Nonprofit helps government expand open source software usage

The U.S. government is still very much a Windows world, but a group dedicated to bringing open source software into public agencies says it is seeing progress on several fronts.

The Open Source Software Institute (OSSI) has worked with government agencies on numerous projects over the past 10 years. AJ Jaghori, a recently appointed member of the nonprofit's advisory council, and chief technology officer of defense contractor L-3 Communications, says the move toward mobile and cloud computing is accelerating the trend of government using open source software, despite the sector's traditional reluctance.

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"I don't think the government is going to be where the commercial industry is in terms of utilizing open source software," Jaghori says, and "the higher you go in sensitivity of data, the longer it takes to adopt open source."

But Jaghori argues that open source can be more secure than proprietary software, and says use of open source in government is "significantly picking up."

He points to several examples. NASA teamed up with Rackspace to develop OpenStack, software for building cloud computing networks. "NASA, they're sort of the summa cum laude when it comes to open source," Jaghori says.

OSSI has worked with the government on projects including the Department of Homeland Security's Open Security Technology program, a $10 million initiative to identity open source software that might boost cybersecurity; the Department of Defense's Open Source Corporate Management Information System, a government-developed worker management system to manage agency personnel; and a decade-long partnership with the U.S. Navy to boost general use of open source. Jaghori also notes that many government developers use Linux, although Windows is still the standard.

While OpenStack demonstrates the role open source can play in cloud computing, mobile technology for smartphones and tablets is another opportunity for open source.

At L-3, Jaghori runs a mobile technologies practice that does iPhone and Android development for the government. It turns out the open source model of Google's Linux-based Android mobile operating system is appealing to government agencies, Jaghori says.

"95% of all agencies that I've talked to have begun looking at Android," Jaghori says. The agencies are intrigued by "the ability to bring an operating system like Android and really call it your own, develop around it."

Android holds a special significance for Jaghori, who was part of the Android development team at Google from 2006 to 2008. At L-3, he helps governments design applications and even custom app stores for both iPhone and Android, but Jaghori says Android is the primary focus. Field support for workers on the road, emergency management and secure social media tools are among the candidates for government-deployed mobile apps.

The move toward open source in government could very well happen without groups like OSSI, but the organization exists "to educate and help the government understand the opportunities that are available," Jaghori says.

Today, many of the government's open source initiatives are in pilot phase. But, Jaghori predicts, "five years from now, when we have this conversation the role of open source is going to be more dominant."

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