MS attacking government use of "open source"

Josip Loncaric josip at
Fri May 24 07:06:39 PDT 2002

Bob Drzyzgula wrote:
>    "Microsoft has argued that some free-licensing
>    regimes are antithetical to the government's
>    stated policy that moneymaking applications
>    should develop from government-funded research
>    and that intellectual property should be
>    protected."

As other thoughtful people have pointed out, "open source" does not mean
"non-profit" nor does it mean "unprotected" intellectual property. 
"Open source" means that the source code is open for inspection,
improvement, etc., at no charge except for the distribution media and
within the GPL limitations.  Several companies make their living
packaging and selling open source software.

Microsoft is certainly a moneymaking enterprise, but it represents a
single source of its proprietary software whose source is not available
for inspection, has not been subjected to extensive independent review,
cannot be easily modified or extended to custom applications, etc.

I think that it is dangerous to entrust the government's business to any
single company's proprietary software.   As a friend of mine likes to
point out, our government should insist that

 Critical information infrastructure must be based on PUBLIC STANDARDS.

Everyone knows that despite their (best?) efforts, Microsoft has been
unable to deliver a reliable and safe product.  Since systems of this
complexity are never bug-free, the government's best bet in minimizing
risk is to invest in a variety of completely independent software
systems, interoperable via public standards.  This would argue that the
government should not rely on any single supplier for a majority of its
needs.  Insisting on public standards would open up the field to healthy
competition in terms of price and quality.  Despite the effective
monopoly that Microsoft enjoys in operating systems and in key
applications, the government should make a concerted effort to open the
playing field to alternative suppliers.  It could even be argued that it
is in our national security interest to have at least two completely
independent sources for most of our software needs.

Our national security depends on having multiple independent suppliers
competing for contracts to build military hardware.  This is even more
necessary for software, particularly since a "monoculture" of software
promotes vulnerability of the entire system to the same type of danger. 
"Open source" has a major role to play here.


Dr. Josip Loncaric, Research Fellow               mailto:josip at
ICASE, Mail Stop 132C           PGP key at
NASA Langley Research Center             mailto:j.loncaric at
Hampton, VA 23681-2199, USA    Tel. +1 757 864-2192  Fax +1 757 864-6134

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