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UK.gov IT minister makes open source gaffe over browsers

Angela Smith hits wrong note on Opera

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The UK government’s current minister in charge of the IT brief has got her knickers in a twist over web browsers by wrongly stating that Opera is based on open source technology.

Angela E Smith, Labour MP for Basildon and Thurrock, took over some of the Cabinet Office responsibilities of “digital engagement” minister Tom Watson in October last year, after he quit the front bench in June 2009.

Since then Smith has overseen the government’s latest rejig to its open source and open standards software procurement policy, following pressure from OSS vendors last autumn.

However, the minister seems to still be struggling with the fundamental differences between proprietary and open source-developed technology.

Smith, who previously served as a private parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Gordon Brown, made the boo boo in answer to a question tabled by Tory MP for Horsham Francis Maude.

The shadow Cabinet Office minster asked Smith “what her policy is in respect of the installation and use of Internet Explorer, (b) Firefox and (c) Opera website browsers by government departments”.

Smith, who is responsible for the information and security brief across Whitehall, made a confident but ultimately inaccurate reply about where UK.gov stands on the aforementioned browsers.

“Government policy regarding installation and use of web browsers is that all decisions must be in line with value for money requirements," she noted.

"In addition, the ‘Open Source, Open Standards, Re-use’ strategy requires departments to consider open source browsers such as Firefox and Opera on a level basis with proprietary browsers such as Internet Explorer.”

The minister has previously attacked what she described as "a small number of global organisations" in the IT world that lack the "philanthropic spirit" so beautifully exemplified by World-Wide-Web inventor-extraordinaire Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

But someone clearly needs to tell Smith, who is a big fan of David Essex and The Osmonds, that the Norwegian browser maker - Opera Software - is in fact a multinational company based in Oslo, pulling in plenty of kroner to boot. ®

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