Public sector software catalogues: work in progress

19 June 2023

Author: Axel Thévenet

This article was originally published on the European Commission’s Open Source Observatory. 

Software catalogues make public procurement easier by helping people find software and by presenting, as much as possible, the information required for procurement procedures. There’s a lot of discussion taking place, including at the EU level, but there’s also a lot of work already done by various national and regional entities. Below are some examples.

The French government’s Interministerial Free Software Catalog (SILL) catalogues “recommended free software for French public agencies”.  As well as descriptions and licences, the entries (for example, LibreOffice) also include links to other catalogue entries such as Comptoir du libre (see below), CNLL’s service providers list, and Wikidata. And, if you have a government account (AgentConnect), you can see what other government agencies are using this software and their comments.  The website is in French and English.

In Italy, Developers Italia Software Catalogue is quite an advanced catalogue. The project descriptions are in Italian but the rest of the interface can be shown in Italian or English. So you can search by fifty categories and twenty-five intended audiences and five development statuses. For example, if you look at the CRM category, you see seven entries. Two have “open source software” above them, and the other five have “Reuse software”, but the “Reuse” packages are still also open source. You can see this by viewing each package entry and clicking on “source code”. This takes you to the code repository where you’ll find that SOLAssistenzaSalute is EUPLmiPiace is Affero GPL and praticheUSR-cittadini is GPLv3.

We interviewed Fabio Bonelli, one of the developers involved, who told us:

“The catalogue includes a vitality metric, based on a number of factors, including the frequency of code commits and the number of contributors to help choose the most active and maintained software projects. (…) besides being a tool to discover software, it can also be seen as an inventory of all the open source software being used by different public administrations (…) our picture of the adoption of FLOSS is incomplete but gets more and more precise as the catalogue grows.”

A second catalogue in France is from Adullact’s Comptoir du libre. Each software package can include a note about who is using it, information from the users, service providers who work with the software and also other software which is known to work well with the software. The website is only in French.

In Greece, the Open Technologies Organisation (ΕΕΛΛΑΚ) maintains a wiki with software used in public administration. The wiki is in Greek but a machine translation to English gives an idea of what it contains. Each package has a category, a brief description, and a note about what non-free software it can replace.

Not attached to any particular country, Free Software Foundation maintains the Free Software Directory. An interesting aspect of this project is that entries are created and maintained by an open community and teams can be formed around specific categories, so the existing work could be built upon either by forking the data or by joining the community.

Other projects which contain some of the required features include:

A complete merging of these efforts is unlikely. Issues include:

  • Different catalogues currently cater for different audiences or use cases
  • People building or maintaining them may have a mandate that is specific to that catalogue
  • If a catalogue is already in use, the maintainers presumably have to keep it working
  • Agreeing a maintenance policy and system takes work

These are all solvable but catalogues are needed now, and are already in use, so the existence of multiple catalogues is part of the near and medium term future. Its possible that an easier form of cooperation will emerge through federation or syncing of the various catalogues, or through standardisation of the data formats and ensuring the data is under a licence which allows reuse and modification. Whichever route it takes, this is clearly a hot topic for 2023 and 2024.

Author: Ciarán O’Riordan