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
A promising start.
The committee was charged with:
- Charting a vision of how the Federal
government can support the developing Open
Source software activities for high-end
- Defining a policy framework for
accomplishing these goals;
policy, legal, and administrative barriers to the
widespread adoption of open source software
- Identifying potential roles
for public institutions in Open Source software
The report makes three recommendations:
- The Federal government should aggressively(!)
encourage the development of Open Source
software for high end computing;
- A "level playing field" must be created
within the government procurement process to
facilitate Open Source development; and
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.