The main point I’d like to leave with you is this: that open source is not about computers, it’s about people. It’s about how we create, how we share, and how we live and work together in the age of the Internet.
So, far from being some minor technical issue, of interest only to a few anoraks, open source and the larger ideas behind it are, in fact, absolutely central to the way society, democracy and government will function in the 21st century. What we are discussing today is just the beginning.
The depth of its [open source software] neglect was made plain by speakers at a seminar last week hosted by Westminster eForum, which tries to make parliament aware of IT issues. It turns out, in contrast to what other governments are doing, that most departments – including Health, Work and the Foreign Office – are so risk-averse they have virtually no open source in their IT infrastructures. The Treasury runs less than 1% of its operations with open source. The Conservatives, who rightly believe Labour is vulnerable in this area, claim that nearly £700m could be saved by switching to open source. This is disputed by others who point to the high initial cost of switching from an embedded system and retraining everyone. But in the long run, low maintenance costs plus the absence of licence fees and upgrade charges must give open source the edge and, even if it didn’t, there is still a strong case for encouraging it because a workforce skilled in open source would be well placed to exploit the enormous opportunities opening up for the future.
Schools are not much better, a double tragedy because they not only don’t benefit from savings but also lose the opportunity to train children in the skills of the future. Equally serious is the indifference of small companies. This, we were told, was down to a suspicion that anything that is free can’t be any good.
Keegan also kindly uses the example of Firefox as a successful open source software project that is popular in the UK. It’s great to see Firefox popular in Europe and the UK, but it’s disappointing to hear that the UK government is so conservative about open source software. It’s interesting to look at governmental adoption of open source software because it’s not what you might imagine. I’d like to cover that in a future post in greater detail.