Open source bills could cripple local providers

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Legislation aimed at making open source software a preferred option for government departments and agencies could have the unintended effect of damaging the prospects of local IT service providers.

In an analysis of the Government Procurement (Principles) Guideline Amendment Act 2003 passed in the ACT last year, Blake Dawson Waldron special counsel Ian Oi argued that a clause designed to ensure that open source and open standards-based software was given equal consideration could prematurely drive local service providers into moving their products onto an open source development model.

"You're actually going to be forced to go into an open source model without having considered whether it will work for the long-term business model," Oi told attendees at the Linux and Open Source in Government Conference in Adelaide.

The relevant section of the Act argues that agencies should "avoid the procurement of. . . software for which support or maintenance is provided only by an entity that has the right to exercise exclusive control over its sale or distribution".

One of the arguments frequently used in favour of an open source approach to development is its ability to help local businesses compete with global multinationals in servicing government contracts.

Oi said that while those large players would be affected by the clause too, in some circumstances their existing contractual arrangements would exempt them from the clause.

Several local providers have successfully managed to utilise an open source approach to government development work. The internet content management system (CMS) built for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission by Sydney-based developer Synod is built on top of open source technologies.

However, while the source code for the core Sytadel CMS is made available to the ACCC, it isn't available for general public access.

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