Aug 26 2011

GOSCON: Climbing the Mountain

The Government Open Source Conference, masterfully curated by Deb Bryant and the good people at the Oregon State University Open Source Lab, is one of my favorite open source events. Every year, they manage to pull together quality speakers from innovative agencies and projects in a warm, collaborative, and exciting environment.

Before the earthquake unpleasantness later in the day, I was able to was able to catch the “Cutting Costs” session. Alex Howard of O’Reilly (“The hardest working man in Gov 2.0″) moderated a panel discussion between Dr. David Wheeler of the Institute for Defense Analysis, Tiffany Smith Licciardi from the State Department’s Office of eDiplomacy, and Greg Elin, the Chief Data Officer for the FCC.

Frankly, I was expecting to hear a lot of the arguments I’ve heard before. Let’s face it: cutting costs with open source is very well-trod territory. This panel, though, surprised me. The level of sophistication and the quality of the advice this panel produced was remarkable. They weren’t beating the same tired clichĂ©s about security and licensing. Instead, we heard about the ways open source software and even the open source process were informing agency strategies, and got some very practical advice on where open source can be used, and how it can serve a larger mission.

May 18 2011

DOD Open Technology Development Guide Released!

The DOD’s second Open Technology Development Roadmap has been released: “Open Technology Development: Lessons Learned and Best Practices“. It’s a handbook for using and making open source in the DOD and the US Government, sponsored by the Secretary of Defense. It provides practical advice on policy, procurement, and good community governance, all under a Creative Commons license. I’ll be providing some more commentary later, but this is a huge step forward in the adoption of open source in the US Government.

Updated: Here’s the source document in ODF format: OTD2: Lessons Learned.


May 11 2011

Lockheed Martin on Open Source and the Cloud

Lockheed Martin’s Melvin Greer, Senior Fellow and Chief Strategist, Cloud Computing, noted that the contractor community’s development of internal expertise in using open source software will help the government in its adoption of OSS.

“When Vivek Kundra, the U.S. Chief Information Officer, unveiled his 25-point implementation plan for IT reform, one of his top initiatives was a call to shift to a cloud-computing first policy,” Greer said. “We believe that the use of open source software will facilitate this shift, as a way to speed implementation, lower costs, and drive the development of standards for cloud computing.”

Well how about that. More info here: The Intersection of Open Source and the Cloud

Apr 12 2011

Obama, McNealy, and Cognitive Dissonance

Courtesy Han Soete, licensed CC-BY-NC-SA.

Gene Quinn’s recent post titled “What Happened to the Obama Open Source Initiative?” criticizes, in turns, open source software, Scott McNealy, the Obama administration, and “business newbies” who want to use the open source software model.

Early in the Administration, President Obama asked Scott McNealy, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems, to prepare a report on how the federal government could employ open source software, but Quinn notes that “as yet, some 26 months later there has been no mention of the report or across the board government adoption of open source software.” The article then draws this strange conclusion:, “Perhaps the trouble associated with coming out with a report or even a government wide coherent approach is that open source software is not really free really.”

Yeah, I didn’t understand, either. To summarize:

  • The President shouldn’t have commissioned a report on open source software.
  • Scott McNealy shouldn’t have been asked.
  • The follow-through on the report has been poor.
  • Therefore, open source isn’t really free.

Disappointingly, Quinn doesn’t stitch these points together, robbing me of the opportunity to refute him. Instead, he uses the McNealy story as a christmas tree from which he may hang his favorite open source bugbears. I’m forced to content myself with refuting these instead.

Nov 16 2010

Good design is hard on all of us.

An interior view of the Sagrada Familia

The Sagrada Familia, a splendid mashup of bottom-up and top-down design. Photo courtesy of Licensed CC-BY-SA.

Tim Lee is, for my money, one of the most reasonable and thoughtful tech policy essayists we have. His latest, “Open User Interfaces Suck” got my attention, because he hits me right where I live. In his usual, respectful, level-headed way, he claims that open systems (like the open source development process I love so dearly) is ill-suited to a good user experience.

Tim starts, as you might expect, by holding up Apple as a paragon of interface design, since they make beautiful machines and beautiful, approachable software. He then turns his gaze to more open platforms, like Android, with withering disappointment. He concludes that because open systems require consensus-building and “big tent” approaches which are optimized for “scalability and flexibility”, they’re poorly equipped for good UI design. On the other hand, Tim says that good design depends on “simplicity and consistency,” which comes from the vision of one person (let’s call him “Steve“) and the slavish execution of that vision throughout the product.

Oct 19 2010

Citizen and government collaboration: let’s work it out.

Over the last couple years, many of us involved with open source in government have had discussions about what it means for citizen coders to become involved in state, local and federal efforts. There are all kinds of legal, ethical, and logistics questions that haven’t been answered. Everyone seems to be solving them individually, but it’s not well-coordinated. This means that agencies who want to engage developers are wasting valuable time trying to figure out the “right way” to work with the public.

The domain is large and already bearing fruit; I think we’re all enthusiastic about CivicCommons, CrisisCommons, and a host of public service oriented application development contests in many major cities.

On the other side, the Federal government is putting its toe deeper in the Open Source waters, recently making agreements with SourceForge and other web-based developer services. The GSA has announced its intention to launch, inspired by The VA is exploring how to open source their VistA electronic health record system. The list goes on.

Aug 30 2010

The future of the government forges

The GSA is currently planning, which is widely assumed to be based on, the much-discussed collaboration platform from the Defense Information Systems Agency, or DISA. is a pretty incredible idea: a single destination for testing, certification, and software development in the Defense Department.

It sounds obvious, but the idea remains revolutionary. For the first time, there would be a single repository for source code that could be shared between the hundreds of agencies, commands, and programs in DOD. Developers would be able to share their work in a familiar, web-based environment. A previous version of was pulled for unknown reasons, but the current iteration is based on the TeamForge product from CollabNet. If you’ve used SourceForge, you get the idea. The DOD is the largest consumer, and one of the largest developers of software in the world. Much of this software is redundant, locked up by vendors and integrators, can’t work with other software, and nobody remembers how to maintain it. There’s no doubt was long overdue.

Aug 3 2010

Fighting Forks

This is the ignite presentation I gave for the Mil-OSS WG2 conference today. It’s a tremendous group of sandal-shod revolutionaries who want to bring open source and the US Department of Defense together. You can sign up for the mailing list here. If you use your imagination and insert a lot of stumbling, fumbling, and false starts to this, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how it went. You can find the full presentation here. [Update: Josh posted a video of my presentation, so you don't have to imagine it.]

Jul 30 2010

Open Source Pork

The adorably named “Snort” project has been the mainstay of open source intrusion detection systems for as long as I can remember. The success of Snort and its commercial wing, SourceFire, is one of the early successes of open source, especially in security. On July 5th, the Open Information Security Foundation, a consortium of companies and government agencies who want to experiment with new approaches to the IDS problem, released version 1.0 of their Suricata project. It’s great to see government agencies make use of the open source development process to collaborate with the private sector and advance technology in this important niche of the security ecosystem. But so far, the story is pretty boring.

But wait! It’s not boring at all, because at the same time as Suricata is released, the Washington Post’s Top Secret Nation series is running. A pall suddenly falls over every aspect of government, especially in security, and especially for Dana Blankenhorn of ZDNet. “Private open source security is not amused,” and neither is Blankenhorn, who is quickly becoming my favorite source of new material:

Jul 29 2010

Open Source in Government: Who was first?

Brian Purchia of Burson-Marsteller has a post over on GovFresh about the value of open source to unions. His argument pivots on cost-savings. I think you could make a more expansive argument that includes risk mitigation and innovation, but describing the advantage to unions is an interesting angle I hadn’t seen before.

I noticed that Brian repeated the misunderstanding that San Francisco had the nation’s first open source policy. I don’t want to diminish his larger argument, but it’s important that we give credit where credit’s due. So for the record:

  • May 28, 2014: DOD issues the “Stenbit memo,” which assures readers that open source is commercial software under the law, and can be used in the DOD.
  • July 1, 2015: OMB issues OMB-04-16, making clear that open source can be used in the Federal Government
  • September 30 2009: Portland, OR is the first city to issue an open source policy.
  • October 16, 2009: The US Department of Defense CIO issues a memo reiterating that open source software is commercial software for procurement purposes, and encouraging DOD branches to include open source when they’re picking software.
  • January 7, 2010: California‘s open source policy is published.