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Open source 'too costly' for Irish e-gov

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E-government in Ireland will be built using open standards technology, which may not be open source software such as Linux, Ireland's e-minister Mary Hanafin has confirmed. Speaking at the Irish Software Association's 16th annual conference, sponsored by Microsoft, O'Donnell Sweeney and ACT Venture Capital, minister Hanafin gave a brief overview of the state of Ireland's e-government plans and said that an update to the government's ICT strategy document "New Connections" would be published before May.

"The use of open standards is critical to the government's plans," she said. "But it is important to remember that open standards are not the same as open source." Minister Hanafin indicated that Ireland's e-government system, once fully constructed, needs to last for several decades and must therefore be upgradeable. "Using open standards gives us that option."

She added that the government had looked into the long-term cost of various architectures and had determined that using only open source software could, in the long run, be more expensive. "The long-term cost of open source may outweigh the short term savings," she said.

Open standards software products are designed to be interoperable with software from other manufacturers, but can be proprietary technologies. Companies like IBM and Microsoft - huge advocates for strong intellectual property law and by extention proprietary software - are supporters of open standards, particularly Web Services architectures. The pair, along with BEA Systems and Verisign, even founded the Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I), which promotes the technology.

Microsoft - perhaps the staunchest supporter of proprietary software - recently announced the release of WSE (Web Services Enhancements) 2.0 to give software developers support for Web Services specifications, including WS-Security, WS-Routing, WS-Addressing, WS-ReliableMessaging and WS-Attachments.

The open source software movement, meanwhile, is not focused on pushing common technical standards, although many in the movement support such initiatives. Open source backers aim to create a market where software code is open to development and modification, which can in some instances undermine interoperability.

The question over open source or open standards in Irish e-government is especially pertinent now that work on Ireland's long-awaited Public Services Broker has commenced after BearingPoint won the contract. When completed, the Public Services Broker - which is also now called reachservices - will serve as a kind of central nervous system for Irish e-government services, linking practically all government departments and agencies so that information on citizens can be shared.

Minister Hanafin said on Thursday that phase one of the PSB should be completed by June 2004.

© ENN

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