European Commission Finally Engaging with Open Source?

Earlier this year, I wrote about the European Commission's stunning incompetence in procuring desktop software: it actually admitted that it was in a state of "effective captivity with Microsoft", and that it wasn't really going to try to do anything about it. Fortunately, a recent article on the Commission's "Joinup" site, by Gijs Hillenius, paints a rather brighter picture as far as the server side is concerned:

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Earlier this year, I wrote about the European Commission's stunning incompetence in procuring desktop software: it actually admitted that it was in a state of "effective captivity with Microsoft", and that it wasn't really going to try to do anything about it. Fortunately, a recent article on the Commission's "Joinup" site, by Gijs Hillenius, paints a rather brighter picture as far as the server side is concerned:

The European Commission wants to make it easier for its software developers to submit patches and add new functionalities to open source projects. Contributing to open source communities will be made central to the EC’s new open source policy, expects Pierre Damas, Head of Sector at the Directorate General for IT (DIGIT). “We use a lot of open source components that we adapt and integrate, and it is time that we contribute back.”

Damas and his colleagues aim to remove barriers that hinder code contributions to open source software, he announced yesterday at a conference in Brussels. The Commission wants to clarify legal aspects, including intellectual property rights, copyright and which author or authors to name when submitting code to the upstream repositories. “It is easier said than done”, Damas warned.

He anticipates that reinvigorating the policy will motivate many of the EC’s software developers and functionaries to promote the use of free and open source software at the EC. “Having a strategy helps them to advance the use of open source.” The policy can help nudge others to consider open source, Damas added. “When a little push is needed.”

What's particularly interesting here is that it recognises that open source is not just about using code, but also actively contributing back to the projects that write that code. It's a good sign that the European Commission's Directorate General for IT gets that, and intends to encourage people to act accordingly. A document outlining the "Strategy for internal use of OSS at the EC" gives some information about just how extensive the use of open source on the server side by the European Commission has become:

The European Commission runs IT solutions on more than 350 Linux servers.

DIGIT’s Data Centre manages more than 800 OSS web servers.

The Flexible Platform for Internet Services, project available under EUPL on OSOR.eu, offering a recommended set of Web 2.0 tools for social collaboration, is entirely powered by OSS tools; it provides, among others, 40 blogs for Commissioners, EC Representations and other EUROPA sites and hosts more than 400 wikis.

All new web applications at the European Commission are protected by an OSS-based solution for authentication, currently serving more than 300 existing web applications, more than 60 000 users and performing more than 1 000 0000 authentications on a yearly basis with more than 17 000 different users every day.

Several corporate solutions are entirely based upon OSS. Examples are in the area of content management, surveys, e-invoicing and e-ordering, etc. Within the Commission’s IT network, an OSS-based developer collaboration platform hosts more than 770 projects accessed by over 3000 developers.

Getting a goodly number of those 3000 developers, assuming they are in-house, to participate in the open source projects they use could have a major impact on the computing culture within the European Commission. From the Joinup article again:

EC policy makers recognise that open source reduces their ICT costs, makes possible the modernisation of government services and will strengthen European ICT service providers, Damas said. “Our internal policy is changing, and open source use will be given promoted. When procuring software products, we will consider open source alongside proprietary alternatives, based on value for money. In defined areas, for example Information Systems development distributed externally, we will give open source priority.”

Well, I don't detect any real passion there, but perhaps a few hopeful hints of things to come. This is clearly going to be a long, slow journey towards pervasive open source: let's just hope the European Commission does one day arrive there - even on the desktop.

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