Policy

Letter to Obama: Consider Open Source

The Collaborative Software Initiative (CSI) posted an open letter to President Barack Obama Tuesday on the topic of open source software. The letter urged him to mandate that the United States government consider open source software for federal IT initiatives.

The letter was signed by top executives of companies with a vested interest in open source, including Alfresco, Ingres, Jaspersoft, OpenLogic and Unisys Open Source Business. It was subsequently signed by several dozen others.

"We urge you to make it mandatory to consider the source of an application solution (open or closed) as part of the government's technology acquisition process, just as considering accessibility by the handicapped is required today (as defined by section 508)," the letter said.

CSI helps companies and public organizations build solutions based on open source software and methodologies. For example, the CSI-supported TriSano effort is an open source system designed to support infectious disease surveillance and outbreak management.

The letter was the brainchild of David Christiansen, a CSI senior developer, who decided to write the letter upon reading that creating electronic medical records was a priority for the president. In an interview on Tuesday, Christiansen emphasized that the letter is not intended to suggest that open source software be required. Instead, CSI's view is that open source should be considered in RFPs and federally funded programs.

"I don't want to mandate everything the government does should be open source," Christiansen said. "I think software should stand on its own merits, but I honestly believe that one of its merits should be the sourcing of the software, the way it's built and who owns the technology."

The government has used open source software in a number of projects, including at the Department of Defense. However, CSI's CEO Stuart Cohen said he believes it is often difficult to get open source software considered, although the situation is not as bad as it was years ago.

"I think it's getting there, but if we really thought it was there, we wouldn't have written the letter to begin with," Cohen said.

Some see open source software as the way to go, from a general perspective.

"We need the government to put its money where its mouth should be," said James Vivian, a Web developer at Burlington, VT-based Dealer.com, emphasizing he was not speaking on behalf of his company. "We need to start spending as a society on open source initiatives."

About the Author

Jabulani Leffall is a business consultant and an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in the Financial Times of London, Investor's Business Daily, The Economist and CFO Magazine, among others. He consulted for Deloitte & Touche LLP and was a business and world affairs commentator on ABC and CNN.

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