A Sensible Open Source Policy

I just ran across an AP article on a new software procurement and data format policy that I thought made a lot of sense.

In essence, by April 2008 the government of the Netherlands would set a preference for open source software and open file formats at the national level, and at the state and local level by 2009.


Many governments worldwide have begun testing open-source software to cut costs and eliminate dependency on individual companies such as Microsoft Corp. The [Dutch] government estimates it would save $8.8 million a year on city housing registers alone after switching to open source.

I think this is a great step that a lot of governments are taking, but this is the part that stuck in my mind:

Government organizations will still be able to use proprietary software and formats but will have to justify it under the new policy, ministry spokesman Edwin van Scherrenburg said.

I think that’s a very sensible approach. There are some instances where proprietary software will give you the best solutions to solve a particular problem, and that will often entail proprietary formats. But the proprietary software and formats have to be justified. In most places, the opposite is true - proprietary software and formats are the accepted norms, and open source software and open formats have to be rigorously justified and defended. Why on earth would that be? Why would the most expensive and risky path be the norm, and the least expensive and risky path be something you have to justify?

The Dutch policy makes a lot of sense. It will be slow in coming given inertia and conservative “nobody ever got fired for using IBM Microsoft” IT departments, but I think eventually everybody is going to get where the Netherlands, and a growing list of other government agencies, are going. The only question is whether you want to chase after the herd or lead the charge.