January 13, 2010 By Russell Nichols
California has officially accepted open source software (OSS) as a viable option for state government, and while the move won't exactly deliver the state from its multibillion dollar deficit, departments will have access to free software, which could save a few million dollars, said state Chief Deputy CIO Adrian Farley.
In the official letter issued Jan. 7 from the state CIO's office, the policy establishes the use of OSS in California state government as an "acceptable practice." Farley doesn't know of any other states with similar OSS policies, but he said it's consistent with policies done by the U.S. Department of Defense and the UK government.
"As California's government IT process matures, we think it's important for the state to evolve in terms of the way agencies use software," he said. "[This policy] broadens the sphere of software management to include open source."
The IT policy letter states that the OCIO will add a definition of OSS to the State Administrative Manual (SAM), and that agencies and departments must include OSS as appropriate in their Software Management Plans. The policy, Farley added, requires departments to use OSS with the same standards they apply to proprietary software.
"It's not like we're giving agencies carte blanche to throw up any kind of OSS that they want," he said, adding that the policy is basically "normalizing" OSS for government use, "a framework for departments to use OSS out of the shadows, more or less."
How will open source save the state money?
Departments automatically receive funding for software, but Farley said some agencies tend to overspend on pricey products. But the OSS policy allows departments to use free software "in lieu of more expensive content management tools," Farley said, which can save a few million dollars.
In some cases, users might pay for services or added support features. A department with a strong IT core could handle necessary support without paying, Farley said, but others might need to hire staff or purchase a higher level of service.