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Defense Department OK's open-source software

Policy should pave the way for other government use

By Joris Evers, IDG News Service
June 6, 2003 12:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - The U.S. Department of Defense has issued a policy that officially authorizes the use of open-source software at the department, a move open-source pundits said opens the door to more government use of open-source software.
Open-source software within the Defense Department is acceptable as long as it complies with departmental policies for commercial and government off-the-shelf software and meets certain security standards, according to a memo outlining the policy written last week by John P. Stenbit, assistant secretary of Defense and CIO at the department.
The policy is significant and sets an important precedent, said Tony Stanco, director of the Center of Open Source & Government and associate director of the Cyber Security Policy & Research Institute at George Washington University in Washington.
"This is the first time the federal government in the U.S. has given an official policy toward open-source," he said. "The policy puts it at a level playing field with proprietary software, and that is exactly the way it should be. Open-source before wasn't discussed, and that makes people wonder if they should use it."
Stanco heralded the Pentagon policy as a victory for the open-source movement and said it's a precedent that will lead to a jump in usage of open-source software at the Defense Department and government organizations worldwide.
"Open-source has gone legitimate; the U.S. government was being lobbied very hard not to go this way by the software industry," he said. "This policy legitimizes the use of open-source right around the world."
Breaking the silence on open-source doesn't mean that the DOD is picking favorites, said Lt. Col. Ken McClellan, a Pentagon spokesman.
"This memo sets out an even-handed approach to software acquisition, and that is what it has always been [at the DOD]," he said today.
Lack of a policy hasn't held back adoption of open-source software at the Pentagon, according to a study The Mitre Corp. released early this year. In fact, the U.S. military to a large degree depends on free and open-source software for infrastructure support, software development, security and research, Bedford, Mass.-based Mitre found.
One paragraph in the short Defense Department memorandum is reserved for an explanation of open-source licensing, particularly General Public License (GPL) requirements. Under the GPL, the most prevalent open-source license, users have to make public any changes to the source code when they distribute the software. For example, Linux is licensed under the GPL.
Stenbit in his memo tells those in charge of acquiring software at the DOD to comply with all licensing requirements and "strongly" encourages them to consult a lawyer to make sure

Reprinted with permission from Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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