Public sector procurement is becoming a real battleground for open source in Europe. There have been few successes, but lots of groundwork has been laid in the form of interoperability frameworks and suchlike - despite fierce rearguard actions by old-school software companies naturally alarmed about losing their cosy monopolies.
One positive move was the creation of the Open Source Observatory and Repository (OSOR), “a platform for exchanging information, experiences and FLOSS-based code for use in public administrations.” The next step is to help people actually obtain the stuff, and one way to do that is to offer some guidelines for open source procurement. That's something provided by the final version of the “Guideline on public procurement of Open Source Software”, which has been put together by the well-known researcher Rishab Aiyer Ghosh on behalf of the EU's IDABC Programme:
With the launch of the OSOR, it is natural for public agencies to want to try to use open source software, starting with the software that will be published on the OSOR. Many public agencies are unclear how to go about this, and need advice and guidelines. One important feature of the OSOR is a space for the publication and sharing of advice and guidelines related to open source in the public sector. This guideline responds to the needs of OSOR users.
A further justification for this guideline is provided by the existence of widespread "poor practices" in public procurement that lead to non-transparent, anti-competitive discrimination in software procurement. This
discrimination is in favour of proprietary software, and typically, in favour of specific proprietary products and their vendors.
Such poor procurement practices occur, at least partly, because public agencies may not be aware of better practices; and because they may not be aware that it is possible to acquire open source software - or how to do so. There is a need for information, and the goal of this guideline is to meet that need.
The main part of this guideline, following this introduction, is intended for a broad readership. It is intended to provide practical guidance to policy makers, IT managers and procurement officials at the level of national, regional and local government. It is therefore intended to be readable, without too many legal technicalities, and (relatively) short.
Although, as this states, the guide is mainly aimed at those working in national, regional and local government, it is worth reading by anyone involved in using open source since it contains much good sense that is generally applicable.
So when the guidelines point out:
Good practice eGovernment services should provide access based on open standards, and in particular, never require citizens to purchase or use systems from specific vendors in order to access public services: this is equivalent to granting such vendors a state-sanctioned monopoly.
current common public procurement practices for software do not provide for a level playing field. They are frequently biased in favour of proprietary software, and specific proprietary software vendors. European procurement law may allow for such bias under specific, exceptionally justified situations. In practice, this bias is neither exceptional, nor is justification commonly provided