FLOSS and the Scottish Executive

In March 2007 the Scottish Executive published a Scottish Policy Statement in the form of a report by the Open Source Software Working Group on Free/Libre/Open Source Software (FLOSS). I think this is very worthwhile.

First, the introduction section helps to clarify what open source software is:

“1. Open source software (OSS) is computer software where the underlying source code is made available under a license. This can allow individuals and organisations who use the software to modify it, either to improve the software or adapt it to better meet their needs.

2. Open source does not necessarily mean free of charge. The term “free” commonly refers to the concept of freedom attached to open source – freedom to modify the source code. The Free Software Foundation (FSF) publishes an earlier variation of the definition where it refers to “free software” rather than OSS. The FSF definition stresses that “free” software is a matter of liberty with “free” derived from “freedom” (libre), not from “no price” (gratis). The terms open source, free software and free open source software ( FOSS) are also often used as is free/libre/open source software ( FLOSS) 1.

3. There are different licensing models under which FLOSS is made available. Generally the licensing conditions are intended to facilitate the ongoing re-use and wide availability of the software. In contrast, vendors of closed, proprietary software provide only executable binary code, and not the human readable source from which that code is derived. Proprietary software vendors usually also place very specific limits on redistribution of the software.”

Then, why the public sector is (or should be) interested in free/libre/open source software:

“4. Public service delivery is often supported by sophisticated and proprietary software applications. The perceived benefits of FLOSS make it an attractive option for information and communication technology ( ICT) solutions in the public sector as it strives to deliver an efficient and interoperable ICT infrastructure.”Consider how each county council, primary school, high school, health board, police force, provides for it respective supporting systems.

Consider the duplication of effort and cost. How (leading) private sector companies make profit for their respective share holders by repeatedly selling proprietary solutions at a local levels.

As a realist its important to point out here that there are a multitude of supporting systems used in public sector organisations, often of relatively high complexity. The historical context further adds to complexity in terms of technically bespoke interfaces to systems and softer issues such as how each county council, police force, etc. is used to acting independently, as an island.

But it must be possible to make progress.

…Next Steps:

“41. There is a need to maximise the returns on, and benefits from, investments in publicly funded software. The ability to freely share software which has been developed within the Scottish public sector or bespoke software funded by the Scottish public sector would be enhanced by making this available as FLOSS. Copyright of software, documentation, design materials, manuals, user interface and source code should be released under an OSI-approved open source licence unless there is a compelling argument why this should not be the case and an alternative licensing model proposed.

42. Further consideration will be given to mechanisms for sharing ICT products and architectural components as part of the ICT transformation work which the Scottish Executive is taking forward under its public service reform agenda.”

The References section provides a good range of links.

The Scottish Executive set up the Open Source Software Working Group to examine the role which open source and free software could play across the Scottish public sector. Membership of the working group includes Dr Nick Hine and Dr Andy Judson, of the University of Dundee.

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