The government's stance on open source is meaningless without any significant means of enforcement. That's the view of the open source community which has bemoaned the lack of teeth in guidelines issued this week.
Although there was a broad welcome for the new Cabinet Office strategy document, particularly the passages affirming the support for open source, several commented that there was a need to go further.
Steve Shine, executive vice president of worldwide operations at open source database company Ingres said that the move needed to be backed up by some type of enforcement. The guidelines were contained in a new strategy document underlining new approaches in a number of key areas, including cloud computing.
But open source industry figures were disappointed with the new proposals. "The government document is a very good document. It's as good as any such document I've seen from any government," said Shine. "But what's lacking is an entity within the government to monitor that the procurement policies are being followed."
He said that the situation was similar to the way that talking on the mobile was prohibited. "Until stiffer penalties were brought in, it was ignored," he said.
Mark Taylor, CEO of open source system integrator, Sirius IT was even more scathing. "They've made some cosmetic changes but it's still not really an action plan- it's a policy that needs teeth."
The Cabinet Office guidelines re-state what was in the guidelines it issued last February and have made some changes to the procurement process. In particular, there is now a requirement that suppliers will provide "evidence of consideration of open source solutions during procurement exercises". The Cabinet Office goes on to say that if this evidence is not provided, bidders are likely to be disqualified from the procurement.
The Cabinet Office has also tackled the thorny question of shadow licences, where a "perpetual licence" has been purchased from the supplier, making it seem as if there's no cost attached to remaining with that supplier. In future, there's a requirement for procurement teams to apply a ‘shadow' licence price to ensure a fair price comparison of total cost of ownership.
Ingres' Shine said that while this was fine in principle, it wasn't necessarily followed in practice and the distinction between shadow licensing and contract renewals was a bit blurred. "The was a recent MoD order that was not even put to tender Oracle they say it's just the renewal but it's not".
Another open source proponent, Alfresco's CEO John Powell said that the problem was that the Cabinet Office had no jurisdiction over procurement. He said that they were just guidelines and that "everything has to go through the OGC (Office of Government Commerce) who had just closed procurement for the year. It's not the Cabinet Office's fault but it's little more than a department for tidying things that don't belong easily elsewhere - it has no particular authority."