Australian government delves into open source

The increasingly influential role of open source software as an alternative to proprietary solutions has prompted the federal government to put together a new seminar looking at the demand for open source systems across departmental agencies.

To be hosted by the National Office for the Information Economy (NOIE), the seminar, “Open Source Software and the role of Linux in the public sector”, is designed to provide departmental CIOs, CTOs and agency IT professionals with a broader understanding of non-proprietary software, as well as examine the current and future role such solutions can play in the government sector.

The seminar will be held at the National Press Club in Canberra on February 18 and is expected to be the first in a series of sessions on the potential use of open source software (OSS) in government agencies.

The Australian Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts ministerial spokesperson Simon Troeth said the purpose of the seminar is to provide information to agencies in a vendor-neutral style whilst gauging their interest in OSS.

Troeth said there is no truth in recent speculation suggesting the government will make open source software mandatory across its departmental agencies. Nevertheless, the government believes open source solutions are worth looking into, he said.

“The Commonwealth doesn’t have a defined policy on OSS, in terms of specific use by agencies on OSS,” he said.

“OSS fits the purpose and value-for-money guidelines. Some agencies already use OSS at the server level, or in the maintenance of Web sites.”

The seminar will center around general OSS issues with a focus on Linux-based operating systems and applications.

Speakers at the February seminar include IBM Corp.’s public sector Linux program director Mary Ann Fisher and Gartner research analyst Robin Simpson. The seminar will also feature case studies from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Bureau of Meteorology, both of which currently use open source applications.

The Australian Unix and Open Systems Users Group (AUUG) will also put forth its views on the role of open source in the government sector. AUUG Open Computing for Government (OCG) task force chairman Gordon Hubbard said the group will focus on the general advantages of open source computing as well as discuss licensing open source software in comparison to standard proprietary solutions.

A surprise addition to the NOIE speaker list is Microsoft Corp. senior vice president, business strategy Maggie Wildrotter.

Despite the nature of the seminar, Troeth said Microsoft’s involvement is justified by the fact that “it has an interest in the OSS issue”.

“As far as [Microsoft’s] involvement in the seminar goes, it is one vendor to offer an industry perspective,” he said.

“We don’t believe favoritism should be shown towards OSS or proprietary software solutions.”

Hubbard said AUUG expects government representatives will leave the seminar with a stronger understanding of the differences between open source and proprietary systems.

“I don’t think anyone will leave and throw out their current systems immediately. But we expect they will want to look into open systems in more detail,” he said.

In further support of the use of open source computing in the government sector, AUUG has announced its own Unix and Open Source in Government symposium in Canberra on March 1 2003. Hubbard said the symposium is open to anyone with an interest in the use of Unix and open systems in government. The symposium is being coordinated by AUUG’s Open Computing Task Force, a subcommittee launched in 2002 to accelerate the use of open systems in government.