The Belgian government should start an open source resource centre to help its public administrations increase their use of this type of software, says Jan Verlinden, IT administrator in the city of Schoten.
The city uses a lot of open source applications in the back-end as well as on the desktop and Verlinden says he is often asked to help other cities and municipalities. To him this proves the need for an national open source resource centre.
Verlinden presented on the city's use of open source on 14 November during a conference organised by the Open Source Software Observatory and Repository (osor.eu).
The IT administrator sees four more barriers that hinder public administrations use of open source. One of theses is that documentation is not always available in the native language. Secondly, there is a lack of good manuals. "This mean that we often have to develop training materials ourselves, such as writing the manual or making an instruction video or organise training session. This is very labour intensive."
The third issue is a lack of knowledge about useful research and tests already carried out by other public administrations. Fourthly, he says that many users and politicians do not know what open source is. This means there also is little political support for IT administrators that try to increase the use of this. "How many votes will a politician get if he or she favours open source?"
The city of Schoten has 33,000 inhabitants and the city administration employs four hundred people. The three IT workers maintain two hundred desktops and twenty servers in fifteen separate offices. The department is using Zarafa, an open source mail and collaboration server identical in functionality to Microsoft Exchange. In the back-end, the IT department is using more than twenty open source applications. It uses for example mail server Postfix, anti-virus application Clamav, content management system Joomla and employs Asterisk to offer voice over IP telephone services. The city has servers running either the Suse, Centos or Ubuntu GNU/Linux servers distributions. The department uses the open source OTRS to manage requests for computer assistance and troubleshooting.
On the desktops, the city workers find web browser Firefox, PDFcreater, file compression tool Filzip and project management tool Workbench. On a number of PCs OpenOffice is installed.
According to Verlinden, the city is planning to increase its use of open source. "Migrating to such tools is a smooth process. It is very easy to solve problems, and these applications have proven to be very stable and more secure. Our use of is open source is purely pragmatic, it is not out of ideology."
Open source in Schoten (pdf)