Open Source? Labour's Working on It

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One of the great things about free software is that it transcends politics. Those on the left love it because it is a collaborative effort, born of altruism; those on the right love it because it is efficient and flexible.

This has led to some interesting jockeying on the political scene, as politicians of all stripes have tried to prove that they were more open than their rivals.

There's no doubt that in the UK the winners so far have been the Conservatives, who have seized on open source as a stick with which to beat the current government's miserable record on large-scale IT projects, most of which have been way over budget at best, and utter failures at worst (with some managing both).

This has understandably put pressure on Labour to come up with a riposte, and yesterday it was unveiled in the form of something called “Open Source, Open Standards and Re–Use: Government Action Plan” (there's a handy version from WriteToReply here, where you can add your comments.

Even though its appearance was in some ways inevitable at some point, it is nonetheless very welcome. The UK has been one of the laggards in terms of adopting open source at the government level. That, in its turn, has acted as a serious brake on uptake in business and – worst of all – in education. The fact that the government has Web pages talking in positive terms about free software is undoubtedly a huge win.

And there is some *surprisingly* positive stuff, like this from the foreword

Open Source has been one of the most significant cultural developments in IT and beyond over the last two decades: it has shown that individuals, working together over the Internet, can create products that rival and sometimes beat those of giant corporations; it has shown how giant corporations themselves, and Governments, can become more innovative, more agile and more cost-effective by building on the fruits of community work; and from its IT base the Open Source movement has given leadership to new thinking about intellectual property rights and the availability of information for re–use by others.

Notice in particular the little kicker at the end, which acknowledges “new thinking about intellectual property rights”: that might seem a throwaway comment, but given the huge countervailing pressures to talk up such “rights”, it's pretty amazing to see to added here, almost gratuitously, broadening out the support from just computing to other cognate areas. Let's hope it's a hint of things to come.

The Background section of the new document contains a few points of note. The first is the apparently simple statement:

The Government last formally reviewed its Open Source policy in 2004. The policy made clear that the Government would consider open source solutions alongside proprietary ones in IT Procurements and that contracts will be awarded on a value for money basis.