Cox endorses open source evaluation project

16 Apr 2004

In a development that will be sure to send shivers down Microsoft’s spine, a project that is claimed could lead to European public administrations saving billions of euro was launched in Maryborough House Hotel, Cork, today.

Cospa (Consortium for studying, evaluating, and supporting the introduction of Open Source software and open data standards in Public Administration) is a two-year €3m project that will study, evaluate and support the introduction of open source software and open data standards for personal productivity and document management in European public administrations.

The project is being partly funded by the EU Sixth Framework Programme for research and technological development.

In a letter read out at the event, Pat Cox, president of the European Parliament, declared his support for the project, saying that open source software could be seen as a significant savings opportunity for public administrations in Europe by avoiding costly annual payments for software licences.

“It is one area, perhaps exceptionally in technological terms, where we have stolen a march over the US and over the proprietarial systems that dominate to an even greater extent in the US than in Europe,” he said.

Professor Brian Fitzgerald of the University of Limerick, one of five European universities participating in the project, said: “Public administrations [PAs] are generally the largest consumers of commercial software and spend a vast amount of money on software packages in every European country. Taking the recurring annual cost of licences for these packages into consideration, the expenditure runs to billions of euro per annum. The goal of Cospa is to convert European PAs to open source software, such as Linux and OpenOffice, and to research the issues that arise. The main motivation for going down this route is the extreme versatility offered by open source software, transparency of functioning and savings on software licences,” he said.

Open source software (OSS) means that the applications source code is freely shared with active encouragement to modify and redistribute the code. The phenomenon has the potential to revolutionise the software industry and has caused the emergence of innovative new business models for software and services.

Given the threat that it poses, OSS is at the very top of Microsoft’s agenda. In the last few months, the software giant has been rushing around trying to put out OSS fires around Europe, most famously when CEO Steve Ballmer jumped on a plane to Munich to try to persuade – unsuccessfully – the city fathers not to replace Microsoft on the desktop with Linux. In the UK, it persuaded Newham Borough Council to stay loyal only after reportedly making significant price concessions, while the NHS is pressing ahead with a trial of Sun’s Java Desktop System as an open source alternative to Microsoft.

Cospa involves 15 European partners, which include five universities, eight public administration organisations and two major companies, IBM and the Italian company Conecta. All of them were represented at the launch.

The Irish partners in the Cospa project, UL aside, are Beaumont Hospital, which is already advanced in its use of open source software and the South-West Regional Authority.

By Brian Skelly