Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) is barking up the wrong tree in its latest initiative to gain a better understanding of open source software, according to open source insiders.
Last month, the PWSGC issued a request for Information (RFI) for what it called no-charge licensed software so that the department could eventually develop "transparent guidelines" on the planning, acquisition, use and disposal of such software products. The call was put out through Merx, the government's online public tender system. The RFI provides an opportunity for those interested to provide information they feel Canada should be aware of when developing these guidelines, the department said.
The deadline for submissions is on Thursday, Feb. 19.
Canadian technology industry analysts viewed the RFI as an encouraging move towards greater acceptance of open source software in the government, but at least one open source expert said the request missed the mark.
Channeling the RFI through Merx places a heavy emphasis on vendors and the narrow focus marginalizes a larger open source audience, said Russell McOrmond, an Internet technical consultant and policy coordinator for CLUE Canada (The Canadian Association for Open Source) , an organization promoting the use and development of free open source software.
For example OpenConcept hosted a survey and John Nash, a retired professor of management at the University of Ottawa hosted a Wiki to collect information from the open source community as part of their submissions, McOrmond said these were not considered as submission by the department.
He also said there are many people in government who are already involved in open source projects. He mentioned organizations such as GOSLING (Getting Open Source Logic INto Governments) and Canada GOOSE (Canada Government Official Open Source Engagement) volunteer and informal learning communities of civil servants involved in open source research.
McOrmond, who is currently working on contract for Agriculture Canada on a geographic information system project, said he recently made his own submission to the PWGSC.
"The department is going about it as though they were out to buy a truck. But open source software is not like most items you purchase from a vendor. Open source software is a human resource issue as much as it is a product," McOrmond said.
McOrmond fears that by going through normal government procurement processes the department is more likely to reach vendors of proprietary software products who are more likely to argue against open source tools.