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London: Complex proprietary licences encourage open source

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The complexity of proprietary software licences is encouraging the uptake of free and open source alternatives in the Greater London Authority (GLA), according to a study published on the Open Source Observatory and Repository (OSOR) on Wednesday. The city has already halved its use of proprietary database applications, replacing it by the open source Postgres alternative. It allows the city to simplify its IT infrastructure, using virtualisation.

The GLA has been reducing the number of proprietary licences required to run the city's database applications by rewriting these to the Postgres database management system. The IT department estimates this could help save a £100 (about 123 euro) per employee per year for three years.

However, following up by reducing, for example, maintenance payments to the proprietary database vendor, is tricky, the OSOR study reports. Even if the GLA runs just a single proprietary database app on a particular server, "it will still pay the same maintenance fee as though the server was full." Another plan, to move all low-priority database applications to one server and stop paying maintenance, is blocked because this would mean the city would lose favourable licence terms for other applications.

Not nice

This complexity and the possible threat of legal action has been hindering the city's use of virtualisation, which it believes would help to simplify its IT and reduce costs, the study quotes David Munn, the GLA's head of IT.

The city is worried about being audited by proprietary software vendors. "We've been really fortunate that our stuff is up to date. But when the process is happening, it's not nice."

In April, Munn was one of the speakers at the Open Source Open Standards Conference in London. According to him, the complexity of proprietary licences is forcing compromises that stifle innovation. "I know a number of organisations where a person is employed just to understand how the licensing works, just so you don't have the awful situation of having the auditors come in and legal action being taken," he said.

 

More information:

OSOR study

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