Birmingham council cautious on open source after pilot

Birmingham council will “not necessarily” opt for open source software in its planned refresh of 20,000 desktop PCs, despite running a high profile Linux pilot scheme.

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Birmingham council will “not necessarily” opt for open source software in its planned refresh of 20,000 desktop PCs, despite running a high profile Linux pilot scheme.

The council ran a year-long £500,000 pilot programme, funded by the former Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, which examined the open source Linux operating system and KDE desktop environment along with software such as the OpenOffice productivity suite and Firefox browser.

But Birmingham’s head of IT strategy Gerry McMullan told an audience at a Westminster eForum event in London that the pilot revealed technical problems and heavy demand for user support, as well as falling short economically.

The business case to deploy open source software on the 200 staff and public access computers in 40 libraries covered by the pilot had turned out to be “tricky”, he said.

The council is now planning a complete refresh of its 20,000 desktop machines, through its Service Birmingham partnership with Capita.

But this “won’t necessarily by entirely open source”, McMullan said. The council’s desktop machines currently run Microsoft Windows. The council had not decided on open source “initially or longer-term”, he added later.

The technical problems highlighted in the pilot had been “mainly to do with interoperability and portable mediums” such as USB sticks brought in by members of the public.

“Support turned out to be the major issue both for the public using the services and the staff behind them,” McMullan said. “Capacity turned out to be the single most important thing.”

McMullan admitted that the business case had not been made, saying: “The economies on that particular pilot project didn’t pan out that open source was cheaper.” But he added that the figures could be different for a larger deployment.

An independent report on the pilot showed it would have been more than £100,000 cheaper to install Microsoft Windows XP.

Consideration of open software should cover how applications are supported and linked and the business driver for migration, McMullan said.

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