08.11.11

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The UK Shares Romania’s Pain as Free Software Excluded From Public Services

Posted in Europe at 1:15 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

RomaniaSummary: Britain’s open source voice, Glyn Moody, interprets the situation in Romania while Mark Ballard, a watchdog journalist in the UK, shows lack of cooperation with the public at the Bristol City Council after it gave to Microsoft and its allies taxpayers’ money which had been allocated to Free/libre software

We recently confronted and wrote about Romanian procurement which excluded GPL-licensed software. We complained about policy being amiss after someone from Romania had informed us of the situation, instigating further backlash from British journalist Glyn Moody, who writes:

But the larger issue, at least for this blog, is why anyone would impose such a restriction. The system seems self-contained, so there would be no issue with the GPL being extended to other code. Moreover, since the program would presumably only be used by the Romanian criminal justice system, the code would not be “distributed”, and thus there would be no requirement to share it – anyone got any views/experience on this aspect of procurement?

So in effect there would be no difference from using proprietary code in this case, other than the ability to draw on GPL code, which would allow the people writing this app to draw on existing software, potentially simplifying their task.

On the other hand, distributing the code anyway would produce a number of benefits. For example, others could look at the code and help improve it (not least by finding security issues.) It might be used for other projects, both in Romania, and elsewhere, and would in any case strengthen the open source community in the former by adding to the country’s national software commons. Incidentally, these arguments also apply to other countries’ procurement policies: it would be great to see the UK government commissioning and releasing GPL’d code, for example.
So, Romania, what’s the problem?

A while ago we also wrote about Bristol, which abandoned plans to use Free software in the public sector after Computacenter had gotten involved/invoked. Mark Ballard is stepping in another scandal as he explains that “Computacenter gags Bristol City Council over anti-open source ‘bias’”, further elaborating as follows:

Computacenter has prevented Bristol City Council from publishing details of a consulting project that has been overshadowed by allegations of anti-open source bias.

Bristol refused to release advice received from Computacenter concerning the choice of infrastructure to support the council’s 7,000 PCs and the allocation of more than £8m of public money.

Computer Weekly requested details about the pilot project under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act after MPs investigating the relationship between government and IT suppliers were told by a key expert witness that Computacenter had skewed its parameters to favour Microsoft, thereby undermining Bristol’s seven-year campaign to replace proprietary computing platforms with open source software.

But Stephen McNamara, head of legal services at Bristol City Council, said Computacenter had refused the authority permission to release the information.

Public authorities are required to reveal why particular choices that affect taxpayers were made. Yesterday we reminded readers of the poor ethics of Microsoft, including subversion of processes affecting national policies. It is stories like the above that further fuel more suspicion.

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