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Obama administration seeks advice on benefits of open sourceMatthew Aslett, January 21, 2009 @ 6:29 am ET
Not from The 451 Group, unfortunately, but from Sun’s chairman and co-founder Scott McNealy, who told the BBC he has been asked by the new administration to prepare a paper on how the use of open source software within government can improve both security and the cost-effective use of technology.
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 report also quotes McNealy as saying “It’s intuitively obvious open source is more cost effective and productive than proprietary software… Open source does not require you to pay a penny to Microsoft or IBM or Oracle or any proprietary vendor any money.”
That quote is bound to bring out the naysayers – and rightfully so since it contradicts McNealy’s “free like a puppy” perspective (Dennis Byron has risen to the bait) – but the idea that government institutions could reduce costs by collaborating and building on reference implementations is a more convincing argument.
We have previously noted that the European Commission is slowly leaning further towards open source based on the view that using open source development methods will enable member countries can improve development and collaboration processes, avoid duplication of effort and focus innovation further up the value chain.
Recently economist Dean Baker, who has been credited with being the first economist to predict the crisis in the US housing market and its effects on global economic markets, recently called for funding for the development of open source software as part of a stimulus package.
“The government can spend $2 billion a year to develop open source software. This money can be used to further develop and simplify open source operating systems such as Linux, as well other forms of free software. The payoffs from this spending would be enormous.”
The BBC also quotes Michael Tiemann, who estimates that the cost of proprietary standards to the use government is “$400 billion (£290bn) and upwards”.
President Obama has already been positioned as a friend of open source, starting with his support for universally accessible formats, the technology used to run his campaign, and his use of collaboration techniques, not to mention some of his early policy group appointments and his promotion of “open source democracy”.
There is a world of difference between those initiatives and actually promoting the use of open source at a governmental level. It remains to be seen whether Obama’s choice of US CTO will act upon the recommendations of Scott McNealy.
Glyn Moody notes that McNealy “was always very ambivalent about open source during his time as boss of Sun”, which is true, but he has demonstrated that he understands the benefits of open source and open sharing and as chairman of Sun Federal he has the all-important ear of government contacts.
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