David A. Wheeler's Blog

Tue, 16 Mar 2004

Presentation at Open Source in Government Conference 2004

I just finished presenting at the Open Source in Government Conference 2004, aka “Unlocking Innovation for the Business of Government”. This was co-sponsored by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) and The Center of Open Source & Government. My presentation was about open source software and security, and I think it was received well. Those of you who have read my articles about open source software and writing secure programs won’t be surprised at what I said.

Dawn Meyerriecks (Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA)) gave a good presentation appealing for engineering reasoning rather than hype. I talked with another attendee who noted that in many places now, open source software is no longer the scary new concept, but instead it’s a workhorse that people have finally begun to understand.

A long presentation at the conference was a demonstration of “Workforce Connections”, a really good tool developed through government funding, and the first to my knowledge developed and released by the government as GPL software. (SELinux was released under the GPL, but it was a modification of an existing GPL’ed program.) It looks like a really good tool, and the presenter showed many charts detailing the extraordinary amount of money the government was saving by taking this approach. The Microsoft representative was taking notes, but I’m not sure if that was because he wanted to try to interfere with the project… or because he realized he could sell more Windows systems by supporting it (Workforce Connections can run on Windows as well as on Linux, and making sure it’s well-supported would give them additional sales opportunities). I also talked with an attorney, who had been involved in the licensing discussions. At one time, lawyers who understood (or had even heard about) the GPL and other such licenses were rare, but this lawyer flatly asserted that he understood the GPL and that they’d worked through the legal issues. That’s quite a change.

Indeed, it’s amazing how widespread the meme of open source software / Free software is. I mentioned speaking at an open source conference on the subway (on the way there), and the person next to me praised Mozilla Firebird for its tabbed browsing (note: she knew it was open source; I didn’t give a product name). I mentioned open source at the Ottawa airport, and the two people behind me said they were already using open source programs (in particular, Linux). I’m very pleased to see that people are now actively considering OSS/FS as an option, and then applying it where it makes sense to do so.

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