Bristol Council mulls mixed FOSS, Microsoft upgrade
One step back, two steps forward
A Bristol City councillor is trying to convince the council’s cabinet to adopt open source software alongside Microsoft’s Office and Windows 7.
The council has been seen as something of a poster child for open source public sector contracts in the past. In November 2004 it declared plans to shift 5,000 workers off proprietary desktop software over to Sun Microsystem’s StarOffice 7, in a move it said at the time would save £1.4m by 2009.
One year on from that move, the council is now mulling ways to replace its ageing desktop software and collaboration software in a project estimated to cost £1.5m over the next five years.
On 30 September Bristol City councillors will be asked to adopt a proposal, steered by UK open source consultancy outfit Sirius Corporation, to “commit resources” for FOSS tech.
But sadly for the council, and the UK open source community at large, Bristol can’t ditch Microsoft completely yet.
“This is a pragmatic proposal that delivers more key functions through open source products, but appreciating that much of the core desktop toolset and operating system still needs to use Microsoft technology,” said Bristol City cabinet member Mark Wright.
“The trouble has been that external partners have not kept pace with open source solutions, so we find ourselves having to take this compromise, but hopefully only in the short term. The proposed licensing arrangements will enable an exit point after three years should the move to a full open source environment be feasible.”
He said the council, whose IT service director Paul Arrigoni recommended the mixed open source and proprietary software setting, would try to convince its partners to push the open agenda without cutting the council off from the outside world.
“By also installing the free OpenOffice suite on every council PC we will ensure that no partner organisation that makes the jump to OpenOffice will be afflicted with compatibility problems when they share documents with us,” said Wright.
“So we are taking a different angle in promoting open source solutions. To me this feels like one step back, two steps forward. I’m hoping for the coalition government progressing policy quickly in this area, so that our decisions in three years’ time will be easier.”
The Sirius Corp’s boss, Mark Taylor, described the proposed tech compromise at Bristol City Council as “groundbreaking”, despite it remaining tied to Microsoft software.
“Bristol City Council's approach to open source is well thought through, realistic and pragmatic. It shows a thorough understanding of both the capabilities of open source software, and the limitations of the current stage of adoption in the UK Public Sector as a whole,” he noted. ®
(Anonymous 'cause I work there.. for the moment)
StarOffice is a perfectly acceptable product if used in isolation. In many ways it is a "better" product than MS Office, especially StarCalc which is much more rigorous than Excel. (Sadly the charting and analysis tools aren't as good, which is a huge problem for those who love exotic Excel charts and pivot tables) But nobody else in the entire universe uses it, so Microsoft file formats are essential for communication with the outside world. (Councils do a lot of that). As for partners not keeping up with open source, the reality is that partners look at the market share of FOSS in the local government field and just don't bother.
Integrating StarOffice with almost any outside system is like pulling teeth, I've done it but I heave a sigh of relief when I can switch back to Microsoft products. Check on Amazon for the number of MS Office books and the number of Open/StarOffice books. Training courses? Try and find some consultants who have a real in depth knowledge of StarOffice.
The low license cost of StarOffice does appeal at first sight, but the hidden costs of transitioning from MS to StarOffice can be enormous. And for a varietty of entirely plausible reasons, most users end up with both anyway. Hardball negociation with Microsoft can lead to significant reductions in licensing costs, especially as part of a larger infrastructure revamp.
(mines the coat with the Word ODF patch in the pocket)
Waste of tax money
Pff... how much money could this project possibly save? Based on their old figures they would have saved £56 per user per year, presumably not taking into account all the Office installs alongside Star Office (or else why is it still there?) and all the buggering about involved in using a non-standard - as in real-world standard - Office system. It just doesn't add up.
As for this project - they're still putting Office on every machine, but now they are also going to install OpenOffice. So now they have two Office systems to support - how much more is that going to cost? It's a total waste of money.
I' also can't see why this article didn't ask them how much they actually saved on their Star Office deployment instead of just reporting that it was originally projected to save £1.4 million in the five years since 2004.
Cue article in 2013:
"Bristol City Council today announced a program to introduce Google Office alongside Microsoft Office for their 5000 staff in...."
Can you perhaps
break down for us what those partners will need to do in those six months ? Shouldn't be hard as you were very specific with the number, you obviously know all about it.