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Obama wants to know: Why open source?

President Obama is asking Sun Microsytems' chairman to fill him in on the benefits of open-source software.

President Barack Obama is a smart guy. Where others zig, he zags. It's perhaps not surprising, then, that he's been asking around about the benefits of open source, according to Sun Chairman Scott McNealy, who has been asked by President Obama to author a white paper on the benefits the U.S. government can derive from open source.

McNealy, cited in a BBC News story, wasn't shy in identifying them:

It's intuitively obvious open source is more cost effective and productive than proprietary software....The government ought to mandate open-source products based on open-source reference implementations to improve security, get higher-quality software, lower costs, higher reliability--all the benefits that come with open software.

While I agree with those benefits, I'm not a supporter of mandates. I wouldn't want the government mandating Microsoft software--why would I therefore seek an open-source mandate? Open source has done remarkably well in the U.S. federal government without mandates, and will continue to do so because of the benefits identified by McNealy.

Will President Obama listen? I suspect he's more likely to do so. He'll get plenty of lobbyist cash from technology companies like Microsoft, but with few companies now solely dependent on proprietary software (indeed, I'd argue that there aren't any left), open source is going to be on everyone's agenda.

For other positions on McNealy's open-source suggestions, see The 451 Group's Matt Aslett's blog and OStatic.