Open Source makes historic UK breakthrough

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Open Source companies have been granted official permission to supply software to the UK public sector for the first time in British history.

At least two Open Source software suppliers have been awarded places on the £80 million Software for Educational Institutions Framework, making them official suppliers to UK schools and scoring a victory in what has been a long and frustrating battle against favouritism shown to conventional commercial software companies in UK politics and procurement.

Mark Taylor, president of the Sirius Corporation, one of the winning Open Source suppliers, said "We were utterly stunned. We are delighted. It's a significant breakthrough for Open Source software."

The UK's procurement frameworks, a fast-track process for public sector purchasers, handled £4.4bn of business in the year to April 2008. They are not meant to prevent companies not on the lists from selling to the public sector but, said Taylor, this had not been the experience of the Open Source community.

"Schools would say, 'we want this stuff, it doesn't cost us anything and its really good'," said Taylor. "The LA would say, 'well the software's not on the list, there isn't a supplier who can supply it on the list, so you're on your own with that."

"So obviously there's a reasonable amount of pressure on the schools not to [operate outside the framework]," he said.

Jill Henry from of Novell UK confirmed her outfit had also won a place on the framework and that it was the first time an Open Source company had won the coveted position. Novell has been on frameworks before, but not in a capacity that would sanction its supply of Open Source software.

Another 10 companies have been awarded places on the framework but the Office for Government Commerce, the UK's public procurement sheriff, refused to divulge the names until tomorrow. Becta, the educational technology quango that oversaw the bidding for places, was unavailable to comment.

Peter Dawes-Huish, managing director of Linux IT, said he had pitched for a place on the framework but resigned from bidding after accepting that he was competing for a piece of history rather than pursuing a prudent business strategy. Linux IT's expertise was in providing mission-critical systems to places like financial institutions. Schools would have been a digression.

However, he said: "We wish Sirius very well and hope they will be very successful. It's important not just that we support each other because we come from the same, perhaps, beliefs, in terms of the adoption of software, but it is where Mark and Sirius have their experience and we would like to see them successful." µ
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