Dear Obama: Please consider open-source a waste of your time

Ruby on Rails will not save the planet

Reasonable but useless

Shameless sales pitches aside, what this group is asking for is reasonable. The federal government should be required to consider whether or not the code is open source as part of a technology acquisition process. That doesn't mean that some bloke in a windowless office in Washington D.C. be required to add Linux to a proposal for a government contract. It just means that when eight levels of committees are deciding what to spend money on, one of the lines of evaluation be how the software is licensed.

Reasonable in theory, toothless in practice. If you take two parts pathological aversion to risk, mix it together with one part apathy and a jigger of laziness, what you get is the government workforce culture. If the Santa Claus of Washington D.C. does by chance make the inauguration season dreams of a few good little boys and girls come true, in that next committee meeting at the Department of Redundancy Department, open source will be examined, considered, and dutifully ignored.

For government workers, open source is too much of a risk. They have used Microsoft and others in the past, and they works. Everybody is complacent with software they know. If one day somebody shows up to work and Microsoft Word has been replaced by OpenOffice, well, meetings will be called. Of course, nobody will get fired over open source software (very few things short of a felony conviction will get you fired from a government job), but there will be forms filed in triplicate, maybe even quadruplicate. It's not that government employees fear risk. They just have nothing to gain by taking one. Mandating that open source be considered doesn't alter the path of least resistance.

If open source is going to make any real headway in the government, there needs to be an incentive to choose it, not a rule. Time and again, this is where the open source community falls short: Quality code isn't enough of an incentive. You can put the best engineering in the world into your product, but if you don't know how to market, your project will rot in the source repository.

If this new marketing strategy is the one that the open source community is going with, let me offer a free piece of advice: This pitch will likely be more effective at the North Pole than on Pennsylvania Avenue. ®

Ted Dziuba is a co-founder at You can read his regular Reg column, Fail and You, every other Monday.

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