Open Source Computing and GIS in the UK

Travels in a digital world

The Perils of Proprietary Software

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In that serindipitous way that rss readers work, two posts came to my attention over the last couple of days. The first was from Gavin, about problems that occurred when the South African Government failed to keep control of the source code on two GIS programmes that they had developed. When contracts end, or funding dries up, if you don’t have complete control over your programmes then you might as well start rebuilding them now.

Today my fellow trouble-maker and open source advocate Joseph reported back on a Freedom of Information request that he made to English Heritage, the leading heritage body here in the UK, regarding the long-term sustainability of their (proprietary) Intrasis site recording software. I quote:

“Intrasis is developed by the Swedish National Heritage Board (RiksantikvarieƤmbetet), this organisation has a long-term commitment to the continued use and development of this software package. Our present contract is for four years, and the use of the package will be the subject of a post-implementation review after two years.”

So, lucky we only need to keep the records for 6 years then. After all, it’s not like they are the only record remaining of the archaeology that has now been dug up. Oh, wait…

(For those of you not from the UK- you might not know about the super-fab WhatDoTheyKnow site. It’s for submitting Freedom of Information Requests to UK public authorities)

This is all extra serindipitous (how often do you get to use that twice in one blog post?) because I’m trying to write my talk for the AGI 2008 conference at the moment. I want to try and get across that there are just as many, if not more, “risks” in a proprietary software solution as in open source. I suspect that government agencies aren’t ever really going to be taken to task over these decisions and this potential waste of public money unless we can get open source software understood at the highest of levels. Well, it’s a challenge…

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