Federal procurement must change to account for open source

Both government and industry need to alter the way that open-source software is purchased.

The technology office of the federal government's Defense Information Systems Agency has gone on the record as saying that the defense procurement process needs to be altered in order to better mesh with open-source software. I agree 100 percent.

But it's not just federal procurement that needs to change. For anyone who has sold open-source software subscriptions into any enterprise, you know that legal and purchasing departments everywhere have a lot to learn about open source.

But at least the Defense Department is getting the picture. Fritz Schulz, who works in the office of the chief technology officer at the Defense Information Systems Agency, spoke on the topic last week at a Red Hat conference. Here's what he said, according to Government Computer News:

Although current policies adequately accommodate open-source acquisition, the requirements analysis that defense agencies undertake to get new software should be executed differently, "to allow for proper consideration of open source," he said.

"There are a lot of hidden assumptions" in how software is now procured, he said. While most commercial software is obtained through licenses, open-source software would be better suited to a support-based contract, since the software is free, at least in the uncompiled and unconfigured form.

As a result, the requirements analysis should look more at the issue of trust as the crucial component in the procurement. In other words, can the software be trusted to work as it is supposed to do? When bugs are encountered, will they be promptly fixed?

This is exactly right. I've had to work off the legal "paper" of several large enterprises, and it's always a frustrating experience because their software licenses were written for 20th-century software, while the world has moved on. It's not just open source, either, but really any new software paradigm that puts value on service rather than a license.

For this reason, my own company has elected to try to make our subscription contract look as much like a license as possible, simply to make the software easier to digest by Legal and by Purchasing.

I'm confident that this will get better with time. In the meantime, those of us in the open-source software business get to keep playing teacher. Joy.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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