March 2, 2010 By Matt Williams
Vermont has become the latest government to enact an open source software policy, after Secretary of Administration Neale F. Lunderville recently signed a policy developed under state CIO David Tucker's leadership.
The policy says the Vermont Department of Information and Innovation and other departments should look at open source solutions as part of the procurement process, and are directed to calculate the total cost of ownership for an open source system, including "fixed costs (direct purchases and licensing) and operational costs for support, testing, upgrades, maintenance and training," as part of the procurement process.
Tucker told Government Technology that the idea for a policy began last summer, when as deputy CIO he originated a process for examining open source because there weren't any existing guidelines. So when Tucker became CIO late last year, he convened a council that met several times and gave input on the new policy.
"There were very strong opinions on the work group that the policy should be written 'shall' [use open source] instead of 'should,'" Tucker said, "and we went back and forth about that. The challenge is when you write a policy that says everybody shall do something, and they're not already doing it, then immediately everybody's out of compliance on the policy. I'm taking an iterative approach to this."
Tucker said it was important to him that the policy account for the total cost of utilizing open source software, beyond the obvious benefit that agencies wouldn't have to pay licensing fees up front.
That calculus has become more complex -- and potentially more attractive -- for public-sector CIOs like Tucker who are trying to keep IT services afloat with diminished budgets. The rise of open source software that comes packaged with vendor support is especially attractive, Tucker said, because cash-strapped government agencies wouldn't have to add staff for support and management.
Vermont joins a growing number of governments that have adopted policies for open source -- San Francisco and California being two recent examples. Tucker said his department will put the policy into practice when it comes time to update the state's e-mail system, which is currently running on Microsoft Exchange 2007. The state will consider proprietary software, cloud e-mail and open source solutions, he said.
"Quite frankly, we sometimes get criticized for the money we spend on proprietary software and there are certainly people in the IT community who work for the state of Vermont who have a viewpoint that there should be more use of open source," he said.
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