Sun founder extols open source for government

Scott McNealy, founder of Sun Microsystems and chairman of the company's federal division, told agency officials today that open-source software based on open standards provides the security, interoperability and low cost that government needs.


It is a familiar message, one McNealy delivers at every appearance, and his keynote address today at the FOSE trade show in Washington, D.C., was no exception. "We invented open source," McNealy declared in a tone that dared anyone to challenge the claim, and he listed its advantages.


Open-source software has no barrier to entry, he said. Curious users can download products for free, making it easy to try a few options in a short time at no cost.


Open-source software is secure, he said, addressing a long-standing concern of some potential customers. "Everyone can see the code," he said. "If it had a weakness, it got found and fixed a long time ago." He was speaking specifically of Sun's Java platform but also of open source in general.


Perhaps the most important advantage is that it has a low barrier to exit, he said. Proprietary software is designed to lock users in, he said. Once a customer buys a database and migrates the organization's data to it, it is difficult to move again. Vendors often take advantage of that to increase enterprise license costs after customers are committed, he said.


The main question a lot of chief information officers struggle with is, "How do I get off this sucker?" he said 


Open standards, in contrast, allow data to flow easily from one product to another. As long as the products are built around the standards, users can migrate from one to another with relative ease, he said.


The problem is how you get to open standards, McNealy said. "It's tough because you're locked in."


To make the move, he said, an agency needs a leader willing to take the heat that comes from undoing earlier choices, even when it's costly. Because of the difficulty, proprietary software will be with us for many years to come, he said.

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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