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5/19/2011
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DOD Releases Open Source Development Guide

The military's 68-page guide provides best practices and other resources to to help developers create software using open technologies.

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The Department of Defense (DOD) has released a landmark guide for using open-source and open-standards technology to develop software in the U.S. military.

The 68-page guide, "Open Technology Development: Lessons Learned and Best Practices for Military Software," aims to "help U.S. government personnel and contractors implement open technology development (OTD) for software within government projects, particularly in defense," according to the guide, which has been posted in its entirety on the Scribd website and is available for free download.

The Assistant Secretary of Defense, the DOD Chief Information Officer, and the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics released the document to encourage military developers to use OTD as a way to keep pace with the "ever-changing mission demands of military operations" by building and re-using software they can update themselves.

"Imagine if only the manufacturer of a rifle were allowed to clean, fix, modify, or upgrade that rifle," they wrote in the document. "The military often finds itself in this position with taxpayer funded, contractor developed software: one contractor with a monopoly on the knowledge of a military software system and control of the software source code."

The document includes comprehensive guidelines and best practices for using open standards and open source technology and even recommends DOD developers used open source to develop software whenever possible in place of closed-source options.

Fittingly, the guide itself was released under an open-source license--specifically, the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License.

The guide defines OTD as developers collaborating to maintain a software or system in a decentralized way by using open standards and interfaces, open source software and designs, collaborative and distributed online tools, and technological agility.

Agility, in fact, is cited in the guide as being one of the key benefits of using OTD to develop software. Others include faster delivery, increased innovation, reduced risk, and lower costs.

The days when agencies and companies with high-security demands were wary of open source because of security fears are long gone. The DOD has put open-source software on equal footing with proprietary options since late 2009, when it issued guidance to that effect.

The military also encourages open and collaborative development through the Forge.mil open-source project site. The DOD recently added a social-networking community to the site to foster even more engagement among developers.

Join InformationWeek Government for a virtual event on cybersecurity best practices and government IT. It happens May 25. Download it here. (Free with registration.)

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