Government agencies evaluate open source

As governments across Australia debate the ramifications of open source software, the New South Wales (NSW) state Department of Commerce has set up an open source evaluation project involving some 40 agencies.

Robert Wheeler, the department’s deputy director general, said the open source project is proceeding regardless of possible legislation.

As a result of ministerial shuffling earlier this year, the NSW Department of Commerce now incorporates the former stand-alone departments of industrial relations, fair trading, information technology, and some of public works and services.

“The project is investigating the use of different open source software packages and operating systems,” Wheeler said.

According to the department, full disclosure of the evaluation will appear later this year in the form of a guide detailing which software is appropriate for government use as well as the level of support available.

The department declined to give details on which agencies are taking part, saying this will be revealed with the guide.

Regardless of whether the use of open source software in government is mandated, Wheeler said the department is committed to adhering to open standards for interoperability.

“The NSW government supports open standards and actively participates in Standards Australia committees, including support of Standards Australia’s adoption of ISO standards where appropriate,” he said. “NSW Commerce recognizes that sharing information within government is dependent on the use of open standards.” Wheeler said the department is actively encouraging the adoption of open standards and that much of the open source software being trialled uses open standards.

“Through the NSW Department of Commerce’s office of best practice information technology and corporate services (formerly the office of information technology) the use of open standards in agencies is being encouraged where appropriate,” he said.

“Additionally, the office of best practice information technology and corporate services is managing a project to develop a whole-of-government interoperability framework which will facilitate transfer of information between different systems. The framework is currently being circulated within government for comment.” Wheeler said the draft framework encourages the use of commonly used and open standards.

“The government also makes extensive use of products conforming to the recommendations of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF),” he said.

Standards Australia director of business standards, Mark Bezzina, said although open source is an important area, legislating the use of open standards is more appropriate.

“I don’t know what the rationale behind open source legislation is and would be concerned if such laws became a blanket thing,” Bezzina said. “Legislating the use of open standards in government would at least ensure portability of data.” Standards Australia is not involved with the NSW Department of Commerce open source evaluation which Bezzina described as “unfortunate”.

“It is typical of government departments to engage in pockets of activity due to their size,” he said. “Although we are actively working with government departments, particularly NOIE, all the time, it is unfortunate we are not involved in this project.” Bezzina said the biggest issue with government support of open standards lies with “normal desktop applications on lock-in proprietary systems”.

“Government departments have been pretty good in adopting open standards, particularly in information security,” he said. “Widespread adoption of open standards by government departments will provide a platform for more competition and efficiency by reducing software entry and exit costs. For example, the use of XML for manipulating data sources doesn’t constrain the data.”.