Linux, open source and Sharepoint in the public sector

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The take up of free, open source software in the public sector is painfully slow despite the Government's Open Source Action Plan...are we to blame?

'You should get out more' is a phrase worth reminding yourself of on a regular basis. I mention this in the light having just presented, with our team, at a recent conference, a range of Open Source products which included Alfresco, MediaWiki, WordPress and Moodle on PostgresSQL.

It was well organised conference, well attended, lovely setting, great lunch and revolved around a product called SharePoint. We were invited at short notice to provide an Open Source perspective and as we knew very little about it, we had to 'Google' SharePoint to prepare.

Evidently it is a Microsoft product pitched at the collaborative and sharing market and is apparently very successful in the education and public sector market. Even so, it was only as the presentations proceeded that we really 'got it'. So nebulous was the 'product' that it seemed that whenever we stopped believing, like the fairies, it disappeared.

Anyway, it turns out that SharePoint is a closed-box software solution powered by MS-SQL that does wikis, blogs, content management and VLE in a similar way to the free Open Source 'best of breed' products we are so used to on the Web and listed in the introductory paragraph.

In a nutshell then SharePoint is Microsoft's attempt to box-up the Internet like an Office suite and introduce it to the proprietary business model with all the encumbered licensing, lock-in and forced upgrades that involves. Obviously we found this rather distasteful but that is neither new nor is it the point of this blog.

The day crystallised two important things for me.

  • The first emerged from various Q and A's. The 'Free, Open Source Software' argument in the professional sector, be it business, education or public sector, generally has been won. We had suspected this from responses to articles, blogs and meetings for some time. Everyone has heard of it, most people knowingly use it. No one really has a go at us any more. FUD is almost too easy to shoot down. Job done
  • The second thing that struck me was that nevertheless institutions were still buying proprietary stuff like Sharepoint when every feature was done better by, open standard compliant, free, open source software!

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