On the Web - Toward an Open-Source Government

If we can't always have the leaders we want, can we at least have some open-source technology for our tax dollars?

Many people in the Open Source community have long believed that open-source software and the government are a good match. As any state-level politician can verify, US state governments are faced with the worst budget conditions in at least 50 years. In addition to having to gut and cut programs and services possibly needed by more people than ever, many schools and state-funded universities are expected to provide more technology for more students with the same or less money. In light of these conditions, some proponents of open source believe now is a perfect opportunity for states to save money by moving legacy systems to and creating new systems that run on open-source software. It's no longer a maybe, someday thing, if it's a small and adventuresome state agency.

Getting governments to make these switches, however, is where logic and progress can hit a wall of regulation, procedure and red tape. State and local governments seem to be the best place to start the move for change, so if we're going to give it a shot, we better know what the current procedures are. To that end, Tom Adelstein has been writing a weekly series for the Linux Journal Web site that covers the current state of open-source in government. “Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part I”, /article/6927, reviews specific states' endeavors to legislate consideration of open-source software and details some of the detours these endeavors encounter. In Parts II and III, /article/6952 and /article/6970, Tom covers particular state agencies in Texas and Oregon and explains where they were successful in using open source and where they were not. Finally, in Part IV, /article/6990, Tom walks us through the process of getting IT legislation through state government.

In a similar vein, Joe Barr's article, “Austin, Texas to Begin Linux Pilot Project”, /article/6974, describes how the IT department for the city of Austin is launching a city-wide program to use Linux desktops, servers and thin clients. The city's new CIO is “especially interested in seeing what sort of performance and savings he can get out of running office applications on a server with terminals as the desktop”. If cities and states can get out from under some of the proprietary licensing fees and TCO, perhaps more money will be available for all those national defense and antiterrorism programs that states are supposed to enact without extra national funding.

Moving on to something a little lighter, here's your project for the month. Use Jeffrey Taylor's “Peering Over the Firewall” how-to (/article/6985), Snort, a custom cable and an Ethernet hub to build your own low-cost intrusion detection system. By the end of the project, the Linux box will be the firewall and router in your home network, and you'll still be able to peer around the router and see all incoming packets.

If you have an open-source-in-government story or a do-it-yourself project you'd like to share, send your proposal to ljeditor@linuxjournal.com. Be sure to check the Linux Journal Web site often; new articles are added daily.

Heather Mead is senior editor of Linux Journal.

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Re: Toward an Open-Source Government

Anonymous's picture

The articles listed concerning cities and agencies in Texas that are looking into using Linux were quite informative. I did not know about Linux activities in Houston or Austin, but I did know about the state's plans and Texas SB 1579 courtesy of a nice email from the CompTIA folks.

CompTIA wants all of it's members to lobby the Texas state government to shutdown Texas SB 1579 claiming that bill "could substantially hurt software developers and resellers in the state" claiming the bill would mandate a preference for OSS over proprietary software. The quoted section is accurate and directly from the CompTIA email.

I think that CompTIA's claims of preference are overstated. The actual SB 1579 text states (paraphrased here) that OSS shall be considered in addition to proprietary software. Also, when proprietary software is purchased, a justification must be provided. Sec.2054.114(a)(3)(b)(1-5). Additionally the bill defines the concept of "best value for purchases" in an amendment to Sec.2157.003. No where in the text of the bill is "preference" given to OSS or proprietary software.

http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/cgi-bin/db2www/tlo/billhist/actions.d2w/r...

As for myself, I think all government agencies should have the freedom to choose whatever solution works best for their situation while remaining conscious of the cost to the taxpayer because that's just "simple common sense" and good business management practice. If the desired solution is more costly than the "low cost" solution, then I agree with the requirement for justification prior to purchase.

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