The Future of Open Source Software

This blog post is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent guide “7 Open Source Myths Debunked.” We spoke with a dozen government technologists, lawmakers and other experts to debunk common myths and help your agency make fact-based decisions about using open source. To view other myths, resources and facts about the state of open source adoption in government, download the full guide here.

One common myth about open source is that it is a fad. The rumor mill is that open source happens to be a trend right now, so why should agencies make it part of their IT strategies?

Here are the facts.

Open source software is far from a fad. It has been around for decades — Linux is one example — and even the DoD acknowledges that its security depends on free and open source software.

Open source has proven reliable and secure for NASA, Google and countless other organizations.

In fact, there’s an entire community of civilian and military open source software and hardware developers across the United States who work for and with DoD to adopt open technology innovation. “In the military, we tend not to have big announcements of people working together on things, just because of general paranoia about national security,” said Kane McLean, a member of the Military Open Source Software (Mil-OSS) community.

“That doesn’t mean people aren’t tagging up with each other and working together as a community on things, they’re just not publishing it to a website,” he said. “You just typically don’t wander into projects that are running weapons systems.”

But open source is about more than just the technology, said Alexis Bonnell, Division Chief Applied Innovation and Acceleration for U.S. Agency for International Development’s U.S. Global Development Lab.

“A lot of times when people talk about open source, they mean Drupal and [a] repository,” Bonnell said. “I think for us, co-creation is also just the general idea of bringing different people [and] organizations together, [and] letting them bring the very best of what they do, and figuring out really how we leverage each other’s special sauces.”

Bonnell’s team used open source software to collaborate with other nations and organizations to stand up the Global Innovation Exchange, a platform created for innovators, entrepreneurs and investors to work together on solving humanity’s greatest challenges around gender equality, energy solutions and more. Today the exchange boasts more than 5,000 innovations, about 19,000 collaborators and nearly $90 million in funds to support innovative ideas.

USAID told the vendor supporting the project that it should share the underlying code with any agency in need of similar capabilities.

“We think open source is a fast track to synergy for those who are open to finding their similarities versus their differences,” Bonnell said. “And, of course, it’s not a perfect solution for everything and everyone, but we really think that that pursuit of synergy is going to be the game-changer for government, and for the average citizen experience in the future.”

Some quick tips:

  1. Customers are demanding open source solutions from industry, forcing proprietary vendors to embrace open source.
  2. There are open source products that have been around for decades — Linux-based software is one of them — and they have proven reliable and secure for government and industry.
  3. Open source is about more than just technology but also a way of co-creating to benefit from shared ideas.

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