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Open source policy no guarantee governments will actually use open source

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The distance between government policy favoring open source technology and solicitations that don't actively discriminate against it can be great.

That's the case found in a sample of 80 solicitations conducted by the Dutch government between January and June 2010, according to a study (.pdf) by Mathieu Paapst, an information technology law lecturer at the Netherlands's University of Groningen. The Dutch government in December 2007 adopted an action plan meant to increase adoption of open source software and open standards in government agencies.

Of the 80 solicitations Paapst examined, 29 (36.3 percent) carried a clear preference for a closed source vendor or product, whether by outright asking for a named product or requiring certification by a closed source vendor or other criteria.

Another nine solicitations carried language that could prevent open source vendors from receiving fair consideration, such as requiring the vendor to be the copyright owner, Paapst found. That means that nearly half – 47.5 percent – of the solicitations had some form of preference for closed source despite government policy specifically affirming a preference for open source.

The study, printed in the International Free and Open Source Software Law Review, is from 2010, but Gunnar Hellekson, chief technology strategist for the Red Hat U.S. Public Sector group, notes in a Jan. 25 blog post notes that the lessons from it remain relevant.

In particular, the study found that the likelihood of discriminatory language increased when Dutch government agencies hired private sector advisors or firms to write the solicitation, Hellekson notes.

Of the 20 solicitations within the sample done by external advisors, 16 (80 percent) had anti-open source evaluation criteria.

"The problem isn't pro- or anti-open source language, it's a system that can be rigged to favor one product over another with very little effort," Hellekson writes.

For more:
- download Paapst's paper, "Affirmative action in procurement for open standards and FLOSS" (.pdf)
- read Hellekson's blog post

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