Is open source up to par? Just ask the DoD

Military: increased agility, faster delivery, better innovation, reduced risk, lower cost among benefits of open technologies

Last week provided a significant boost to open source software in the form of survey results suggesting that such technologies have now become a norm in the business world. Now, in what's perhaps an even bigger blow to proprietary vendors, none other than the Department of Defense has weighed in with its own support for open technology.

Specifically, the DoD last week released a 68-page guide entitled, "Open Technology Development: Lessons Learned and Best Practices for Military Software (PDF)," in which it seeks to "help U.S. government personnel and contractors implement open technology development (OTD) for software within government projects, particularly in defense."

Noting software's central importance in the way "the warfighter conducts missions" today, the document notes that "DoD must have software that is easily adaptable to changing mission needs and can be evolved rapidly and delivered quickly at lower costs to meet mission requirements in a timely manner."

Is it just me, or is that a pretty good description of what most businesses need, too?

As with Rifles, So with Software

The DoD then goes on to provide a nice analogy: "Imagine if only the manufacturer of a rifle were allowed to clean, fix, modify or upgrade that rifle. 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."

That has a familiar ring to it too, doesn't it?

"This is optimal only for the monopoly contractor," the document goes on to point out, "but creates inefficiencies and ineffectiveness for the government, reduction of opportunities for the industrial base, severely limits competition for new software upgrades, depletes resources that can be used to better effect and wastes taxpayer-provided funds."

I don't think I could have put it better myself.

Open technology, by contrast, offers increased agility and flexibility, faster delivery, increased innovation, reduced risk, lower cost and information assurance and security, the DoD asserts.

"By implementing OTD, DoD could help make software code an infinitely renewable military resource," the report concludes.

'Good Enough' for the DoD

Detractors of Linux and other open source software are fond of suggesting that "you get what you pay for" and that the software's openness somehow makes it less secure.

It's difficult to imagine a better counter to such FUD than the DoD's new report, however. If open technologies are the right choice for the United States military, aren't they probably "good enough" for your business?

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Tags open sourceLinuxoperating systemsservicessoftwarenon-WindowsU.S. Department of Defense

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Katherine Noyes

PC World (US online)
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