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PITAC: U.S. Government Should Foster Development of Open Source/Free Software

By Tony Stanco

Earlier this week the President’s Information Technology
Advisory Committee (PITAC) issued its “Recommendations of the Panel
on Open Source Software For High End Computing.”

This is a very important event for Free/Open Source software,
because it signals that the U.S. Federal government is finally
ready to invest heavily in free software. This, along with the
interest shown by the governments of China, Japan, Brazil and
France to move away from proprietary software for national security
reasons, goes a long way to legitimize free/open software
development worldwide (as if that was an issue any more). Still,
the thought that the U.S. Federal government is considering pumping
potentially billions of dollars into free software has to count for
something.

The cover letter to the report says that PITAC “believes the
open source development model represents a viable strategy for
producing high quality software.” A promising start.

The committee was charged with:

  • 1. Charting a vision of how the Federal government can support
    the developing Open Source software activities for high-end
    computing;
  • 2. Defining a policy framework for accomplishing these
    goals;
  • 3. Identifying policy, legal, and administrative barriers to
    the widespread adoption of open source software efforts; and
  • 4. Identifying potential roles for public institutions in Open
    Source software economic models.

The report makes three recommendations:

1. The Federal government should aggressively (!) encourage the
development of Open Source software for high end computing;

2. A “level playing field” must be created within the government
procurement process to facilitate Open Source development; and

3. An analysis of Open Source licensing agreements is needed,
with an ultimate goal of agreeing upon a single common licensing
agreement for Open Source software development.

So, there are some promising things that may come out of the
report.

But there are also some troubling things that are apparent if
you read carefully between the lines.

1. How does a report to the President on Free/Open software
development not even mention Richard Stallman? The man who almost
single-handedly brought the world to this point. Without RMS
standing up to the ridicule and laughter from all quarters for 16
years as he preached an alternative to proprietary software
development, would the world even know now there was an alternative
to proprietary? That the Presidential committee doesn’t include RMS
as a member puts the whole report under a dark cloud, in my
opinion. Also, when you look at who is actually on the committee,
you quickly see all the usual suspects, so that uneasy feeling
doesn’t go away, but is actually reinforced. When I spoke to RMS
about his noninvolvement, he said he wasn’t even aware that the
report was in the works.

2. This raises another question: who knew in the community that
this committee was working on the report? When working on a report
about the Internet-inspired democracy/meritocracy of free software
development, does it take that much imagination to use the same
Internet-inspired democracy/meritocracy to prepare the report?
Where’s the community involvement in this report? After the initial
euphoria of what this report may have promised, one quickly fears
that this group simply misses the whole point of free software,
even if they now realize that something important is going on.
Obviously, old biases are hard to replace. This report comes from
people who have the same, old, corporate, command and control
hierarchical mindset.

3. Did anyone notice recommendation No. 3. the ultimate goal of
which is “agreeing upon a single common licensing agreement”?

While there are some interesting things in this report, there
are also some dark clouds on the horizon. It is hard to say at this
point whether this is going to be ultimately good or bad for free
software. But it does show more community involvement is warranted
to address where powerful people are trying to take us.

See: http://www.ccic.gov/ac/pitac_ltr_sep11.html

http://www.ccic.gov/ac/pitac_ltr_sep11.html

Tony Stanco
Free Developers
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