Getting smart about preferences for open source

Years ago, open source enthusiasts across the globe cheered government efforts to mandate the adoption of open-source software. Mandates were a terrible idea, though they came with the best of intentions. As I argued in 2009, preferences, not mandates, are an appropriate government stance.

It’s therefore gratifying to see the UK government embrace preferences for open source, as ComputerWeekly reports.

In the UK’s new Government Services Design manual, the government clearly articulates a preference for open-source software:

Use open source software in preference to proprietary or closed source alternatives, in particular for operating systems, networking software, web servers, databases and programming languages.

The reason? According to GSD’s chief technology officer Liam Maxwell, open source “means other countries can use it too and help make that software better. This approach will also ensure we are not locked in to some mad oligopoly outsource.”


No sovereign government, or its citizens, should be locked into any technology or vendor, proprietary or otherwise. This seems uncontroversial, yet it flies in the face of a great deal of government IT purchasing policies over the past few decades.

The UK government’s decision to prefer open source, and to only use proprietary software in rare situations where no viable open-source alternative exists, couldn’t have come at a better time.

After all, open source is no longer a follower, but instead leads in each of the biggest technology trends, Big Data, cloud computing, and mobile. As such, the “rare instances” where proprietary software is needed have become even rarer.

GDS lists its design principles, with openness capping off an exceptional list that any organization would do well to follow: “Make things open: it makes things better.”

Here at 10gen, we couldn’t agree more.

- Posted by Matt Asay, vice president of Corporate Strategy, 10gen.

Tagged with: government IT, open source, government preferences, UK government