I had an interesting chat with John Powell of Alfresco. We were talking about the company's new version of its Enterprise Edition software but we got diverted to the UK government's attitude to open source. It's fair to say that Mr Powell was not a happy man, scathing about the government's procurement policy and lack of investment in open source software.
This is not a new story, John Powell has some form here - in an interview with the Guardian in 2007 he was equally scathing about the government's attitude to open source, ironic given that Alfresco is a British-based company and that Powell is himself a Brit. What's changed since that interview is that the UK government has changed its tune - on paper at least and is now all for open source procurement.
So, nearly a year later what has happened? One thing for sure is that UK government contracts haven't been flooding to open source companies - in fact there's no sign of any going to them.
It's easy to dismiss Powell's musings as sour grapes from a company not benefiting from lucrative government contracts except I've also heard the same thing from an executive fromanother leading open source vendor, one who didn't want to be identified, but who was equally scathing about the government's procurement policy.
What is particularly damning is the way that Powell speaks: "If I wasn't already here, I wouldn't be investing in the UK," he said. "The good news for us is that we're doing well elsewhere."
Open source companies are doing very well elsewhere. Just this week, Jordan announced that it had chosen Ingres to promote open source across the country and yesterday the government of California said that it was looking to cut the state deficit by considering open source as a "viable option" for government procurement - the same sort of wording that the UK government has chosen. In fact, governments around the world have embraced open source procurement - everywhere except the UK in fact.
I get the impression that everything is on hold until the general election, with all major IT projects on hold. What will be interesting is to see how the Conservatives treat open source. It's a company that's made all the right noises about considering open source, claiming that open source procurement could save the country Â£600m through more efficient procurement.
The current state of inertia has not been good for the IT industry. You don't have to be an open source adherent to bewail the UK government's approach to procurement. Despite all the noises, it seems that the dice are loaded too heavily in favour of proprietary software. Yes, we can put Powell's musings as dissatisfaction because Alfresco misses out, but the failure to consider all the options is ultimately costing us, the taxpayers.
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