IT’S MANDATORY: Govt forces open source option


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

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

Image credit: Ian Burt, Creative Commons


  1. I love the ‘use of open source browsers such as Firefox was sparse in Government …’. More like the ‘acknowledge use’ is low.

    And then there are those people who take their work home and use Open Office rather than pay for a copy of Microsoft Office …

  2. This is strange.

    Open Source is all well and good, and in many instances provides the best solution to a given computing problem. But sometimes it doesn’t…

    If OS is the best way to tackle a problem, great. If it isn’t, don’t use it.

    There is some brilliant open source solutions out there. There are also some very poor ones.

    • That sounds kind of like what the article is saying. Previously many gov agencies and departments policy (perhaps not policy – more like culture) that “we don’t use open source here”, perhaps due to a negative past experience, legal issues, or simply due to lack of understanding of the concept.

      The new policy isn’t forcing them to use OSS software, just that it “should be considered equally”. An excellent move!

    • Michael, isn’t that exactly what the new guidelines provide for? It isn’t a policy to make open source MANDATORY (as per the headline) – just ensuring that it gets MANDATORY consideration based on value-for-money (not price) considerations.

      I’ve worked in a number of government agencies that paid big bucks for proprietary software only to find themselves trapped into escalating commercial support costs when the initial contract expires. In several cases the product delivered never met the claims of the sales team anyway. I have also tried to have Open Source solutions evaluated alongside proprietary ones only to be told that “the government doesn’t use shareware”.

      This policy is great news but, even as an open source users and advocate, I really don’t expect to see radical change on the desktop – it will be in new, specialised apps that we MIGHT see some gradual change.

    • I have no idea why the headline includes the confusing word “MANDATORY”, but the policy requires that open source and proprietary solutions be considered on equal footing. If it’s shit, it’s shit, either way. :-)

      • The mandatory word aside, I read the policy as stronger than that; not just requiring they be on an equal footing, but actively requiring agencies to look for a FOSS alternative and justify why they didn’t pick it. It’s an ‘active’ policy, not a ‘neutral’ one.

  3. Hey everyone, I’ve posted my opinion on this here:

    Why AGIMO’s open source policy will change nothing:

    In short, I believe this policy won’t get anywhere. An excerpt:

    AGIMO’s open source policy published this week might as well have been a photocopy of the policy produced under Howard, updated with a slight sting in the tail for naughty agencies that didn’t pay attention. And we saw how far the previous policy got. Far from stimulating the use of open source software in Government, it actually retarded it.

  4. “that mandates the consideration of such options in any technology purchase.”

    You are kidding, you dare to call that “mandatory”? That is a detraction. Consideration of different options is just natural for a government agency, for non-discriminatory procurement in line with WTO rules.

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