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US in open source backlash

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WCIT The US has fallen way behind other nations with regard to its embrace of open source technology, and the situation may only get worse. Open source coders face their grandest test to date as organizations place more and more scrutiny on the origins and value of FOSS (free and open source software) products.

That's the word that came down today from an august panel here at the World Congress on Information Technology (WCIT). Some members of the panel reckoned that countries in Europe, Asia and South America have a greater appreciation for the open source lifestyle. Such a notion does not come as a surprise, although the tone of the attacks against the US did prove out of the ordinary.

"We have to be very clear that the perception (of open source) in the US is not shared throughout the world," said Ravi Kalakota, the CIO of open source at Unisys. "Latin America is aggressively moving to open source. The same thing is happening in Europe. . . They have no qualms about licensing and other things that the US government is hung up on.

"We have to be very clear when we talk about a global perspective. The US is an outlier and in many ways a laggard in the open source arena as opposed to the commercial software where we lead the way."

Such comments are sure to go over well with Unisys partners such as Red Hat, Novell and JBoss. Kalakota, however, has a point in that federal and state government bodies here have failed to embrace open source software with the same vigor as some foreign nations.

To make matters worse for the FOSS posse, the US government may be in the process of pulling back even more on the open source front, according to Hummer Winblad partner Mitchell Kertzman.

"The parts of the government that are concerned about things like national security are really worried about open source," he said.

Kertzman declined to out which agencies have specific open source issues but claimed that they've expressed great FOSS fears in private to the venture capitalists. "There is a lot of concern about the security aspects," he said, adding that this could cause a "decrease in the desire for open source."

Will Hurley, the CTO of Qlusters, denied the US government's apprehension around open source, saying he has pumped plenty of FOSS code into the Department of Energy's security systems.

Legal fears also seem on the rise with regard to open source software, according to panel moderator and attorney Hank Jones. He has seen major acquisitions delayed or cancelled after pursuers put the software assets of their target under the microscope. The "increased scrutiny that is now occurring" has started to turn up some horror stories, Jones said. In particular, companies have discovered that assets claimed as proprietary often end up having plenty of code pinched from various open source projects.

Despite all of this, the panelists remained pretty optimistic about open source software's role in the future. The panelists don't expect to see many wealthy, pure play open source vendors but rather the types that sell services or other goods around an open source product. Open source will increasingly be competing with the software as a service crowd for attention in the coming years, the panelists said.

Counter intuitively, Kalakota from Unisys expects the "iPod generation" to usher in a sort of rebirth for open source. Despite being raised on proprietary, locked down devices that make sharing culture difficult, teenagers now "think sharing, think community and think open," he said.

"I would say the next five years will be very exciting." ®

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