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Open Source Solutions

I also started this as a thread in the E-Government group…

As I dip my toe into the social media hot tub, I’ve found a community that espouses the use of open source, free applications. Things like Kubuntu or Ubuntu which are free operating systems (much like Windows) or even something as simple as Open Office, which are free productivity applications that basically eliminate the need for any Microsoft applications (windows, Powerpoint, Excel, etc…).

Now, In the effort of full disclosure, I’ll freely admit that I’m a devotee of the ‘Cult of Free’. I’m also a bit of a contrarian, I enjoy asking ‘why’ and doing things that are not exactly in line with the status quo. It’s one of the reasons I got kicked out ofhte CG Academy, but I digress….

The point is, I like the idea of thumbing my nose at Jobs and Gates (although I love iTunes and my iPod, so I’m kind of a hypocrite) and getting things that fit my needs, but don’t lock me in to a static solution.

Oh yeah, and since it’s free we’d be saving the taxpayer some money.

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There’s a push for open source. Look at obamacto.org and using only open source technology is the #10 most popular idea. Even here at GovLoop there is a group GOCC for government open-source collaboration.

I wouldn’t say open source is always better for every situation. But I think it should be considered as an option in government more often than it currently is.


I work for a municipality that has an entire department that is responsible for IT for all of the other departments. The IT department’s only applications development platform is linux/apache/weblogic or jboss/java/oracle. If the other end-user departments develop or have a vendor develop a system that uses anything else, they are on their own. The central IT department will only provide break/fix support for the server and may not allow the end-user department to connect the server to the network if the system is accessible via the public internet.

Everything is open source except for the WebLogic application server and the back-end Oracle database. I don’t think IT has taken the option available via the open source licensing models to customize linux, apache or jboss. So the only motivation for using open source would seem to be the reduced costs as compared to commercial software.

End-user departments use MS-Access, Paradox, Excel and other desktop applications because they do not have Java developers on staff.

A couple of end-user departments have begun developing intranet based applications using windows/apache/mysql/php but are not supported by the central IT department.

The end-user departments do not have programmer positions that would pay enough to attract competent Java developers.

Just because you standardize on an open source platform, you still need to consider using technologies that don’t require high-priced programmers.

Andy Stein

I am member of the original GOCC (Government Open Code Collaborative) started by MA in 2004. After the departure of Peter Quinn, CIO for MA, the group lost energy. I am working with the Oregon State University’s Open Source Lab (OSUOSL) to restart it with a new focus and new goals. First we are renaming it to Government Open Collaborative Community and moving the hosting from MA to OSUOSL which hosts several Open Source projects and organizes the yearly GOSCON conference (Government Open Source Conference). Deb Bryant is the Director of Goscon and serves as the Steering Committee chair, I am also a member.

With our new focus in GOCC, Open Source plays a key role, but more in process than in product. In other words the important element is that of community and collaboration and whether or not Open Source products are used is less important. In either case however, the sharing process among government organizations having similar objectives and needing similar solutions can be accomplished with methods similar to the collaborative development practiced by the Open Source community.

In the near future we plan to have some of those communities register their projects in GOCC and invite other government organizations to join. We plan to use social networking software such as this one.

One example of such community is Open eGov: http://nngov.com/egov. We are part of a larger international community PloneGov: http://www.plonegov.org/. To the point made by Richard Booker, this is not necessarily a pure “Open Source solution”, but it can be. It is available on Linux, in which case the entire software stack is Open Source. Or, it may run on Windows. We are currently looking at integration between Open eGov and Microsoft Active Directory and SharePoint. While Open eGov includes a fully functional Intranet, some of our departments in Newport News started using SharePoint for ease of use, desktop integration, etc…

What may work best for government is to remain open to the idea of leveraging open and proprietary technologies as most appropriate. Even better, remain open to the idea of leveraging common solutions across many organizations with similar needs. This is where GOCC comes in and this is what we’ve been promoting with the yearly GOSCON conferences.