Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Empey Backs 'Open Source' Software Drive

Public and private sector organisations could save millions of pounds if they used free ‘Open Source’ computer software instead of expensive proprietary products, it was revealed today.The cost savings would result from not having to pay expensive licensing fees to software developers – and from reduced costs.

The benefits of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) were outlined as Employment and Learning Minister Sir Reg Empey MLA today launched 'OPEN-NI', an important new private and public sector network established by the University of Ulster and the Southern Regional College under his Department’s Higher and Further Education Collaboration Fund - “Connected”.
The aim of the OPEN-NI network is to support the private and public sector organisations within Northern Ireland that acquire and use FOSS – software which, unlike more expensive propriety software packages, can be built on or developed by users to suit individual companies' specific requirements. Speaking at the inaugural 'Open-Island' conference, Sir Reg said: “I believe the timeliness of this initiative is critical given the strategic importance of “Open Source Software” to the longer term sustainability of our software sector.“Embracing ‘Open Source’ will become fundamental to building and maintaining market share in the future; providing start-ups with a simple, fast and efficient way to build a client base and so gain market share.”

Shadow Chancellor George Osborne is on record as indicating that over £600m per year could be saved through the adoption of ‘Open Source’ software by Government agencies alone – a saving of 5% on their IT expenditure.It is estimated that free and ‘Open Source’ software represented 13% of the global software market in 2006, and is set to grow to 27% of the market by 2011. Conference Chairman Jonathan Wallace of the University of Ulster, said: “Increasingly, Universities and other bodies are seeing ‘Open Source’ software as a low risk method for exploiting their existing work, sharing good practice and improving their national and international reputation without the need for a large marketing and distribution infrastructure. “Indeed, University of Ulster-created open source software has received national endorsement and international interest.” Last March Ulster released two free ‘Open Source’ software tools. One of them, OPUS, a tool for managing all aspects of work based learning on-line, has elicited 20 expressions of interest from universities in the UK and abroad. A number of universities have already installed the software and others are planning to do so soon.

FOSS methodologies confer many competitive advantages to business, including:Cost Savings - A government report in 2005 said the use of open source software could produce savings of 44% per computer in primary schools and 24% per computer in secondary schools compared to the cost of standard commercial software. Compatibility and Competition - because the way in which data is handled is clear for everyone to see, FOSS helps interoperability between products. This makes it easy for products from different vendors to use the same data.

Governments are increasingly adopting open source and open standards to promote interoperability.Brian Doran, Head of the Southern Regional College, said: “This important development for the software sector also presents an opportunity for the College to further enhance its reputation as an organisation that supports local business through research and development activities. The Southern Regional College is committed to embedding the use of ‘Open Source’ software within our day-to-day business process operations and to ensure that all students across the College are exposed to the benefits of the wide range of ‘Open Source’ products available.” Mel McIntyre of OpenIreland, the sister organisation in the Republic of Ireland, said:“When we consider public bodies, who are responsible to the taxpayer for obtaining value-for-money and who often deal with public information, these issues are increasingly important. Significant cost savings can be made by opting for FOSS products that are as capable as their proprietary counterparts, that are free-of-charge, and use open, interoperable document formats that ensure freedom from vendor lock-in.”