program leader, Maastricht Economic Research Institute on Innovation and Technology

U.K. local authorities are far less likely to use open-source software than those of some other European countries, according to findings from a Dutch study. The study has so far found that 32 per cent of local authorities in Britain use open-source software, compared with 71 per cent in France, 68 per cent in Germany and 55 per cent in the Netherlands.

These figures are the preliminary results of the Free/Libre/Open Source Software: Policy Support (FLOSSpols) study carried out by the Maastricht Economic Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (MERIT), based on the analysis of 371 responses as of November 2004, according to Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, FLOSS program leader at MERIT. The complete survey results, with a total of more than 750 respondents, will be published at the end of February, Ghosh said.

The figures are the latest indicators that the U.K. public sector is lagging far behind the powerhouses of continental Europe where it comes to open source. While the U.K. government has carried out investigations into the way open source should be considered in public sector procurement, its efforts have been tentative compared with those of Germany, France and the Netherlands, according to Ghosh. The U.K. government does not seem to have a consistent policy for FLOSS and open standards, with different organizations taking very different approaches. Rishab Aiyer Ghosh>Text

This lack of centralized, coordinated support is reflected low levels of open source use at the local level, he said. “The U.K. government does not seem to have a consistent policy for FLOSS and open standards, with different organizations taking very different approaches,” Ghosh told Techworld. “Not all other European governments have a consistent policy on open source either, but… the Netherlands, Germany and France have all published national-level policy documents that are fairly encouraging for open source.”

One U.K. organization aiming to give clear advice on open source is OSS Watch, under whose aegis last week’s conference was held. OSS Watch is funded by JISC (the Joint Information Systems Committee), which provides ICT guidance to educational and administrative organizations, while OSS Watch specifically focuses on higher and further education.

OSS Watch spokesman Randy Metcalfe said the organization has found a mixture of proprietary and open source software in use in FE and HE. FE organizations tend to choose open source for reasons of cost, while for HE the top criterion was interoperability, with cost coming second, Metcalfe said.

For the private sector, too, there are still significant barriers to adopting open source, according to a new survey from Seattle startup SourceLabs Inc. Despite the efforts of the biggest Linux vendors, large enterprises still shy away from open source because of difficulties in acquisition, lack of integration among different open source components, lack of commitment to system dependability and lack of mission-critical support, SourceLabs said last week.

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