DoD Backs Open-Source

Ars Technica has word of a new Defense Department report that recommends that the Department step up use of free and open-source software. From the Ars story:

The report strongly cautions against proprietary vendor lock-in and discusses at length how open standards can facilitate interoperability between open source and proprietary systems, explaining that the DoD “needs to evaluate the impact that locking into one set of proprietary standards or products may have to its ability to react and respond to adversaries and more importantly, to technological change that is accelerating regardless of military conflict.”

This strikes me as terrific advice, and it will be interesting to see how much traction it gets within DoD.

In a way, of course, DoD (and the U.S. government in general) is playing catch-up here. Despite conducting protracted litigation, in which it successfully proved that Microsoft achieved market dominance through improper and anticompetitive means, the government continues to rely principally on Microsoft products even where competing non-proprietary alternatives are available. Federal agencies continue to use Word, even as other governments have abandoned it; they continue to use programs like Explorer and Outlook even as the government’s own computer security experts have recommended switching to open-source alternatives; most federal government PCs still run Windows. In contrast, open-source code has made great strides in other nations, with several South American countries and other developing economies exploring the benefits and costs of non-proprietary production. (China, too, is emerging as a major player in this space.)

This is a great flurry of governmental activity, virtually all of it occurring outside the borders of the United States. It’s a bit of a different story here at home; just about the only parallel I can think of is the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ campaign for ODF; and even that campaign, important as it is, is more about storing data in non-proprietary containers, rather than using non-proprietary tools to create and manipulate the data in the first instance. That’s why it will be a big step and, I’m inclined to expect, a positive one, if DoD takes its new report’s recommendations to heart and begins to rely seriously on open-source alternatives. A major agency’s adoption of any open-source product (even as a complement to, rather than substitute for, a propriety product) would also have ripple effects on vendors and suppliers (and, in turn, their vendors and suppliers) far beyond DoD itself. This is a very interesting development with potentially far-ranging implications.

One Response to “DoD Backs Open-Source”

  1. […] I blogged a short while ago on a Defense Department study that recommended that the government increase its reliance on open-source software, as a way of avoiding vulnerabilities that are associated with what has come to be known as the software monoculture. There are a lot of facets to the monoculture problem, but in the simplest terms, it’s this: the ubiquity of the Windows platform running Microsoft applications magnifies the security risks posed by worms, viruses, and the like. Those risks would be more manageable, the story goes, if there were more diversity with respect to operating systems and key applications among the PCs connected to the internet. Just as Microsoft’s dominance reduces its incentives to improve ease of use, so too does it reduce Microsoft’s incentives to improve the security of its products, to everyone’s detriment. […]