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Obama Looking At Open Source? 306

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the looking-isn't-doing dept.
An anonymous reader writes "'The secret to a more secure and cost effective government is through Open Source technologies and products.' The claim comes from one of Silicon Valley's most respected business leaders Scott McNealy, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems. He revealed he has been asked to prepare a paper on the subject for the new administration."
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Obama Looking At Open Source?

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  • by daveschroeder (516195) * on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @09:49AM (#26545085)

    In just the Intelligence Community alone, there is great support for open source software and open standards and protocols.

    As part of Community-wide tools and services, the Intelligence Community takes advantage of:

    - MediaWiki for Intellipedia [wikipedia.org]
    - WordPress for blogs
    - Jabber (XMPP) for instant messaging
    - Zimbra for enterprise email
    - Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP to support and provide many of these services
    - LDAP backends for single signon and other authentication tasks
    - RSS for blogs, social bookmarking, news feeds, realtime information, etc
    - Open APIs and standards whenever possible

    All of these services and tools are available via a suite called Intelink, and are available to all 16 Intelligence Community components, the military, federal government, and law enforcement and homeland security partners at the state and local levels. They are accredited for use for information anywhere from UNCLASSIFIED to TOP SECRET/SCI, and everything in between.

    For the last few years, the Intelligence Community has not only "looked at" open source, but has embraced it with open arms. In fact, the information sharing supported by these tools was listed as one of the major achievements during the tenure of DNI Mike McConnell [dni.gov].

    Open source works, and has allowed the Intelligence Community to rapidly provide a secure and robust suite of tools to its personnel, easily respond to changing requirements and requests, and all for far less money and far more flexibly than many commercial solutions. And the Intelligence Community isn't alone.

    • by oodaloop (1229816) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @09:57AM (#26545157)
      I also work in the intelligence community, and agree that things like Intellipedia and Jabber show a top-down push for open source. But then everywhere I've worked we have Windows machines with Office, MS servers, hell even CENTCOM is going to Vista for some reason. Many of the key programs we use for intelligence analysis are closed-source proprietary programs, like Analyst's Notebook and ArcGIS. Even where there's communal unclass machines, they run Windows XP and Office, despite it being the perfect place for Linux or at least Open Office. There's been some great strides moving towards open source, but we have such a long long way to go.
      • by daveschroeder (516195) * on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @10:31AM (#26545493)

        I would say that depending on where you are, there's certainly no question that there is a lot of Windows on the desktop. There are many reasons for this.

        The main place where open source shines is in central service delivery...the client is irrelevant. The client piece is more complicated: sure, you can argue cost benefits for running Linux on the desktop, but even on the unclass side, there are still practical benefits to using a commodity OS. Some of it is management, some of it is tools. A lot of it comes back to familiarity of the user...in that setting who doesn't know Windows and Microsoft Office?

        I don't think open source on the desktop is the place to start. The place that open source software can make the most impact and positively affect the most people, at present, is on the server and service end of things.

        • by PrescriptionWarning (932687) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @11:11AM (#26545975)
          Having used a linux desktop for both work and at home now for everything I do for 3 years now (except gaming, in which Windows' painfully slow start up time constantly draws my ire), I have to say I'm pretty pleased with how fast day-to-day operations are, even in Gnome on Ubuntu. Programs open much faster, and with the help of the preload readahead daemon the subsequent times I open Firefox or even Lotus Notes are blazing fast. The fact is once you get the system set up the first time, hopefully with as little pain as possible when it comes to things that tend to not always work out of the box such as wireless and sound, there's nothing else in your way between you and your internet surfing, chatting, music listening, iPod syncinc, and about everything else most people need a desktop OS for. I think maybe some people expect more from Linux than what they expect to be able to do from Windows and perhaps that is what causes such misconceptions.
          • by andydread (758754) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @01:08PM (#26547901)
            I have migrated several clueless windows users to Linux and I can say from real world experience that anyone can use Linux if all they do is browse the web. The problem comes in when people expect to do what they are able to do on windows and they cannot. This Christmas season the unexpected rared it's ugly head. My Neighbor got an Ipod and she tried to load Itunes to get her cds on her Ipod. No go. She had to call me and I had to dig into forums to get it going with Songbird. Songbird kicks ass BTW. Another user calls me up saying their daughter just gave them a digital picture frame. So they can see their grandkids. Guess what? they tried to load the software that came with it. When that didn't work they were lost and stuck. Another user called me up with a Garmin GPS that they could not update and another with a TomTom GPS that will not update on Ubuntu. Then I have one lady that brought home a perfectly good Lexmark laser printer from work. They bought a new printer and gave her that one for free. Well it won't work on her PClinuxOS. I can tell users till I am blue in the face to do their research before they get hardware for the Linux PCs but I can't control the presents and gifts that others buy them. This is a BIG problem. I keep getting asked "Why won't iTunes work on Linux? It works on windows?" On the flip side, a nursing home near me got 8 PCs donated to them. I got there to install them and they had pirated versions of WinXP with a message "This version of windows is not genuine" etc. I told them to buy WinXP pro for 8 computers at $199.00 each plus AV etc. They balked at the price tag so I put Ubuntu on all the the PCs. They called me 2 months later. They had 2 more WinXP PCs donated to them. But they had Legit versions of XP on them and were pretty clean of crapware so I told them I'll just connect the PCs as is and I did. They called me back a month later complaining about the 2 windows PCs. What was the complaint? The residents "Old people" did not want to use the windows PCs because they were already used to the Ubuntu PCs and said "It was too hard" compared to Ubuntu "Icons were too small" "Cannot zoom desktop"(compiz zoom feature) etc etc. The list went on and on. The elderly residents just could not go from Ubuntu to windows after using it for just 2 months. No one would go near the windows PCs. so I had to go back and wipe perfectly legitimate versions of XP of the 2 boxes and put Linux on those too.
        • by cayenne8 (626475) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @12:31PM (#26547295) Homepage Journal
          "...in that setting who doesn't know Windows and Microsoft Office?"

          Well, at least with Office, it may no longer be the case.

          While I've admittedly not been using MS products that much the past 3-4 years, in the past when I needed to do a quick word or excel doc, I could do it pretty quickly...like you said, you just 'know' it.

          However, at my new gig...I was given a laptop with what I think is Office 2007....the one with the 'ribbon'? I swear, I'm still fairly lost on this thing...it took me an actually bit of research on the web to find the menu for a 'save as' option. I mean, it just wasn't intuitive for me to click that big round dot thing on the top left. I was looking for a normal menu option.

          IMHO, this was a huge mistake for Office. I'm fairly computer literate...and it took ME some time to find things. I feel sorry for the secretary that isn't really computer savvy.

          So, at this point with what MS did to Office and the complete change of menuing system, with no way to switch to classic mode...it might actually be easier to get people to use OO or something like it that more closely resembles MS Office classic..than current version of MS Office do.

      • Why wouldn't you want them using the best tools for the job, rather than choosing ideology or the lowest bidder? I'd rather they spend tens of millions of dollars on programs like ArcGIS that work really well for them, than using open source versions that don't really work nearly as well. The fact that they've reached such a pragmatic view on open source is itself a fundamental victory. It means the war is over because they're now focused on the best tool for the job without other considerations.
        • I'm sure the military got great value on their $600 toilet seats. An excretory experience second to none. But if you're asking me to foot the bill, your ass can sit on the $19.95 job.

          While 'the best tool for the job' might actually provide a little extra productivity for a power user, forcing the entire population to use an expensive tool to write the occasional memo will counteract any such gains pretty quickly.

          Ideally, they'd demand a fully-compliant ODF office suite and then have the choice to give hig

    • by xzvf (924443) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @10:08AM (#26545257)
      Open source is pervasive already in large companies and government. Not as pervasive as Windows, but a significant and growing proportion of their infrastructure. The real weak target markets are small and medium businesses and governments, where open source adoption requires a zealot like champion. The main problem here is ISV's which have a great deal of influence over solutions and have no incentive to deploy open source. In fact they get a revenue stream from licensing proprietary software. For example Microsoft gives a 12% kickback for selling their products and a 6% renewal. Most other software companies have similar arrangements. So any open source solution an ISV may present reduces said ISV's profit margin on the deal unless it is made up on increased service fees. But as we all know, Linux and most open source software has a bad tendency to just work and has a lower need for staff than many proprietary solutions. So the only way open source gets into a small or medium organization is if it is customer driven.
      • by MtViewGuy (197597)

        Open Source is already big in government and large companies for one reason: IBM.

        Remember several years ago when IBM ported Linux to run on their "big iron" minis and mainframes? As a result, IBM is pretty much one of the largest distributors of hardware that run Linux and software services heavily based on Linux.

        In short, it took the enormous influence of IBM to convince people that running Linux is a good idea.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by AG the other (1169501)
      That is a huge change. When I was working for the Arkansas National Guard it was against army regulation, 25-2 if I remember correctly, to use any open source software on government computers.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by spvo (955716)
        I doubt that is an actual army policy. From my experience, even though the majority of the software was proprietary, open source software was allowed and frequently found on the computers.
        I looked it up anyway and one part of AR 25-2 says:

        Use of "open source" software (for example, Red Hat Linux) is permitted when the source code is available for examination of malicious content

    • Mike McConnell. Careful!! You're treading on dangerous ground on /. when you state that anyone in government during the Bush tenure did anything good. That goes against what the media has convinced the world of. You might receive death threats. Remember, anything that happened over the past 8 years in the government is evil and everything that happens over the next 4 years will be blissful. Shhhhhh!!!
    • by sorak (246725)

      As part of Community-wide tools and services, the Intelligence Community takes advantage of:

      - MediaWiki for Intellipedia [wikipedia.org]
      - WordPress for blogs
      - Jabber (XMPP) for instant messaging
      - Zimbra for enterprise email
      - Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP to support and provide many of these services
      - LDAP backends for single signon and other authentication tasks
      - RSS for blogs, social bookmarking, news feeds, realtime information, etc
      - Open APIs and standards whenever possible

      The intelligence community blogs? When did that happen?

  • by unity100 (970058) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @09:50AM (#26545099) Homepage Journal
    after numerous asian countries, and germany, france, all looking into, and some moving some state governments entirely to open source.
    • by Mateo_LeFou (859634) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @10:45AM (#26545667) Homepage
      'Meanwhile research firm Gartner has warned that the benefits of open source might not deliver unless properly managed.

      "Do not expect to automatically save money with open source software, or OSS, or any technology without effective financial management," said analyst Mark Driver. '

      ...no... it almost sounds like they're saying that if you want to save billions of dollars you have to do .. some .. (no!) ... work!?!?

      • by unity100 (970058)
        as if stuff happens without working.
      • "it almost sounds like they're saying that if you want to save billions of dollars you have to do .. some .. (no!) ... work!?!?"

        But too many people think that switching to Linux, Apache, etc, simply means that you don't have to pay for software anymore. And then they're shocked at the expenses that are racked up on things like re-training, support contracts (have you seen what Red Hat charges?) custom software cost due to migration, etc.

        I'm a fan of open source software, but I'm under no illusion that it's

    • by stuntpope (19736) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @10:57AM (#26545809)

      The DoD put out several papers on using Open Source dating back several years. I believe one was mentioned on Slashdot at the time.

      Here [osd.mil] is one from 2006.

      I've been using almost all open source, both for architectural solutions and for custom software, in DoD since joining in 2005, and I know there are plenty of others doing the same.

    • by camcorder (759720)
      Microsoft is company of none of them. I think going for non-MS environment make least benefit to USA than any other country.
      • by unity100 (970058)
        not as such. this is about security. microsoft's stuff is closed source. your department of defense development/security team cant just hack it and start on it legally. even if they were allowed, parsing through proprietary code is harder compared to open source code, which passes the scrutiny of tens of thousands of people sometimes, before getting into distros, therefore neater.

        and lets face it. microsoft's stuff has many security holes. despite it is totally open source, open source code has had much
  • Yeah. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @09:51AM (#26545111) Homepage Journal

    Next week: Steve Ballmer himself visits the White House...

    • The summary goes something like this:

      This Whitehouse Administration is seeking a x86-64 64 bit computer operating system (OS) that is free of cumbersome and expensive licensing issues, can be secured and is not vulnerable to Windows security flaws, and which the Whitehouse Administration IT department can view, modify, and re-issue the source code in compiled form. ....

      My understanding is that the maintenance staff at the Whitehouse are currently working 24/7 to secure any chairs that can be picked up by a

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by kabocox (199019)

        The summary goes something like this:

        This Whitehouse Administration is seeking a x86-64 64 bit computer operating system (OS) that is free of cumbersome and expensive licensing issues, can be secured and is not vulnerable to Windows security flaws, and which the Whitehouse Administration IT department can view, modify, and re-issue the source code in compiled form. ....

        Well, open source generally isn't free. Some one else generally pays for it somewhere. I do think that it is 30-40 years past to do this tho

      • by Chris Burke (6130)

        My understanding is that the maintenance staff at the Whitehouse are currently working 24/7 to secure any chairs that can be picked up by a single person.

        Uh oh, I smell trouble. They'll follow the spec and use screws that are only strong enough to keep the chair from being lifted by a person, not realizing that the person in question is actually a gorilla!

    • Big announcement about MS generously discounting licenses, citing the need for everyone to tighten their belts and get US through these hard times.

      "The tuna .. with a heart!"

    • Poor chairs in the White House. :)

  • McNealy? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Reality Master 101 (179095) <RealityMaster101.gmail@com> on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @09:54AM (#26545127) Homepage Journal

    I was starting to write here that McNealy is an odd choice for this, since he was somewhat dragged kicking-and-screaming to OSS.

    But thinking about it, I actually can't think of a better choice. I can understand the administration wanting a "red blooded" businessman to write the paper rather than wild-eyed OSS advocate that might be less than objective about the pros and cons of OSS versus proprietary software. McNealy really does have a broad background... he's run a major business, he's sold proprietary software, and he's made major releases in OSS software.

    He's actually a pretty good choice.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by FatherOfONe (515801)

      Is there really a better choice? Yes. Scott is tied to Sun, and I like Sun as a company, but you won't find another company short of RedHat that is pushing free software as much as Sun. Sun doesn't really care much about open source so much. They want whatever it takes to kill or bring down Microsoft AND perhaps more importantly sell their hardware.

      I am a HUGE fan of open source software and have switched most of a business to run on it. I am also a fan of Sun, but I have to admit that there are times

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        The more I learn about science, the more my faith in God increases.

        Hmm, I find the more I learn about God, the more thankful I am that science doesn't require any blind faith.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by FiloEleven (602040)

          Have you ever read William James? I ask not only because of your incorrect statement about science and faith but because James is the man who came up with Pragmatism, and Obama is continually referred to as a pragmatist (in the historical rather than the pejorative sense). It is in our interest, then, to re-examine Pragmatism if we are to fully understand the decisions that President Obama will make, provided that he does in fact use the pragmatic test of truth. This isn't the place for such an undertaki

    • Re:McNealy? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jellomizer (103300) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @10:27AM (#26545453)

      Careful consideration and healthy skepticism isn't really "Kicking-and-Screaming".
      I myself take open source by a need by need basis.
      I will use Photoshop over the GIMP
      I use Apache over IIS
      I use Linux for a server Mac OS X for a desktop.
      I prefer Microsoft SQL Server over MySQL ...

      Open Source has the Free as in Beer quality, as well they tend to have ports to multiple platforms, or soon will. Sometimes it is nice to go under the hood and add some hooks to get my job done better.
      However there are also a lot of Bad Open Source apps out there which will take me more time to make good that it would be cheaper to get a closed source version and deal with stuff I cant change.

      I personally don't like RMS vision of all software Free and Open Source, it has its place and its advantages. However we still need close source applications to drive the market. Running of a support model insures your software never gets easy enough to use without the support. Also close source software has the mix bag of PHB controlling the projects, which sometimes hinders it abilities, and sometime pushes people to do things they just don't want to do. "Oh that interface is difficult to use and not orders in the way that people use the app". Competition is good, competition only works well when we have an well educated consumers who can really balance the pro's and con's without falling into political nonsense.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Davorama (11731)

        All that looks good except I'm curious why you would choose MSSQL. Did you consider PostgreSQL in your quest for pragmatism? Was it features, reliability, ease of use or something else?

        Just curious.

        • Re:McNealy? (Score:4, Informative)

          by Joey Vegetables (686525) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @02:45PM (#26549483) Journal
          I will second that . . . . Postgres is very close to an enterprise-class RDBMS, lacking only a very few features such as out-of-the-box replication (almost all of which exist from third party sources). There are multiple companies that offer commercial support. It has always been fast, featureful, and most importantly robust, but until recently the Windows versions had a reputation for being difficult to set up and configure. This has become much easier (almost effortless) in recent years, especially if you use PGAdmin or one of the other available GUI tools. I can't think of any situation in which I'd prefer MSSQL over Postgres. If you haven't checked it out I'd highly recommend it.
      • However there are also a lot of Bad Open Source apps out there which will take me more time to make good that it would be cheaper to get a closed source version and deal with stuff I cant change.

        The reverse is true as well

    • by MtViewGuy (197597)

      I'm really surprised that the Obama Administration wants McNealy to write a position paper on using Open Source when it would have been far more appropriate to ask someone at IBM write such a position paper. After all, once IBM ported Linux to run on their "big iron" computing systems several years ago, people started taking this OS seriously.

  • You mean, this Scott McNealy [techtarget.com]? The one who said Linux is for hobbyists, not enterprise?

    Teh funny, it hurts. I even think it's called "eating crow" in U.S.

    When you can't beat 'em... Right, Scott?

    • by mea37 (1201159)

      Really? An article from 2003? So... over 5 years ago.

      *yawn*

      I guess maybe you've never expressed a strongly-held view only to find at a later time that you no longer held that view, and instead held a different, contrary view.

  • by John Hasler (414242) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @09:57AM (#26545159) Homepage

    Let's just hope they don't try to "help".

  • by cryfreedomlove (929828) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @10:03AM (#26545217)
    I surprised that Obama did not spend more time in his inaugural address on the differences between GPL and Berkely licensing. Oh well, hopefully Stallman will have the time to visit soon and set Obama straight.
  • While I have no doubt that Scott will mention Open Source Software, he better include serious success stories of OSS implementations and detail how such an approach if adopted, will result in jobs created here in the USA at the same time save money.

    My suggestion to Slashdotters:

    Let's write to Scott informing him of these success stories with as much detail as we can. I do have a success story in the education field to write about. All I need is Scott's contact.

    Let's also remember that on the other side, fo

  • Hey, if you look at the new WhiteHouse.gov, you may find that, unless I'm mistaken, it's running WordPress.

    • Unless Wordpress is written in ASP.NET (hint: it's not), Whitehouse.gov is not running Wordpress. View source - the ASP.NET ViewState is a dead giveaway.

  • by Zolodoco (1170019) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @10:30AM (#26545481)
    might be to eliminate IT contracts for sensitive services and communications that have been awarded to foreign companies. Foxcom, an Israeli company, comes to mind. The government should handle its own IT, not contract it out, especially when it involves communications that could easily be used to gain leverage (read blackmail) and shift US foreign and domestic policy further against our best interests than we typically experience.
  • Oh rly? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by meist3r (1061628) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @10:35AM (#26545541)
    From TFA:

    ...overall it has been estimated that the global loss due to proprietary software is "in excess of $1 trillion a year."

    That's the same kind of lame-ass no-evidence silly figure pushing that the RIAA and MPAA uses to sell their Anti-Piracy measures. I love Linux and I'd love to see it spread even more but this way of propagating it is just retarded. You get Microsoft software for your money, be that a good investment or not is your decision. It's clearly not a "loss" it's merely a costly under-utilization of alternatives.

    I tend to praise Linux and rant against Microsoft but this OSI guy Tiemann just blew the frame by using the same silly and faulty means of propaganda rhetoric. One thing I try to learn and live by is "Just because THEY do it doesn't mean we have to or even should do it too". By pulling figures out of his ass to make himself look more interesting he's not a single notch better than Microsoft with it's installbase or the supposed piracy figures by the media companies. That is just NOT the way to convince people of the right thing.

  • Seriously, what?

    Sun has completely tanked in just about every aspect of their business. They're trading at around 1% of their peak value, and about 10% of their 5 year value. They're still laying off staff like nobody's business and they're really ripe for snapping up by some other company. McNealy drove them into the ground with a complete failure to read the market and respond to threats to Java and/or external influences on Java. Now you have the promise of Java revolutionizing the desktop all but de

    • Please don't make me hand in my geek card for this...

      Confusion: When you see

      Fear: When you see B8 00 4C CD 21 and know what it means

      and don't know what it means

      Curiosity: When you want know what it means

      Consequence: When you've googled it, still don't know what it means except that it seems to be pertinent to the writing and sharing of viruses ... and you did it on your pc at work.

      Pardon me, but pray tell: what does it mean? I mean, it seems that "B8 00 4C CD 21" prints characters to screen, but surely that in itself is not fearsome?

  • by G Morgan (979144) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @11:35AM (#26546405)

    What do you think these calls for change were! You cannot change a proprietary program.

    Obama will bring change. IDE time outs will end. Gnome will be half way functional. NetworkManager will stop dropping my wireless signal.

    Change is coming my friends and I for one welcome our change bringing overlord.

  • Exaggerate much?

    While certainly OSS could introduce cost savings, frankly it is freaking rounding error compared with the current budget deficit. A copy of OEM Vista, is what, $80?

    And low-paid govt. IT that can't secure what they have now would hardly do a better job securing OSS.

    It may help, but it isn't some kind of magic wand, and it introduces costs of its own.

    SirWired

  • I RTFA (I know, right? I must be new here), and the story does go into the possibility of the government using more "open source" software, but it also goes into how the Obama Administration will be more "open source" in other ways.

    Errol Louis of the New York Daily News... described Mr Obama as "our first open source President, a leader willing to let anybody and everybody figure out how, when and where they want to get involved."

    He noted that the strategy popularised by computer software companies in g

  • Scott Mcnealy? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by psbrogna (611644) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @04:21PM (#26551223)
    Isn't this a bit like asking the proverbial Kid in the Candy Store to design the alarm system?

    I certainly have a great deal of respect for Mr. Mcnealy, but I'm not sure that includes expecting him to objectively comment on MS's competition.

    I anxiously await his analysis. :-)

You can measure a programmer's perspective by noting his attitude on the continuing viability of FORTRAN. -- Alan Perlis

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