Canadian Government Uses Plenty of Open Source Software



February 13, 2009

Getting a survey of what software is used across all of the departments within the Government of Canada would be an extremely exhaustive process.  I'm quite sure that there are many employees of the federal government who already are spending considerable time counting their proprietary licenses.  So, how is it possible to get a quick overview of how open source is being used, since there are no contractual responsibilities to report it?

With websites a lot of basic information is generally offered up from the server, and with a well established site like Netcraft we can do a quick audit of what a site is running and when it was last rebooted. You can also search generically for a partial domain like * to get all of the sites it has records on.  Netcraft is probably most famous for creating the survey of what web servers are popular on the Internet.  As of January 2009, Apache was at 52% & Windows was at 32%. 

Tools like BuiltWith allow you to get a fresh review with other details.  It's been useful for identifying servers where Netcraft didn't pick up the details.

Using these tools I did a survey of the 432 externally accessible sites that Netcraft has known about.  I then took those and broke them down to find which once are known to be either using an open source server, web server or scripting language.  There is no way from this to find out what other open source tools might be in use such as WYSIWYG editors. 

Open servers (122)

  • *nix - 28
  • freebsd - 19
  • openbsd - 2
  • GNU/Linux - 55
  • GNU/Linux - Debian - 12
  • GNU/Linux - Red Hat/Fedora - 5
  • GNU/Linux - SUSE - 1

Unknown servers running open source (34)

  • with Apache and/or PHP - 24
  • with PHP - 8
  • with Zope/Python - 2

Other proprietary servers (35)

  • Solaris (7-10) - 32 (16 with either Apach or PHP)
  • HP-UX - 1
  • IRIX - 1
  • Netware - 1

Windows servers (166)

  • Windows Server 2003 - 107
  • Windows 2000 - 57
  • NT 4/Windows 98 - 2

Unknown servers with no open source programs found (27)

  • With IIS - 21
  • Netscape Enterprise Server - 3
  • oracleAS Web Cache - 2
  • Sun ONE Web Server - 1

I found evidence for 172 that are using open source software and had evidence that only 193 are not.  Now it is interesting that this trend is against what is standard in the Internet.  However, it is more interesting that open source software is used almost at par with what is considered the norm within government.  There is a 6% difference in the use of open source tools and non-open source tools from this survey, so why are we not also seeing RFI's on how the government should purchase for charge licensed software, like they are doing with open source. Certainly in the world of server side software, open source is already well established.

Servers using open source include:


So Apache, PHP & many GNU/Linux distributions are already well adopted throughout the federal government. Also check out the An open door for open source article on CBC.  OpenConcept's Russell McCormond is interviewed and always has a great perspective on this issue.

About The Author

Mike Gifford is the founder of OpenConcept Consulting Inc, which he started in 1999. Since then, he has been particularly active in developing and extending open source content management systems to allow people to get closer to their content. Before starting OpenConcept, Mike had worked for a number of national NGOs including Oxfam Canada and Friends of the Earth.