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British Agency Praises Linux for Government

Posted by iMark - 2006-03-05

Open source software is stable, secure, liked by users and can save the government money.
This is the message from the Open Source Academy (OSA), a project set up with funding from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

An OSA spokesman said: "The aim of the project is to promote the use of open source to the local government community."

Birmingham City Council is the lead authority on the project which began last year. It has embarked on one of the most ambitious projects, replacing the software on 300 PCs - at its central library and 39 local libraries - with open source.

The spokesman told silicon.com: "Nine months ago our library infrastructure was in need of updating and what we've done is look at open source as an alternative to conventional desktop software. We've implemented a refresh of the desktop which uses open source software throughout."

Now the desktops have OpenOffice 2, Firefox and Gimp image software. The spokesman said: "These are all powerful applications. What we have is a very stable, very secure desktop.

"The whole reason for doing this was as a learning experience. There has been a very positive user reaction."

But choosing open source does mean the implementation process runs differently, the council has found.

The spokesman explained: "What we have found is that in this type of implementation there are a lot more decisions that need to be taken than in a traditional implementation.

"With the implementation of a conventional Microsoft Windows desktop most of the decisions are taken for you about look and feel and what functionality is available. For open source it's different because you've got a lot of choice - which distro of Linux to chose and then what to use for the presentation layer.

"The choice is a bit overwhelming so you do need a deeper level of technical expertise."

OSA projects include developing guidance on recycling old PCs, and the Open Source Laboratory which allows local authorities to test software without compromising their own live networks.

Other OSA initiatives include a National Open Development Environment to allow collaboration between authorities on software development, and a project drawing on the experience of Bristol City Council, providing information to local authorities considering the adoption of open source office suites.

The spokesman said: "Clearly within open source there are some opportunities to save money. What we are looking at is to what extent there is a sensible, reliable business case for open source - and we are doing that in hard-headed way and not out of enthusiasm for the software."

While the OSA projects are now coming to an end, the organisation is keen to have a continuing impact.

He added: "The whole idea of this is to make open source something that is viable and acceptable and non-threatening to local authorities. What we are now looking for is to push the message out - that open source is here, and it's a viable alternative.

"There are some interesting answers we are coming up with and that's a very interesting challenge to the perceptions of open source - we found it very stable and highly acceptable to our customers."

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