmental benefit of discarding obsolete hardware less often than before.
The report also, however, identified potential problems with open-source desktop and business applications, weighing cost savings against potential compatibility and performance problems. "OSS Business Applications are generally still immature," the report states. "Those applications . . . are currently more appropriate for small or medium-sized businesses than for large public-sector bodies."