The Federal Government has dramatically changed its position on the use of open source software by departments and agencies in Canberra, publishing a policy today that mandates the consideration of such options in any technology purchase.
The news comes days after a decision by peak IT strategy group the Australian Government Information Management Office to standardise on Microsoft’s Office Open XML document standard sparked controversy, due to what many saw as the format’s lack of compatibility with open source office suites such as OpenOffice.org.
In a statement published on AGIMO’s blog, Gary Gray — the Special Minister for State who oversees the agency — said the Government’s previous policy on open source, established in 2005, was one of “informed neutrality” — meaning agencies did not favour open source or proprietary solutions by default, but picked the technology which represented the best value for money and fit for purpose.
“Since then, there has been an increase in the maturity of the open source software products and the use of open source software by governments around the world. In recent years, many governments have revised their policies to increase the adoption of open source software,” wrote Gray.
“This revised Australian Government policy on open source software will ensure that we maintain international best practice and that our purchases of software will continue to reflect best value for money for the Government.” Agencies will be required to comply with the new so-called Open Source Software Policy Principles from 1 March this year.
The principles — published online (RTF) — require that when buying software worth more than $80,000, agencies “are required to include in their procurement plan that open source software will be considerd equally alongside proprietary software” — including documenting how they considered open source software during the process.
In addition, departments and agencies are now required to “actively participate” in open source software communities and contribute back where appropriate.
The move comes just days after AGIMO has faced a large degree of criticism for what some have seen as a lack of support for open standards and open source software.
Last week, AGIMO published its Common Operating Environment Policy, which contains a number of guidelines restricting how departments and agencies should allow users to access their desktops. The document recommends users not be allowed administrative access to their PCs, requires Microsoft’s Office Open XML document standard, and places restrictions on how web browsers can be used, for example.
AGIMO’s research prior to writing the policy had shown that more than 99.5 percent of government PCs were based on Windows, with more than 86 percent using Microsoft Office. IBM’s Lotus Symphony was the runner up with just under 13 percent usage. Use of open source browsers such as Firefox was sparse in Government — as was use of OpenOffice.org.