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Bristol Council mulls mixed FOSS, Microsoft upgrade

One step back, two steps forward

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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. ®

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