More than 50 companies, academic institutions, and other organisations, including vendors such as Red Hat and Oracle, are banding together to promote use of open source by the US government.
A new organisation,Open Source for America, will be officially unveiled today at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON) in San Jose.
The group intends to capitalise on US government efforts to be more transparent and collaborative, organisation members said. The US government already has been using open source software, they recognised, but the new organisation wants to further that cause.
"Most every federal agency does have open source, but essentially it's a paradigm change," said Tom Rabon, executive vice president for corporate affairs at Red Hat, a key driving member along with Sun Microsystems in forming the organisation.
A Microsoft spokesman referred questions about the company's reaction to the coalition to a blog post last week by Teresa Carlson, Microsoft's public sector federal lead, who questioned often-cited benefits of open-source software.
Open-source software, sometimes free to acquire, doesn't always lead to lower IT costs, Carlson wrote. In addition, Carlson questioned the long-standing claim that open-source software is generally more secure than proprietary software.
"The challenge with an open source development process is that the process by its nature is ad hoc and voluntary, making it difficult to determine if the methodology itself reduces vulnerabilities," Carlson wrote.
Microsoft supports many open standards, Carlson also wrote. "The reality is that governments operate in a mixed source world so interoperability and security should be prioritized across the board," she said. "Let’s make sure that in licensing and business models, government retains its freedom to choose. Interoperability fosters competition, and competition leads to innovation, enabling government to get the best value for taxpayer dollars. "
"This organisation came about as a result of a number of companies and academic institutions and organisations that believe that there was a void in Washington in terms of having sort of a unified voice for open source," Rabon said.
Immediate goals include educating US government decisions makers about and encouraging government agencies to give equal priority to open source software. Initially, the organisation will have no employees; its affairs will be handled by a steering committee of organisation members. Over time, there may a staff in Washington.
"We're mainly trying to create awareness right now," Rabon said.
The IT industry has been prone to forming industry-wide organisations for different causes, some with a degree of redundancy. But there has been none specifically for educating the US government on open source, said Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, which also is participating in Open Source for America.
Among the missing from Open Source for America is Microsoft. But the company was not asked to participate, Zemlin said.
There currently are no membership fees for Open Source for America, but there may be over time, Rabon said.
Other participants in Open Source for America include Google, Mozilla, Software Freedom Law Center, Alfresco, Advanced Micro Devices, Democracy in Action, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Jaspersoft, Ingres, and Open Source Initiative.
Open Source for America was slated to have a Web site at opensourceforamerica.org.