David A. Wheeler's Blog

Mon, 02 Feb 2004

New presentation on Government and OSS/FS (LinuxWorld 2004, eGov)

I’ve just posted a new presentation, What Should Governments Examine in Acquiring COTS Open Source Software (OSS)? This is the presentation I gave at LinuxWorld on January 22, 2004 (with a few tweaks). LinuxWorld was in New York City’s Javits center, and many U.S. government folks weren’t there. So, I’m also going to be giving the same presentation on February 3, 2004, at the Web-enabled Government conference in Washington, DC (at the Ronald Reagan building). In both cases this presentation is part of a set of short presentations by panel members, followed by a panel question and answer period. If you’re curious, the other panelists include Tony Stanco (George Washington University), Terry Bollinger (MITRE), and Peter Gallagher (devIS). If you’re not curious, I can’t help you.

This presentation is pretty short; it has to be, since each of us has only has 10 minutes to give our initial presentation. So much information had to be kept out to fit in 10 minutes’ time!! Still, I think this presentation would be useful for those who are thinking about the relationship betwen governments and open source software / Free Software (OSS/FS). I talk about in what way OSS/FS is the same as proprietary software, how OSS/FS is different in terms of its implications, challenges in employing OSS/FS, and closing remarks. I think the challenges in particular need more thinking about. For example, acquisition processes were designed before OSS/FS was common; it’s easy to unintentionally exclude perfectly good OSS/FS options from consideration.

This presentation is yet another example of a minor terminology problem. I normally use “OSS/FS” in my writing, as a broad term covering the definitions of both open source software (as defined by OSI) and Free Software (as defined by the FSF). However, “OSS/FS” is a complicated thing to say. In this briefing, I just use the term “OSS”; for this audience, that works reasonably well. However, some seem to think that this term excludes “Free Software” (I don’t mean to), and for some government types this term is slightly confusing (since “open source” in governmentese means “available to the public”). I’m thinking about starting to use the term “FLOSS” (Free-Libre / Open Source Software), since FLOSS is easier to say and deals with the problem that to many, “free software” means “free of cost” and not the intended “freedoms provided”. F/OSS (Free / Open Source Software) is also easy to say, but that phrase leaves the second problem untouched. It’d be far too much of a hassle to change my current documents, though. Since FLOSS has “open source software” embedded in it, people searching for “open source software” could at least still find it.

One last-minute addition to the presentation is a set of web sites that might be of special interest to someone examining the issue of government and open source software. I’ve listed as interesting papers my own Why OSS/FS? Look at the Numbers! paper, the MITRE “Use of Free and Open Source Software in the US Dept. of Defense”, the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC) - Panel on Open Source Software for High End Computing, and the DoD policy memo “Open Source Software (OSS) in the DoD” signed by John P. Stenbit (DoD Chief Information Officer) on May 28, 2003. Interesting sites include the Center of Open Source and Government (eGovOS), OpenSector.org, and the Open Source and Industry Alliance. And of course, the Open Source Initiative (OSI) and Free Software Foundation (FSF). Obviously there are many other potentially interesting sites and papers; a longer list is in my list of OSS/FS references.

Note that, as with all things on my personal site, this presentation is not formally endorsed by my employer, government, or guinea pig. I’ll work on the guinea pig.

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