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A breakthrough for open source in the UK

The UK just took a historic step by opening up its Software for Educational Institutions Framework to open source.

Open source has long been the ugly stepchild of UK government information technology, but in a recent turn of events, it may finally be gaining ground with the British.

As The Inquirer reports, two open-source companies, Novell UK and Sirius, have been granted access to the UK's £80 million ($149 million) Software for Educational Institutions Framework, which enables them to supply software to the UK public sector. There may be additional open-source vendors chosen but the official list won't be released until Wednesday, September 24.

How important is this selection? Very.

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 (Mark) Taylor (CEO of Sirius), 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."

In other words, it's a bit like getting on a General Services Administration schedule in order to sell to the U.S. federal government. There are ways around it, but working with the GSA makes it so much easier.

While kudos are in order for Novell UK and Sirius, the greater importance is the precedent it sets for open source, generally. If this helps to open up the UK to open source, what with its massive amounts of IT waste on proprietary technology and its traditional affection for Microsoft, then this is just a first step toward an open, successful future.