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3/19/2004
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States Seek Common Ground On Open Source

Massachusetts CIO says effort is unrelated to state's Microsoft antitrust lawsuit

Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and several other states next month will launch a software repository designed to let government agencies make more efficient use of open-source software. The repository will be managed by the Government Open Code Collaborative, a newly formed group of seven states and four municipalities that will contribute and download open-source code and proprietary software designed by and for government agencies.

The repository itself will consist of a MySQL database, Z Object Publishing Environment application server, Apache Web server, OpenLDAP authentication service for storing membership data, and the Debian Linux operating system running on an Intel-based rack-mounted server. The University of Rhode Island will house the system.

Peter Quinn

The software repository will save taxpayers money, Massachusetts CIO Quinn says.

Peter Quinn

The real benefit of the software repository will come when state and local agencies throughout the country look to quickly develop applications that improve government operations and save taxpayers money, says Peter Quinn, Massachusetts' CIO and chairman of the collaborative.

Massachusetts in January instituted a policy requiring its IT division to use industry-standard technology and to consider open-source software as part of any new project.

The state continues to appeal U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly's 2002 ruling in the Justice Department's antitrust suit against Microsoft, whose products compete with open-source alternatives, and is calling for greater restrictions on the company's business practices. But Massachusetts' new IT policy and its leadership role are motivated by cutting IT costs and opening its IT systems to more innovation, Quinn says. "This isn't an anti-Microsoft movement," he says.

Quinn says the collaborative will address a number of reasons open-source hasn't always been a practical option for states, even though government agencies could access open-source repositories through SourceForge.net, Freshmeat.net, and the Free Software Foundation's Savannah.gnu.org. For one, the Government Open Code Collaborative's repository will offer code developed by government agencies to meet their specific needs. And it will eliminate the state-to-state negotiation needed for each code-sharing arrangement in the past. "Every time we tried to do this, we had to sit down with the legal team, and it got expensive," he says.

The government collaborative, which held its first meeting in December, expects membership from the Massachusetts cities of Gloucester and Worcester, as well as state participation from Pennsylvania, Utah, Missouri, Rhode Island, and others. A government agency using the repository must sign a contract that lets it license any open-source or proprietary software it finds in the repository, while prohibiting that software from being used to make a profit. Some states, including Massachusetts, have laws prohibiting commercial entities from making money off products developed by the government using taxpayer money.

States including California, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Texas have pursued policies or legislation to encourage state use of open-source software. Jim Willis, director of E-government at the Rhode Island Secretary of State office and the collaborative's technology chairman, contends that open source better fits a public-sector mission: "People want the government to be transparent, so why shouldn't the technology be?"

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