Open Source Society mounts public sector desktop raid

Remix project to prove the viability of open source desktops to the public sector

The New Zealand Open Source Society is launching a project to demonstrate the viability of free open source software on public sector desktops.

The Public Sector Remix project aims to help public agencies reduce the cost of desktop computing. The project will deploy free open source software for nominated staff to use for common business tasks and evaluate the results.

A number of central, regional and local government agencies are working together to run trials using free software for common desktop tasks, the society says.


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The project was initiated locally, society president Don Christie says. He was unable to elaborate on agencies currently running trials apart from saying there were 14 and naming one which had given permission to be cited: New Zealand Post.

“When we asked participants what people need, they told us that 90 percent of the people, 90 percent of the time, have pretty simple needs," Christie, says. "Document management — word processing, spreadsheet, mail and calendar; a web browser to access their modern line-of-business applications; and access to legacy client– server applications.”

The project is not just about saving money for the whole of government, Christie says. However, he says this year's G2009 negotiations, between Microsoft and the State Services Commission for an all-of-government deal on software, did act as a catalyst.

Microsoft and the SSC failed to agree a replacement for the previous three-year software deal ealrier this year, forcing agencies into individual negotiations for their Microsoft software purchases.

“This is also about bringing choice back to the desktop and demonstrating the business value of software freedom,” he says.

Echoing free and open source software pioneer Richard Stallman's four software freedoms, Christie says participating agencies are seeking four business freedoms"

1. Freedom is a competitive landscape offering real choice of systems and suppliers.

2. Freedom is escape from vendor lock-in and mitigating the risk of vendor capture.

3. Freedom is flexibility to make a choice today that doesn’t remove the ability to make a choice tomorrow.

4. Freedom is control over software the ability to share the experiences and adapt software to users needs.

Christie says those four freedoms were not directly modelled on Stallman's but came out of a workshop held with government users.

"It's interesting to see the language is similar," he says.

“It’s up to each agency where they choose to be on the spectrum from proprietary to free,” said Christie. “Every investment decision gives an agency more business freedom, or less. The participants in the Remix project have decided that they need more.”

Christie says open source advocates have been trying to make the case for open source on the desktop for years and thought it was time to do something more positive to help agencies collaborate and make "more informed decisions".

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