Bristol City Council is set to be the first local authority in the UK to implement a council-wide open source strategy. While other local authorities have implemented open source projects on a piecemeal basis, Bristol councillors are set to consider a proposal that could lead to open source software used throughout the council.
The councillor behind the Bristol initiative, software engineer Mark Wright, is a long time enthusiast for open source and would have preferred a totally open source proposal, but appreciated some of the difficulties involved.
Dr Wright, the council cabinet member for efficiency and value for money, said: "This is a pragmatic proposal that delivers more key functions through open source products, but appreciating that much of the core desktop toolset and operating system still need to use Microsoft technology. The trouble has been that external partners have not kept pace with open source solutions, so we find ourselves having to take this compromise, but hopefully only in the short term. The proposed licensing arrangements will enable an exit point after three years should the move to a full open source environment be feasible."
Although Microsoft Office will continue to be used on desktops, open source alternatives will be introduced for email, file and print and other IT functions. The council has already introduced Open Office as a desktop alternative.
The proposal, which was produced in consultation with open source consultancy Sirius IT, goes before city councillors next week and is expected to be approved. According to Sirius's managing director, Mark Taylor, the mood is Bristol is very much in favour of open source, an opinion that is held at all levels of the local authority. "What we have got in Bristol is an alignment of the planets – this is the time we've had the political level, executive level and technical level all working together," he said. "Normally what happens is that we have techie guys bringing open source into councils only for the managers to reject it: that's not happening at Bristol."
A key aspect of the Bristol proposal is that it will offer opportunities for local companies. "There are a lot of open source firms in the area," said Taylor. "And Bristol City Council is very keen on regional regeneration, with money staying locally rather than going to American multinationals."
Taylor said that there will be several different types of open source software used in the project. "There won't be one product for mail but several, including Exim, Mailscanner and Project Cyrus." Taylor said that other software used in the project will include Samba for file and print, Open LDAP for identity management and Alfresco for document management.
If the project is approved it's set to cost £1.5m per year over a five year period leading to a considerable saving on a proprietary software approach.
Sirius's Mark Taylor thought that the project would be seen as a beacon for other local authorities. "There are councils doing bits and pieces, here and there, but this is the first significant open source project of this type – there will definitely be other councils looking at this."