Open source government

According to this BBC report Scott McNealy, founder and CEO of Sun Microsystems, has been asked to prepare a paper for the Obama administration on the advantages of using FOSS in the government. According to McNealy, FOSS is the secret to more secure and cost effective government.

According to McNealy,

The government ought to mandate open source products based on open source reference implementations to improve security, get higher quality software, lower costs, higher reliability – all the benefits that come with open software.

The Open Source Initiative (OSI) is also supportive of this idea. Its president, Micheal Tiemann, added that it is just an historical accident that proprietary software has become so entrenched in government and that the global loss due to proprietary software is in the range of $1 trillion dollars (trillion with a ‘T’). In the U.S his estimate was $400 billion lost. (It doesn’t say how this estimate is calculated. Is it the amount of money that would be saved in licensing costs if proprietary software was replaced by FOSS?)

Of course this makes excellent sense. How receptive would Obama be to this recommendation? I’m guessing that Obama gets it. His campaign was an incredibly well-managed grass roots effort, which marshaled and organized millions of volunteers and raised record amounts of money in small contributions. Surely he can see the similarity between that effort and the way FOSS projects are organized and managed–both are highly democratized, grass roots efforts.

The very theme of Obama’s campaign was that there is nothing that people can’t accomplish if they work together for the common good. That also happens to be a fundamental principle of our HFOSS project: getting undergraduates working together to build software for the common good.

In a related blog post by Dana Blankenhorn on ZDNet it is pointed out that the economist Dean Baker has recommended that the stimulus package under consideration by the administration should include $2 billion per year for FOSS development projects.

So there are some interesting ideas swirling around in the new administration. Let’s hope Obama backs this idea.

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