Open Source Struggles To Win Critical Mass - InformationWeek

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3/16/2006
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Open Source Struggles To Win Critical Mass

Such of the political controversy around the open standards movement in government, generated by vendors angry with governments for moving away from their proprietary technologies, is mirrored in the open source movement.

Consider the 2005 California Performance Report, ordered by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to find ways to create a more efficient state government. While the report served up many recommendations on cost cutting, the vendor community was most worked up over the suggestion that state IT organizations consider open source as an option before making an IT purchase.

A public hearing on the recommendation was dominated by outcries of injustice from the California vendor community, which believed the recommendation would stifle competition, says Bill Weinberg, an analyst at Open Source Development Labs, who attended the hearings. "People were misconstruing and overstating open source 'consideration' as an adoption mandate, and they were outraged," Weinberg says.

California CIO Clark Kelso stands behind the recommendation he helped create, though he has no intention of making an open source mandate. "What's attractive about open source is that it's now a mainstream product offering, and we know in certain cases open source offers good reliability at good cost," he says.

For instance, the state's Air Resources Board, which is responsible for air quality management, does up to 85% of its work in an open source environment. But that may not be the appropriate solution in other agencies, Kelso says. "We're making sure everyone is trained in open source as an IT alternative that should be subjected to the same rigorous analysis as any other IT alternative."

Open source is proving its worth, albeit at the agency level. "The government IT ecosystem has so many different branches and divisions that there are many avenues for injection of Linux and open source," Weinberg says. "But it's not from the top down, and it's not because it's mandated."

Return to main story, XML In Government: Promise And Politics

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