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Nothing in life is free (so why do governments love open source?)

Open Source is becoming the Lingua Franca of the government sector.

By Alan Shimel on Tue, 01/19/10 - 4:05pm.

It seems everywhere you look open source is being adopted, pushed and feted by the governments of the world. Whether it be the US Federal Government using open source in their cloud strategy and other places or the government of Jordan seeking to become the open source of hub of the Mideast or even the State of California coming out in support of open source, governments around the world are jumping on the open source bandwagon.

Why the interest in open source? Well first of all this is not a new phenomenon. The government sector has been a big open source supporter for a long time. Many open source projects were in fact started by people who were on government payrolls at the time they started their open source projects. But the reason for the sudden rush to open source goes deeper than that. One obvious answer is cost. Yes, let’s all repeat after me, open source is free. Well nothing in life is free. I think the government has learned that lesson as well as anyone. The real reason for open source adoption is time to completion. Using open source tools government developers can speed time to completion of many of their projects. The open source software and tools give them the flexibility they need to conform to government particular needs, as well as not running afoul of complicated commercial licensing issues (as if GPL 3.0 is not complicated, but that is for a later blog).

There is another issue at play here though. As governments adopt open source strategies, what message are they sending to the traditional software companies?  By adopting Linux as a preferred OS what are they saying to Microsoft? By using MySQL what are they saying to Oracle? Wait a second, Oracle owns MySQL now don’t they? Isn’t Microsoft even cozying up to open source? So it seems governments aren’t the only ones adopting open source. 

Hey if it’s good enough for Microsoft and Oracle, why shouldn’t it be good enough for the government? At the end of the day, it may just be an open source world after all. Well I don’t know if I would go that far yet, but the government sector is certainly on to something.

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