Ministry of Justice updates open-source policy

The policy indicates open source should be looked at first and if it doesn't meet requirements then commercial options should be considered, says NZOSS president

The Ministry of Justice has added an extra policy covering total cost of ownership to its Open Source Adoption Paper, a paper described by New Zealand Open Source society President Don Christie as “groundbreaking”.

The new policy says the ministry should make systems adoption and replacement decisions based on full lifecycle costs.

“It is not prudent to adopt OSS simply to reduce acquisition costs, since those are a small portion of the actual costs to the Ministry,” the paper says. “Consider both marginal costs and differential costs, rather than accounting ‘cost’ assignments. For example, upgrades from Office 97 to Office 2007 would incur many of the same costs as upgrades to OpenOffice relative to the status quo, but other costs would vary depending upon the upgrade option chosen.”

The paper suggests TCOtool (, an open-source toolset, as a useful way to compare real costs.

Christie says the Ministry’s policy is advanced in terms of its methodology and what it is setting out to do.

“This is the farthest anyone’s gone,” he says. “The State Services Commission has issued its own policy, to look at open source on the same level as commercial offerings. This seems to go a bit farther in stating a preference for open source.”

Christie says the policy indicates open source should be looked at first and if it doesn’t meet requirements then commercial options should be considered.

“The fact it goes into answering common misconceptions about open source is significant,” he says.

The paper says government adoption of OSS is now extensive and proprietary systems are reaching their end of life. That means the opportunity exists to “replace them with OSS assemblies rather than launch new RFP processes for monolithic, closed solutions”.

The policy says the Ministry needs an “explicit strategy to embrace the adoption and use of OSS”.

“Our vendors are moving to OSS without our encouragement or consent; Java is the primary development language and also OSS; Oracle is a major IT supplier currently merging OSS into their products; and the perimeter Check Point firewall runs an OSS operating system.

“We cannot choose to keep OSS out of the Ministry; our choices are to accept our vendors’ decisions as they occur, or to adopt OSS for strategic benefit on terms of our choosing.”

The paper warns of the disruption of change and also enumerates the risks associated with open source.

“For example, though the GIMP image editor is arguably functionally identical to the proprietary-and-costly Adobe Photoshop, the latter has decades of user experience on its side, and skilled users are unwilling to retrain on a new product when the existing one serves their needs so well.

“Similarly, the OpenOffice OSS product allows the dedicated user to edit and exchange Microsoft Office files, without paying for MS-Office, but retraining of skilled MS-Office users is necessary, and the compatibility on-screen is not yet perfect. The economics of retraining existing staff and similar productivity drops by new hires may not yet justify a move to OSS in this area.”

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