These are my notes from the Les Timms talk at the FOSS Means Business Conference on Thursday 16th March 2006 in Belfast.
Open Source Academy
Les Timms is IT Manager for the Development Directorate of Birmingham City Council. He has extensive experience in managing major IT projects, programmes, and services in both commercial and public sectors. Les also has a lead role for technical strategy within the City Council, and has most recently steered the ODPM-funded Open Source Academy project.
Les will be delivering a presentation on the Open Source Academy implementation project in Birmingham libraries. The presentation will focus on the business case for open source, the challenges that have been overcome, and the cultural, technical, and financial issues to be considered when planning an open source implementation in the government sector. [taken from the FOSS Means Business website]
The Open Source Academy is an e-innovations project of the Nothern Ireland eGovernment Unit, focused on the public sector and producing a viable case for OSS as an alternative to proprietary software.
To guarantee impartiality they commisioned an independent report.
A lot of people play it safe in recommending/choosing software, after-all “nobody gets sacked for going with IBM or Microsoft”.
As a “field experiment”, they deployed OSS in a library, tested on ageing infrastructure.
They put OpenOffice.org, Firefox and Gimp on Windows XP to expose library staff to OSS. They also deployed Linux on various PCs, with Gnome and KDE as the desktop environments. They also deployed some Windows PCs.
There were very positive perceptions:
* Many library members found the Linux desktop userfriendly amd easy to navigate.
* They found there was better support for foreign languages such as Chinese and Arabic – important in a multi-ethnic society.
* Users preferred Gnome and KDE over Windows.
There were some negative perceptions:
* Microsoft specific plugins required for Firefox (I guess nobody told them about EasyUbuntu which amongst other things installs the most needed FireFox plugins for Flash, Java and Realvideos).
* Need to sort out issues regarding portable media such as CDs, DVDs, USB sticks and floppy disks.
* There are some accessiblity issues with OpenOffice.org
Framework for evaluating FOSS:
Think through all legality, usability and training requirements.
* Need to work on management regarding portable media.
* OpenOffice.org is suitable for most users, not all as there may be some very specifc requirements that OpenOffice.org doesn’t cater for at present.
* Check interoperability.
* A Linux Desktop is likely to need more configuration than proprietary Operating Systems, if only because the option to over configure the install is there.
* FOSS implepmentations – you get a choice, and can uncover opportunities to improve your business process.
* Accessibility is key in a public facing role.
Full set of criteria is required.
Significant investment is required in the decision making proccess.
FOSS affords you no lock-in to proprietary software.
Audit existing apps and support contracts.
Renegotiate support contracts to include support for FOSS.
Look within your organisation for FOSS expertise.
Check user requirements
You are unlikely to find issues with rolling out OpenOffice.org
Expect resistance/opposition – it’s a natural reflex.
You will make savings in the long term by avoiding forced upgrades.
You will have greater control over the upgrade cycle.
There are real returns available.