Survey finds support available for open desktop shift

Proprietary document management systems are a barrier to the open source desktop

New Zealand Open Source Society president Don Christie says the results of a local survey show there is a "rich choice" of service providers ready to help organisations move to open source desktops. The society and and Victoria University conducted their Public Sector Remix IT Vendor Capability Survey (pdf) after government agencies identified the availability of third party support as an essential enabler of free desktop software adoption. NZOSS president Don Christie says the survey has plugged a big hole in knowledge about the area. "We received 32 completed surveys and the results show that there is a rich choice of experienced desktop support and fleet management service providers,” he says. The survey was carried out as part of the Public Sector Remix project, which involves a number of central, regional and local government agencies trialing free software for common desktop tasks. It also helped identify one significant barrier to adoption. Respondents reported that vendors of proprietary document management systems have been slow to support free software on the desktop. “Agencies planning to adopt a free software desktop will need to take steps to remove the barriers presented by proprietary document management systems,” says Christie. Over the past two years many agencies have invested in new document management systems in order to comply with the Public Records Act. The objectives of the survey were to determine the training and support abilities of IT support vendors in New Zealand to assist government agencies to adopt free and open source software on their desktops and to identify the types of free and open source software used by these vendors. The surveyed vendors reported users adapt relatively easily to open source desktops and applications. "This is because applications are relatively self explanatory with many reflecting the usage of familiar proprietary products. They also mentioned that being on hand for support calls seems to be more effective than training," the report says. On the second count, it found that Ubuntu is by far the most widely deployed GNU/Linux distribution. OpenOffice, the Firefox web browser, Thunderbird mail and Lightning calendar are used for the core desktop functions. Respondents use The Gimp image editor, Inkscape graphics editor, and Evince PDF viewer to provide other common functions.

In the server room, respondents run GNU/Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP, Perl and Python. They use PostgreSQL and Java/Tomcat to a lesser extent. Sid Huff, head of the School of Information Management at Victoria University, noted the commitment of the respondent vendors to free software. “They contribute to a wide range of free software projects (over 50 different projects were mentioned) and actively promote use of free software," he says. Most of the vendors responding were small, fewer than 10 people, supporting small to medium sized organisations of up to 500 seats. Several larger vendors responded, with three employing more than 50 people. Respondents also supported three sites with over 500 seats.

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