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Oregon bill opens doors to open source

The state could become the first to require that Linux and other open-source software be considered by its agencies as an alternative to proprietary products.

Oregon could become the first state to require that open-source software be considered by its agencies as an alternative to any proprietary solution, if a bill introduced this week passes muster.

The Open Source Software for Oregon Act would mandate that any state government agency consider open-source software for all new software acquisitions and make purchasing decisions based on a "value-for-money basis." Moreover, under the act, state workers would have to avoid buying products that don't comply with open standards.

"Long term, my hope is we will get computer systems away from proprietary operating systems and towards open standards," said Rep. Phil Barnhart, D-Ore., who introduced the bill. "The benefits are about maintaining privacy...and access to open information on the Internet."

The bill is the latest point scored by the Linux and open-source communities after the fallout from Microsoft's aggressive licensing tactics of last summer. Governments worldwide have started recognizing the decade-old Linux operating system as a viable, and often preferable, option to the software giant's products.

The Redmond, Wash.-based company angered many in Oregon, including Rep. Barnhart, when it called for major school districts to confirm that they had licenses for all their Microsoft products. Such requests could have cost the school districts tens of thousands of dollars to fulfill, said Barnhart.

"The cost of doing that kind of audit can be enormous," he said. "And the large districts have been having fiscal problems for longer than the current statewide problems." Oregon is in the middle of a massive budget shortfall, he said, adding that open-source software could help cut costs.

Barnhart hopes that greater adoption of open-source technologies could also future-proof the state's information technology infrastructure.

"I have been hearing about the limitations that Microsoft and others might put on the capacity of their software," he said. "If I should be concerned about it, I don't know yet. But I do know that if you use open source, you know exactly what you are getting."

Oregon isn't the only state that is considering open-source legislation. A more stringent bill has been introduced to the state legislature of California.

That bill, the Digital Software Security Act, requires open-source code and relaxed licensing for software before the products would be considered for government applications. Open-source software meets all the requirements, while products from proprietary companies for the most part do not.