The Opposition to Open Source

It’s all over the web right now.

The Tories and George Osborne, Shadow Chancellor of the opposition Conservative Party and MP for Tatton, recently released a statement relating to the contents of a specially commissioned report by Dr Mark Thompson, of Judge Business School at Cambridge University. The report is being studied by the shadow chancellor as part of the Conservatives’ detailed preparations for government…

Dr Thompson said his report “shows how government could save hundreds of millions of pounds a year by creating a more open IT procurement process – including levelling the playing field for open source software”.

“It isn’t rocket science – it’s about creating a modern and efficient procurement system. Governments and companies around the world are making use of open source software, and we could achieve much more here in the UK,” he added.

But from what I have read of the coverage to date, journalists seem to have a very short-term memory. None of the pieces I read made any reference to the fact that George Osborne has been commenting on FOSS for quite some time:

From November 2006 in a speech entitled “Politics and Media In An Internet Age”:

… If the incredible development of storage capability continues at its current pace then by the year 2015 everything ever printed or broadcast in the history of the world will be available on a single iPod….

I remember when Eric Schmidt, the Chief Executive of Google explained this to me last month. He had flown over from America to speak at our Party Conference and I had taken him out to dinner with the editor of the Times and his political team…

…Another example is Linux. Linux is the open-source operating system that is the main rival to Microsoft Windows. Linux is constantly updated and improved. Yet no one owns Linux. No one is directing the improvements or updates. The code is available on-line and thousands of independent programmers make changes, fix bugs, and add new features – all for no personal gain.

I recommend reading all of that one. There is much to be lauded and many of the themes George covers are just now becoming hot-topics, especially with the change in administration in the USA. Do keep in mind that that speech was made over 2 years ago.

Also, the £600m a year savings figure has been bandied around for some time too. In this article for the Guardian On-line published in March 2007 we read:

… Looking at cost savings that have been achieved by companies and governments all over the world, it’s estimated that the UK government could reduce its annual IT bill by over £600m a year if more open source software was used as part of an effective procurement strategy. That’s enough to pay for 20,000 extra teachers or 100,000 hip operations.

For me, the most encouraging aspect of all this recent coverage is just that. Coverage. In the past few weeks, FOSS has been talked about several times on the BBC’s News website from a political perspective rather than a purely technology angle. There has also been plenty of discussion in the more mainstream tech press too but the background-noise level is definitely growing.

This can only be good for advocates of Free Software and Open Standards. You can’t really buy publicity like this.

One Comment

  • Sean Whyte says:

    I agree with a lot of things in this source but I don’t I don’t understand how it could restart the economy.I believe in the moral idea of switching from Microsoft to Linux but 600m a year isn’t nearly enough to fix the economy. This is one thing that could be used to combat the recession but it isn’t nearly enough alone.

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