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Consider government open source, donít mandate it
Posted on 9-Aug-2016 07:15 by Bill Bennett. | Tags Filed under: News.

Act Party leader David Seymour wants the New Zealand government to consider open source software.

In Act calls on government to support open source software at the NBR, he says the government needs to take a new approach when buying software procurement.

It can save the taxpayer large sums of money.

Seymour tells the NBR:

ďA substantial number of civil servants could generate the same output using open source software and open document formats, instead of proprietary software like Microsoft Office.”

Act isnít the only political party to call for government to consider using more open source software. It is also Green Party policy.

The key word is consider.

While thereís an argument for asking public servants use open source apps in place of Microsoft Office, thatís only part of the story.

Mandating open source

Mandating open source can be a straight-jacket. There are times when it is the right tool for a job, there are times when it is not. Far better to let decision makers nearer the coal face choose what people need. Pragmatism should trump dogma.

Itís not just Microsoft Office. There are government agencies using Google Documents. While licences are cheaper, the software isnít free and, if anything, the data is more locked away than with Office.

If anything, rules should forbidding government departments buying software from companies not paying their fair share of tax.

Sure, many argue that Google isnít breaking any laws, but nor would a government be breaking any laws if it chose to spend taxpayer funds with companies that are good citizens.

Itís one thing to insist public servants write memos using open source apps, but inflexible, expensive software isnít restricted to desktop productivity apps.

Seymour thinks the government can save as much as $52 million ďevery four or five yearsĒ from dropping office. Itís likely at least that much money will also be tied up in proprietary databases.

Proprietary databases

Some proprietary databases are notoriously difficult to replace. The lock customers†into long, expensive support contracts. At times some database licences resemble ransomware.

Writing at the New Zealand Open Source Society website Dave Lane has another perspective:

ďWhile the NZOSS is gratified to see Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) being advocated by the Act Party (and the Greens have similarly advocated it for at least the past decade) we think that FOSS sells itself if the playing field is level. At present it is not.Ē

Good point. Formally mandating open standards for government apps would help level the playing field.

Letís also level the software playing field in a wider sense. Itís not just open source versus proprietary, we also need to level the playing field for New Zealand tech companies allowing them to win more government contracts.

Keeping local technology firms out of such contracts would be unthinkable in most other countries.

Consider government open source, don’t mandate it was first posted at

Filed under: Enterprise Tagged: government, open source

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