By: Mark Kember
Open Source has existed for years. Created by software developers in response to the rise of proprietary software in the late 1970s and early 1980s, free software allowed collaborative development which morphed into the Open Source movement. This approach aimed to bring the principles of the free software movement to the commercial world. In 1998 the Open Source Initiative was founded, as the Guardian of the Open Source Definition and approver of compliant Open Source licences. The software licences that developers could use to share their code and be acceptable to businesses.
Fast forward to today. Open Source software is behind a huge majority of the digital services that we use today. It powers the majority of the smartphones that we use every day, the applications that we use to organise our lives, and it delivers the services that we rely on as citizens. As more and more of our digital services rely on Open Source software, this approach to building and maintaining software and other technologies will become more important over time.
The UK Government has taken a forward-looking approach to Open Source software. In 2011, Cabinet Office Minister, Francis Maude, set up Government Digital Services (GDS) to execute a Digital By Default Strategy, with an emphasis on Open Source software and an open approach to data. It led to results, as the team migrated more than 2,000 websites to one platform. GDS built some of the most trafficked and popular sites for citizens to interact with their Government anywhere in the world, and the GDS team continues to follow this process to this day. From this approach, other Governments across the world adopted the same approach to digitise their services for citizens using the same model.
As more Governments have adopted Open Source software within their services, and more businesses have built upon this technology, the role of Open Source software has come under more scrutiny. Security issues have been found, and the role of the community in fixing them has been explored. Sustainability for communities has been discussed, so these vital projects can continue to develop and be used. Accessibility and growing these communities is also essential.
To address the role of Government in supporting the UK’s Open Technology community, the Open Technology (OT) All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) will provide a forum for parliamentarians to be educated by the Open Technology communities, regulators, Government and industry and to discuss the role of Open Source Software, Open Hardware and Open Data, in the UK economy.
At the launch of the APPG, Lord Maude said, “Open Source software is one of the most powerful ideas of the last 20 years that is creating huge opportunities for UK businesses globally. I welcome the establishment of the APPG to ensure that the UK remains in the vanguard of the Open Technology community.”
Each of these areas will be essential for the growth of the community around Open Source software and Open Technology. For Government, supporting businesses to be successful around Open Technology will go hand in hand with the use of Open Source software in more digital projects in the public sector.
As more industries rely on data, these sectors will adopt more technology in their processes. Government also has an essential role to play in how technology is used and managed to gain best value and the best innovation. Open Source software has a critical role to play in these processes. The energy sector, led by the Energy Digitalisation Taskforce, has already recommended that any central software developed should be made available as Open Source software. The healthcare sector has also mandated that new software projects created for the NHS should be released as Open Source.
For Government to support these moves, more understanding is needed. The APPG for OST will help expand the knowledge of Open Technology across Government, assisting Parliamentarians in developing law. For those interested in joining discussions and supporting the Government in making decisions on supporting Open Technology – Open Source Software, Open Hardware and Open Data – we are asking for contributors to join conversations from 1 December.