Category Archives: Advocacy

Walmart export web code as Open Source

Walmart have set an example to the retail sector with a significant export of Open Source code to supplement the 140 projects already developed by their technical team in the open.

Whilst transferring the Walmart.com retail platform to React and Node.js, Electrode was created to power the e-commerce platform which serves 80 million visitors per month and 15 million items.

Electrode

Electrode was released as an Open Source application with the OSI approved Apache 2.0 licence and can be found in the Walmart Labs Github account. It provides various developer enhancements and tools for the developer including Node.js configuration and feature management.

Header form Medium post on Walmart Labs Elecrode
Electrode from Walmart Labs

Announcement

Alex Grigoryan of Walmart Labs released a statement on Medium.com 3rd October 2016 explaining the the details of the applications and the scale that they operate at Walmart.

Alex writes about some of the challenges experienced by developers working on large projects. These include code re-use, performance and best practice. He says: “The problems we solved at @WalmartLabs, we want to solve for the community. So that’s what Electrode gives you out of the box”

In the first month following the announcement, Alex has engaged with the communities and responded to many questions asked about the software. The Github repository has already gained over 200 Github stars and contributions from the core developers are maintained on a daily basis.

Summary

Although early days for Electrode, this does look like a sincere investment in the Open Source ecosystem. On one hand, it enables other retailers to import the code and build their own competing platforms. On the other, it clearly sets Walmart as a lead innovator in this space and enables them to bring to life from contributions and enhancements submitted by external developers.

It will be interesting to see which forward-thinking retailers follow suit or collaborate in using and improving the software exported by Walmart.

Open for Business 2016

Open for Business 2016 logoOpenUK is the co-host and sponsor with the BCS Open Source Specialist Group of the annual Open for Business conference.  This is our annual festival of open source in the business environment which takes place on Monday 5th September in Hebden Bridge.

This year we are focusing on how to bring open source into your business,  looking at how to make money using open source, how to manage open source procurement and how to handle legal and licensing issues.  But most of our speakers are an international group of senior executives, with huge real work experience of success  with open source in their own business.

Highlights include

  • A keynote from Mike Little, co-founder of WordPress, which now powers 26% of the Web.
  • Maarten Ectors, VP for IoT at Canonical presenting on making money with open source.
  • Matija Suklje, lawyer and FOSS legal specialist who spent 5 years heading up the FSFE Legal Network (global FOSS legal network and Chatham House Rule list, which also publishes the International Free and Open Source Software Law Review journal

and our very own Stuart Mackintosh, Founder of OpusVL and chair of Open UK.

This year, over an extended lunch break, our speakers are offering “surgery” sessions. An opportunity to seek free advice one-to-one with leading practitioners.  In the evening you are invited to join speakers and other attendees for an informal dinner in a local pub.

Open for Business is just one part of the 10-day long Wuthering Bytes festival, a 10-day celebration of open source technology in the heart of the UK’s “Northern Powerhouse”.  There are many more meetings of interest to OpenUK members, from workshops on open source hardware through to open smart cities to the global meetings of the LLVM and GNU Tools Cauldrons.

Full details of Open for Business 2016 are here, with free registration through EventBrite here.  We look forward to seeing you in Hebden Bridge next month.

Review of global Open Source policy across the public sector

The UK has benefited from the 2012 Open Standards policy which was formally reviewed in 2015, and the guidance toward selecting Open Source, as described in the official UK government IT strategy, which states “where appropriate Open Source solutions and Open Standards will be considered”. However this document is becoming outdated, as the development and use of Open Source rises, and policy needs to evolve in order to keep up with action already being taken by many organisations within the public sector.

USA

Compare this to the progressive strategy outlined by the current White House Chief Information Officer Tony Scott, a strong advocate of Open Source, who believes that technological innovation is built through collective knowledge and collaboration.

Scott’s department has released a draft Federal source code policy for public consultation by 18th April 2016 and are encouraging the wider community to provide comment. This draft requires that all custom code purchased by the Federal Government to be made available across Federal Agencies, but for now, only limited obligation to be released as Open Source software to the community.

President Obama seeks technological progress and there is a view that investing in openness will address this. The White House describe the Open Data aspirations, API’s and contributions to Open Source on their developers pages.

A Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page is maintained by the US Department of Defence which aims to address the common issues that arise during selection and procurement which is generally also of benefit to non-US administrations.

India

A similar picture is emerging in other countries including India who encourage the use of Open Source over proprietary software.

Europe

Across Europe, many policies and guidance have been issued over recent years.

The French Prime Minister recommended that agencies return between 5% and 10% of savings made from the use of Open Source opposed to proprietary back to the communities as part of it’s Open Source drive.

Basque Country issued a decree in 2012 and was one of the first EU states to issue such a strong statement.

Initial Italian publications in 2012 lead to the development of criteria and guidelines in 2013 promoting importing of Open Source and the re-export of the software to other departments.

Although this is very positive progress, these policy developments focus on the importing of Open Source, with some limited obligation to share amongst other departments.

Bulgaria has lead the way with an all-round Open Source policy. Following the introduction of mandatory evaluation of Open Source solutions for government tenders in 2015, the government proposed a repository of Open Source applications which will be mirrored with Github, therefore enabling developers and other departments to interact, acquire and feed back to the software assets. The policy is currently under review in parliament and is anticipated to successfully pass in the near future.

Poland released their policy in 2016 which describes their aspiration to become an all-round Open Source government and this encompasses Open Data in addition to the software assets.

A review of EU policies and analysis of the response of 10 EU regions can be found in a 2013 document which presents the position of sharing and re-use of digital assets. A full report is available detailing the position of 30 EU nations.

Local government and departments

Such a policy applied to central government does not directly ensure that the public sector as a whole must comply. Local government, states and departments generally require their own policy to enforce such activity. A statement by USA digital working group 18F propose that their policy is extended to states and local government as described here. However the policy is likely to encourage generation of relevant Open Source software within the sector that other departments benefit from so we can expect it to be influential.

What next?

The importation of Open Source into government software projects does not ensure a two-way ecosystem, therefore failing to engage and stimulate the Open Source business, community and the benefits this may otherwise bring. Procurement and supply chain issues still need to be addressed in order to further evolve policies to reflect the needs and challenges of organisations within the public sector

At the time of writing, Open Forum Europe are working with other organisations to research the business use of Open Source across Europe. It is anticipated that this will bring more clarity to the positions of the nations outlined here as well as the first objective study of business impact of Open Source.

There is no argument that a purchaser of software and services would welcome solutions that ensured the freedoms identified by the Free Software Foundation. This has been considered a utopia and unachievable in the course of contemporary business. With the significant progress this decade toward Open Source policy, and leading nations experimenting with the all-round approach, it is now becoming more widely accepted that these freedoms will become a common expectation when acquiring software.

OSC Response to consultation: UK digital revolution

I am writing on behalf of the Open Source Consortium (the UK Open Source Industry Association) in response to the post on behalf of the Department for Culture, Media & Sport, The Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP, Ed Vaizey MP and Cabinet Office here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-seeks-ideas-from-public-and-industry-for-the-next-stage-in-uks-digital-revolution

Considering the advances made toward the UK digital revolution, most of the technology project successes of recent times have been largely down to the adoption of Open Source. GDS have promoted the Open Source principles that have started to enable an openly competitive market and this has allowed local businesses to compete with international conglomerates on a level playing field. A search on the gov.uk website returns 182 results in response to a query for “Open Source” with pages from a variety of departments and the gov.uk site itself being available as an Open Source asset.

The government service manual https://www.gov.uk/service-manual encourages use of Open Source and states “Use Open source software in preference to proprietary or closed source alternatives, in particular for operating systems, networking software, web servers, databases and programming languages.” Lord Bridges of Headley commented: “This policy with the sensible procurement practice has undoubtedly saved the UK tax payer a lot of money. During the last Parliament £1.7bn was saved thanks to digital transformation and the Government Digital Service cost £58m. This is therefore a very good return on investment”

It is unlikely that its possible to qualify the £1.7bn saving, however its obvious that the new Open methods have delivered benefit for the UK tax payer and will continue to do so. Future benefits will be realised when these systems are retired or extended as the data and software is available for inspection and modification, therefore enabling the negotiation of a fairer price based on the delivery of value services.

Although there are many areas where Open Source can positively impact the digital revolution, this response relates to the subject of education, with comment on both curriculum and non-curriculum benefits of Open Source.

The education sector stands to gain a great deal from investing in Open Source as the investment in systems often adds direct value to primary, secondary and higher education who have common and overlapping systems and processes. An opportunity exists for the system to become part of the teaching experience as the learner and teachers are not stifled by limitations of the system itself.

The OSC commends to the UK government the greater use of Open Source and most importantly, investment in Open Source through UK specialist Open Source companies. The following OSC members have provided specific insights in to the use of Open Source across the education sector.

A member of the OSC, Catalyst IT, has worked extensively with the New Zealand Ministry of Education and other government agencies for the provision of Open Source solutions to support operational education systems. Paul Stevens of Catalyst IT writes as follows:

Going back to 2003, the New Zealand government invested in an Open Source LMS for the New Zealand Open polytechnic. This project saw Catalyst IT www.catalyst.net.nz to select an Open Source platform to be used as a Learning Management System (LMS). The investment lead to significant development of the core application and helped Moodle to become the biggest and most adopted LMS in higher education worldwide as noted here: http://listedtech.com/free-lms-or-open-source-lms-used-in-higher-ed/

The official Moodle site states that there are almost 50,000 registered sites across 214 countries which illustrates the benefit of such investments.

Following the success of the Moodle LMS, in 2006, a similar project commenced for the selection of an e-portfolio system. The evaluation process concluded that no suitable Open Source solution was available at the time and the Open Source project Mahara.org was established to build a fit for purpose system. This investment created a basic portfolio and, with the engagement of the Open Source community and contributions from around the world, Mahara has become one of the most popular e-portfolio systems in the world. To this day the Ministry of Education still runs myportfolio.ac.nz which services lifelong e-portfolios for 1200 NZ schools.

Totara LMS has also been a similar success story with an initial modest investment by three NZ government departments in a project called MITMS. Catalyst IT, Kineo City and Guilds and Flexible Learning (later part of the Kineo Group) joined forces to create a corporate Moodle distribution called Totara LMS.

New Zealand government agencies have quickly adopted it with many now operating Totara for their training and career development. A key benefit realised is that the sharing of ideas and the costs of the developments of new features across the agencies, has enriched the product’s feature set and minimised costs, thereby delivering measurable value to the New Zealand tax payer.

The following case studies provide information on the implementation of the Totara Open Source LMS:

The New Zealand Ministry of Education invested in further Open Source projects in 2012 when they engaged Catalyst to develop the Progress and Consistency Tool (PaCT). The tool is designed to record the level of proficiency of students by their teachers and thereby help teachers increase the consistency of their judgements within schools and across the country. Written using Django, an Open Source framework, PaCT also enhances the measurement of student progress in relation to the National Standards. See PaCT for more information here: http://pactinfo.education.govt.nz/

The PaCT project presented the opportunity for New Zealand to create a world class system that is potentially re-usable by other governments and education institutions around the globe. As it has been developed on a 100% open source platform, further development by the administration will not be constrained by license or code challenges. As a further benefit, the Open nature of the application design enables full ownership and control of systems and data by the New Zealand government.

Users were vocal in their praise of the opportunity to be involved in the development of their application and the way their opinions were integrated into the design thinking. Those that are now using it, love it, and the project has been a great success.

Paul Stevens of Catalyst IT says: “Open Source needs to be a key consideration for the progression of the UK government Digital Strategy; to date the strategy has been about how to use Open Source and its competitive advantages above proprietary and closed software. The new strategy needs to look at how to engage and support the key Open Source projects and communities so that they deliver value and innovation, and grow the local economy with in-country funding of IT projects.”

Having a system like Mahara holding all of the UK student information under the management of the UK government is far safer than having the data under the control of a corporation (eg Facebook) who’s business model is to monetise data and contacts. Supporting the implementation of Open Source Management Information Systems is just one example of where significant savings could be achieved across primary, secondary and higher education with one investment.

The Learning Machine, a member of the OSC, recently announced that one of their qualifications in Open Systems is now eligible to attract league table performance points. Details here: http://www.opensourceconsortium.org/open-source-gcse-equivalent-qualification-attracts-dfe-16-19-performance-points/

Paul Taylor, Director of Resource Development at The Learning Machine, writes:

Open Source in Education – The Big Picture

Overview

A number of years ago, very few people in education would have known about or considered using open source as it was perceived as free, so not good quality. There would have been people using Linux perhaps in some server role or students using Open Office because it was on a computer magazine, but little in the way of volume. Fast forward to today and the use and acceptance of open source in education is wide ranging, from primary schools using a Raspberry Pi computer to control various functions through to an estimated 70% of colleges running their courses on the Moodle VLE.

Curriculum

In the curriculum space, there is also relatively wide acceptance of open source. In almost all cases, Awarding Organisations (AO) mention and support the use of open source for course content and large numbers of schools are using google systems. Schools use Moodle, not to the degree of FE colleges, but still in large numbers, because they can control how it works and can manage it effectively due to the large and helpful community built around it. Most of the AOs have reference to Linux or open source software as part of their exams and the specialist open source AO TLM use open source systems to support their assessment and learning functions. Specialist schools will use some of the more well known open source software platforms such as the Gimp or Audacity, not necessarily because they are open source, but because they offer excellent features. Indirectly, open source has driven down the cost of software as a recent announcement from the DfE announced a deal with Microsoft to save £30,000,000. Without the number of schools migrating to Google online applications, this would not have happened. If a deal similar to the one arranged for the government by Collabora to use Libre Office can be pushed to education, even more savings could be made.

Non-curriculum

The biggest aspect of non-curriculum in education remains the MIS (Management Information System) which is currently something of a monopoly. Almost all schools use a proprietary system which is very hard to break free from and very costly. There are excellent alternatives such as Canonical’s SchoolTool, but few schools would be brave enough to move to these systems without some government backing and support. Some schools deploy Linux based servers internally to run mail servers and web sites running Apache, but the majority of state funded schools tend to stick to proprietary servers and desktop clients as these tie in with the MIS they use. The non-curriculum services tend to be controlled through regional consortia such as the London, Midlands etc Grid for Learning. These provides Microsoft based services and deliver on a large scale so it appears to be good value. Few small primary schools have the technical skills or support not to use these so small local schools can pay several thousand pounds for services which would be hundreds if open source was used. The author recently swapped a £7K a year contract for some open source filtering and a basic business broadband package costing £300 per year for a local primary. Taken across all 7,000 or so primaries, that is a lot of extra teachers and resources.

Perhaps some of the problem with the non-curriculum aspects of school is a lack of skilled open source staff available?

I would like to thank Ed Vaizey MP for providing the opportunity to provide feedback on this call for ideas. The OSC would be pleased to consider any further questions or provide more detail as required.

With best regards,

Stuart Mackintosh.

OSC Chair

Royalty Free Open Standards – a report

An OSC paper explaining why royalty free open standards are essential for reducing public sector ICT expenditure and illustrating the vital role that public sector ICT could play as a source of innovation and growth in the economy.

Growth, innovation and creation have come about largely through the ability to interact easily with minimal transaction costs, delivered by using royalty free open standards.

This is not the case with online public services. If these services ever were avoidable, now they are being promoted or imposed upon the user. Unlike the Internet or the web, online public services constrain the user regarding their choice of software through the use of proprietary software standards.

When the public sector does not adopt royalty free open standards for software:

  • the public sector is less able to reduce its dependence on a small group of suppliers (an “oligopoly” with all the attendant risks)
  • users of online public services are constrained in their choice of software
  • users of online public services become locked in to a small group of suppliers
  • online services constrain innovation and growth in the knowledge economy

We have published a report on the wider importance of royalty free open standards and you can download it here (65 pages, pdf, approx 1.8MByte).

Which Department? How many seats?

A recent article in the Guardian “CESG asserts security of open source software” contains the following:

[A Cabinet Office official] said that simply considering open source alternatives helps improve competition, and mentioned that he encouraged a department to pilot open source LibreOffice as an alternative to upgrading its Microsoft software. This led to Microsoft providing the new software for free.

We’re a bit surprised about that, so we’ve asked for more information.

As usual, your improvements and annotations are welcome

10 November 2011

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Decision to describe Open Source Advisory Panel as “established”

In May 2011 we made an FOI request about about the Open Source Advisory Panel (OSAP) – see also Evidence supplied to PASC by Minister for the Cabinet Office. Eventually we were advised:

  • Cabinet Office is in the process of redefining [the structure] so that OSAP becomes an online forum
  • The Terms of Reference for the OSAP are in the process of being drafted and will be available on the Open Forum Europe (OFE) website […] are exempt from disclosure under section 22(1) of the FOI Act
  • No OSAP work plan has been agreed for next year
  • No meetings of OSAP have taken place
  • No advice has been provided to Government via OSAP
  • OSAP has not formally met

Continue reading Decision to describe Open Source Advisory Panel as “established”