The Victorian state government's newly appointed chief technical officer Tony Aitkenhead is standing firm and refusing to buckle to demands from industry body Open Source Victoria (OSV) to adopt Australian Capital Territory-style open source procurement legislation.
Aitkenhead told Computerworld that Victoria will continue to operate a variety of platforms maintaining an even-handed approach to software selection.
He says open standards is the real key and is more important than open source.
"Open source is not excluded and each business area makes its own decision," he says. "For example, some schools use Linux and StarOffice, and the ICT-funded Vicnet at the State library is a Linux shop," Aitkenhead says.
He cites the Victorian Electronic Records Strategy (Vers) as an example of open standards playing a crucial role in ensuring archival records are sustained in a non-proprietary manner.
"Government departments have a fairly balanced and even-handed role for open source but it won't be mandated at this stage. It may be overkill to mandate [open source] and I don't think you can mandate it," Aitkenhead says.
"Agreements with Microsoft provide significant savings and there are major benefits there. Open source won't completely replace everything yet."
Tourism Victoria's online manager Paul Baron agrees, saying open source cost savings are overstated as development and support, not software, is the most expensive part of an IT project.
"We recently moved from a Sun-Sybase backend to Microsoft SQL Server which begs the question, why didn't you go to open source?" Baron says. "The operating system and database weren't a massive cost compared to the other things and I must make sure the system is up. We'd love to go open source but for us it was a no-brainer as we couldn't be certain that the application would run as well with open source software. If we were to migrate to an open source platform it would be risky, expensive, take months, and have no ROI."
Baron says government IT departments are seldom in a greenfield situation, so it's "not like open source is driving the decision; the business is".
"Generally the Victorian government is adopting a more strategic approach to these decisions and I don't think there are any preconceptions about open source," he says.
"The amount that could be saved by open source is definitely on the lower end of IT budgets. During procurement, any sensible person would look at all technologies, including open source, so it doesn't need to be mandated."
Aitkenhead believes the rise of open source industry groups within the state is a way for government to support research and development.
"The Victorian government provided seed funding for Open Source Victoria and the feedback we get is that it has been successful," he says. "The government sees good opportunities for software development revenues for the Victorian economy through software development and supporting industry clusters."
Melbourne-based open source consulting firm Unisolve's managing director Simon Taylor agrees.
"There shouldn't be legislation that mandates open source and governments should be free to choose between proprietary and open source," Taylor says. "However, government SOEs have always been a bugbear and these decisions create lock-in." On the rise of open source industry groups in Victoria, Taylor says they go a long way to filling the "credibility gap".
"OSV fills a gap left in IT managers' and CIOs' minds that open source doesn't have vendor support," he says. "Open source is giving rise to different kinds of jobs and the net effect is positive."