ACS calls for government open source mandate

The Australian Computer Society (ACS) is calling for the federal government and the opposition to put in place policies that support open source software in an effort to boost the creation of local IT jobs in Australia and reduce what it estimates as a $14 billion ICT trade deficit.

Speaking at the ALP Conference 'fringe event to debate the future of Australian IT industry' in Sydney, ACS president Edward Mandla told CEOs from more than 30 IT vendors that if the government wanted to get serious about addressing the decline of ICT jobs it should mandate open systems.

"Australia has a very strong open source community and it is unsupported. I call upon the ALP [and the government] to adopt a policy [as part of] its election platform of supporting open source. It will change the ICT deficit [thereby creating more jobs]," Mandla said.

Fringe event organiser and Shadow IT Minister Senator Kate Lundy at times sailed close to advocating a government mandate for open source systems – however never actually spoke the words.

Rather, the open source sell was left to New South Wales Minister for Commerce and Labor factional power broker John Della Bosca. Della Bosca, in no uncertain terms, told the assembly of bosses that the NSW government was in the process of breaking down proprietary vendor lock-ins.

"We have been dumb buyers of IT for a long time. We want to become better buyers, users and sellers of information and IT. We are moving away from proprietary software…a controversial decision onto open source. It's a suck-it-and-see exercise," Della Bosca said.

He added that NSW is also in the process of reworking "clumsy" intellectual property disclosure provisions that inhibited smaller local firms in competition with multinationals.

Asked what he thought of the ACS proposals, Microsoft Australia managing director Steve Vamos said that customers did not require new laws to assist them in choosing software.

"I think that the freedom to choose the solution that is best value for money and best meets your needs is the overwhelming driver. You cannot predict where technology will go - and to legislate for a particular technology hasn't been done before and there's good reason why.

"In the mid 80s we would have Unix on every desktop in Australia if the government had legislated for an open system. The argument was that IBM was a monopoly with its mainframe software and we should go to open systems.

"In the end Unix found a really large place in the market based on value for money and its purpose, not anything else. It's what customers choose," Vamos said.

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