Agreement could boost open source

DOD, industry form new collaboration

The Defense Department could gain access to new open-source software through an agreement between the Defense Information Systems Agency and Open Source Software Institute.

Although federal agencies, and particularly DOD, are already engaged in many open-source projects, the new agreement will enhance the relationships among the federal government, nonprofit organizations, academia and industry, said John Weathersby, executive director of the Open Source Software Institute. The result could be new technologies, along with better strategies for implementing and managing them.

Among other things, the agreement will address one of the trickiest parts of open-source software: helping vendors figure out how to make it commercially viable.

“Eventually, you'll see more government vendors — the system integrators, not just open-source companies — aggressively marketing open-source solutions as part of their larger [information technology] offering to government clients,” Weathersby said. “Many are quietly doing it now, but I believe we're close to a tipping point where government procurement officers will ask, ‘Is there an open-source option to this problem?’”

The new agreement will initially center on DISA's internally developed Corporate Management Information System, a Web-based federal workforce management and administrative software suite.

Increased collaboration will also help agencies and providers figure out how to consolidate applications that fulfill similar functions, said Gary Latham, executive vice president of Tresys Technology, which specializes in federal implementation of open-source technologies.

“This approach validates what the open-source community has known for a long time, that common code can be built and then enhanced or added to by multiple parties to address subtle difference and to encourage innovation across organizations,” he said.

The agreement could help overcome negative perceptions some government leaders have about open source, Weathersby said. Security is enhanced, for example, because most open-source licenses specifically grant the developers and users access to view or change the program code, he said.

“This openness, or access to the program's blueprint, encourages interoperability and enhances program manageability and security, since code access and review is constant and open to each developer or maintainer,” Weathersby said. “The argument is that it is much more difficult to hide malicious code in a program if everyone has the opportunity to view the blueprint all of the time.”

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

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