Two interesting things came out of Washington DC in the last couple of days – both endorsements of free software by Uncle Sam.
In the more widely published of the two announcements, the Whitehouse has gone to the free and open source Drupal content management system, replacing the commercial one installed some years ago. All the Whitehouse websites including whitehouse.gov have been changed over.
There are stories like this one about the move all over the web. The reasons the Whitehouse staff give are that they are moving to modern, state-of-the-art platform that will allow them a lot more flexibility in how they engage with citizens. They also expect greater security of the software through the open source development model.
In the other story, the US Department of Defense has just issued a policy statement (pdf) telling all its component parts that they should be seriously evaluating open source alternatives. The reasons they give are reduced cost of ownership (well, d’oh!), better security, and that the ability to modify the software gives them the chance to alter it to meet their changing needs.
The DoD also takes aim at that hoary old chestnut, the notion that the GPL might somehow force a company that was was altering free software for its own internal needs to republish the resulting source code. The company can chose to do that, but it absolutely doesn’t have to, unless it wants to distribute software outside the organization.
The real story here is not that open source software is being more widely used, and used by some famous and influential people. It’s that free software released under the GPL – as Drupal is – is more than acceptable for government work; it’s positively encouraged for its low cost, high security, and flexibility.
To close – I’ll alter a slogan published by Data General when IBM entered its main market:
People are saying that the US Government’s endorsement of free software will legitimise it. The bastards say: Welcome!