The UK Government has embraced open source software after publishing a new policy designed to "make sure of a level playing field" for open source software during procurement.

The move follows a similar pledge from the Conservative party, where the opposition said it would order the wholesale introduction of open source IT systems if the party returned to office at the next election.

Cabinet Office MP Tom Watson, minister for digital engagement, said the new policy reflects changes to both the open source market and the government's approach to IT.

"Open source software is a not a cure-all remedy and is not the only solution to IT questions," said Watson.

"However, by levelling the playing field and allowing open source to be as competitive as possible we can ensure that taxpayers get maximum value for money from government IT, something that is more important than ever during the worldwide financial climate."

There are three aspects to the new policy. Firstly, the policy includes ten actions that will put open source software onto an equal footing with proprietary forms for procurement. The policy contains an explicit reference to open standards, to ensure systems are interoperable and avoid lock into a particular product. Thirdly, the government will look to re-use what it has already bought.

The government last formally reviewed its open source policy in 2004. Today the government said that in the years since, the Government has increased its use of open source, particularly in operating systems and middleware components of business solutions.

The government CIO website boasts examples of open source use in government today, claiming:

  • 50 percent of the main departmental websites use Apache as the core web server.
  • The NHS "Spine" uses an open-sourced operating system and, when complete, the replacement of Netware by Open Enterprise Server will mean that 35 percent of NHS organisations covering almost 300,000 users will be supported on Linux infrastructure.
  • Open Source components are used in major mission critical systems such as Directgov and Electronic Vehicle Licensing.

Watson said: "The world of technology has moved on hugely since we last set out our thinking on open source, which is why it was so important to update our policy."

Mark Taylor, CEO of open source supplier Sirius said the announcement "looks good on paper, but everything depends on what comes next."

"Over ten years UK open source has proven its case many times over. From mid-sized companies to household names like Specsavers, private sector leaders have made the transition".

"Now is the time for the Government to match its words with actions, and prove it is serious about saving taxpayers money, by making the change to Open Source, Open Standards and Open Content."

The Cabinet Office has set up a public page on NetVibes that contains links to blog posts, news stories and tweets about UK government, open source and open standards on this topic. The official tag for this page is: #ukgovOSS.