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The government has published a new policy aimed at promoting the use of open source software in the public sector.

It is also aimed at promoting open standards and encouraging the re-use of IT solutions. Measures include an education programme, guidance on procurement from the Chief Information Officers (CIO) Council and assessment of new products.

These are among the 10 points of an action plan that forms the centrepiece of the policy.

There are two other main elements. One is to promote open standards by ensuring systems are interoperable and avoiding getting locked into a particular product when possible. The other is that the government will look at the re-use of what it has already bought and aim to make successful solutions available across government.

The Cabinet Office said these measures will help to provide better value for money for taxpayers.

Among the 10 points of the government's action plan are the following:

  • The CIO Council and the Office of Government Commerce will develop guidance to ensure open source (in which the source code of the software is freely available), will be given the same consideration as proprietary products. This will include a specification of compliance with open standards (which makes the standards for interoperability freely available) and advice for public sector purchasers on licensing, warranty and indemnity issues for open source.
  • The two bodies will also set up a programme of education and capability building in the field.
  • The CIO Council will regularly assess open source products for their maturity and recommend those that meet agreed criteria.
  • It will also work with systems integrators and software suppliers to open up their solutions to meet open standards, to include open source and facilitate re-use.
  • The government will specify requirements by reference to open standards and require compliance with open standards in solutions where feasible.
  • Government purchasers will use a standard OGC approved OJEU clause to make clear that solutions are purchased on the basis that they may be re-used elsewhere in the public sector.

Tom Watson, the minister for digital engagement, said the new policy reflects changes to both the open source market and the government's approach to IT.

"The world of technology has moved on hugely since we last set out our thinking on open source, which is why it was so important to update our policy," he said.

"Open source products are more competitive and have become easier to include in business, and major players in the IT industry now support the use of open standards. Several government departments already use open source components and I hope this new policy will encourage others to follow suit.

"Open source software is a not a cure all remedy and is not the only solution to IT questions. However, by levelling the playing field and allowing open source to be as competitive as possible we can ensure that taxpayers get maximum value for money from government IT, something that is more important than ever during the worldwide financial climate."

The announcement follows a recent declaration by shadow chancellor George Osborne that the Conservative Party favours the greater use of open source and would take action to prove a "level playing field".

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

Kablenet's GC weekly is a free email newsletter covering the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. To register click here.

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