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GNU is Not Unix United States

Government-Funded GPL Software 326

tgw writes "Tom Adelstein has an article in 'Linux Journal' on how a major milestone in US government-funded OSS recently passed - virtually unnoticed." Slashdot has mentioned this company earlier.
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Government-Funded GPL Software

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  • Drm (Score:3, Interesting)

    by panxerox ( 575545 ) * on Sunday June 13, 2004 @12:55PM (#9413739)
    Yes but how long before various forces demand DRM of varying forms be put in GNU software? Once the government gets involved then the people that control the government do as well.
    • Re:Drm (Score:5, Insightful)

      by cbr2702 ( 750255 ) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @12:59PM (#9413768) Homepage
      That is part of the benifit of it being GPL'd. While the government is "involved" in the production of the software, once it has been released, the only way they have more control over it than anyone else is that they own the copyright. And DRM under GPL liscensing is impractical enought to be funny.
    • RTFA! (Score:2, Insightful)

      The article talks about the government releasing software under the GPL, and not about government intervention in GNU/GPL projects.

      In many cases, assuming the software is not proprietary, the work is available to the whole government for unlimited use and it falls under the public domain. Public domain materials can be requested by anyone...

      Please READ before you post. It's very frustrating to see posts exactly opposite the subject of the article. /rant
    • Re:Drm (Score:5, Insightful)

      by belmolis ( 702863 ) <billposer@alum.PARISmit.edu minus city> on Sunday June 13, 2004 @01:07PM (#9413826) Homepage

      How is this going to work? Its hard to think of situations in which the federal government would have a need for DRM. What argument are they going to use for putting DRM into GNU software? And how are they going to implement it? At worst, they could say they won't use FLOSS software for particular purposes without DRM. They can't actually control FLOSS software without major changes in copyright law that would be hard to target at FLOSS.

      It seems to me that government release of software under the GPL is a big win for the FLOSS movement, and not just because its an additional adopter of the model. This provides a unifiying force between left wing and libertarian advocates of FLOSS and those conservatives who are not in the pockets of big corporations. That kind of conservative often views the federal government as a big ripoff. Releasing government software under the GPL gives back to the people.

    • Re:Drm (Score:3, Informative)

      by Bombcar ( 16057 )
      GNU DRM [gnupg.org] software is already available.
  • by schild ( 713993 ) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @12:56PM (#9413748) Homepage Journal
    ...with some software. I mean, look at it this way, a LOT of R&D and coding time can go into a piece of software and who better to fix the bugs and modify (in a positive manner) than the public. In addition to the fact that it won't cost the government shit to let the public find all the holes and patch them up so they don't have to [spend money doing so themselves].

    So I guess the cliche applies here:
    1. Government Funded GPL project
    2. Unleash on public
    3. ???
    4. Profit!

    Whether this is good or not, someone, within 30 comments of this post will post a jab at Bush.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Linus Torvalds will be the richest man in the world!
  • by ClarkEvans ( 102211 ) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @12:59PM (#9413763) Homepage
    It should be public domain, without any restrictions on its use.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        GPL favors some forms of businesses over other forms, and thus causes marketplace bias; public domain (no copyright at all) is the traditional, and best option for government.
        • by fcecin ( 733246 ) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @01:13PM (#9413864)
          But can't this be said about public domain as well? In that case businesses take GPL code that all people paid for, modify it, profit from selling the binaries of the derivative and (possibly) not disclosing their new source? If businesses don't cooperate, people and the government then lose money. GPL then would be better for government and the people. I'll stick to the FSF on this: GPL gives better protection, unless there is a specific reason to opt for LGPL or public domain.
          • by Anonymous Coward
            In that case businesses take GPL code that all people paid for, modify it, profit from selling the binaries of the derivative and (possibly) not disclosing their new source? If businesses don't cooperate, people and the government then lose money

            No. The decision to GPL or not GPL a piece of publicly-funded code should not be based on an expectation of future earnings from that code.

            If it is, then the code should be developed (and funded) by the private sector, not the public sector.
          • by Alan Hicks ( 660661 ) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @04:04PM (#9414855) Homepage

            Yet another blind GPL fan boy.

            businesses take [...] code that all people paid for, modify it, profit from selling the binaries of the derivative and (possibly) not disclosing their new source?

            And this is a bad thing why? What is so inherently evil about businesses that they shouldn't be allowed to use a business model that uses some code developed by the government and then freely released to all? If they wish, they can take that public domain code, make changes, and release it GPL if they wish. You have the same option. Of course, the public domain code would always be public domain, and thus entirely free; nothing can change that.

            The one and only purpose of the GPL is to ensure that derivative works (plugins, models and the like) get an open source license (in this case the GPL). Is netcat any less free because it's public domain? Is OpenBSD any less free because it's licensed under a BSD license that allows companies to make derivative works and indeed distribute the original code in a binary only license?

            There's a half truth going around about the GPL being viral and somehow infecting code you don't want to. We all know that's bull, but it's based in this truth. If you want to base a product on GPL code, you have to release any of your additions and modifications under the GPL as well, meaning you are giving away your code to the public. That's the price you knowingly pay up front for using GPL code (thus it isn't viral since you choose to use the available code, but later don't want to pay the price).

            If tas payers fund a government body that creates some code, why should they use a license that requires that anyone else release their changes freely? Did not those corporations that might want to use the code pay taxes as well? Public domain is the fairest way for everyone to play ball.

            • by mangu ( 126918 ) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @05:12PM (#9415276)
              Public domain is the fairest way for everyone to play ball.


              Agreed. And the GPL is what makes sure that it will stay in the public domain. Releasing software without the GPL will let anyone convert, with minor modifications, a software from public domain to proprietary. Where in the Constitution is it written that tax money should be used to give profit to corporations? If the corporations don't want to cope with the GPL they are free to write from scratch their own software. But they may also use the GPL software released by the government on the same basis as everyone else. How's that for a "fair way" for everyone to play ball?

              • by tigga ( 559880 ) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @07:18PM (#9415885)
                And the GPL is what makes sure that it will stay in the public domain. Releasing software without the GPL will let anyone convert, with minor modifications, a software from public domain to proprietary. Where in the Constitution is it written that tax money should be used to give profit to corporations?

                That's bullshit.
                Let's consider some non-GPL software like FreeBSD. Nokia and Juniper use FreeBSD in their routers. Have FreeBSD became proprietary? No. Are Nokia and Juniper's FreeBSD versions proprietary - yes. They are different OSes because of proprietary software included. Just consider them as branches.

                BTW tax money were used to write software to use by government. If the same software might benefit somebody else it is even better. And I say it is good corporations make money from whatever software they use because emploeyes and stockholders also people.

                And question for you - do you believe that GPLed software can't be used to give profits to corporations? So those Linux crowds who swear by Linux companies are wrong? ;)))

          • In that case businesses take GPL code that all people paid for, modify it, profit from selling the binaries of the derivative and (possibly) not disclosing their new source? If businesses don't cooperate, people and the government then lose money.

            Suppose that the software is available as public domain and a company sells a derivative. Then the people who pay for that are paying for the additions made by that company. You are free to use the costless, public domain version if you don't agree with that barg
      • Companies pay taxes as well. If this were released into the public domain, or with a less laden license such as the BSDL, then both profit and non profit users would have the same starting position and no advantage over each other. Since companies help fund this, why shouldnt they be allowed to use the code in a closed manner? It doesnt diminish the value of the origional code release, and allows the funders to make use of it in a way that isnt dictated to them.
        • There's also a pragmatic reason to favour GPL. Many OSS developers prefer GPL to BSD, and therefore you are more likely to get fixes if you release under GPL. Besdies which, it's a myth that GPL harms "commercial developers" - indeed they cannot take modifications closed, but they can certainly benefit from the use of the product, and they can even sell it.
          • by akb ( 39826 ) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @01:30PM (#9413979)
            If it were public domain a developer could create a derivative work and release that under whatever license they wanted. Additionally, Microsoft could include bits of the code in the next version of Windows and not have to disclose the rest of the Windows source.

        • by ctid ( 449118 ) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @01:25PM (#9413945) Homepage
          If this were released into the public domain, or with a less laden license such as the BSDL, then both profit and non profit users would have the same starting position and no advantage over each other.

          The best thing about the GPL is that it's simply not possible for a company to then exploit it without giving some benefit back to the people who paid for it. (And yes, I understand that companies pay taxes too). For example, the GPL prevents small, meaningless changes which simply change protocols without adding value.


          Suppose you're a government funded researcher who produces some nice chat software which is placed into the public domain. What can stop AOL, which is a huge and influential company, from making a slight change to that software and then bundling it with AOL 10? If they bundle their new, incompatible chat software, they create a huge user-base without contributing anything. They could then leave it at that, or charge non-AOLers $10 if they want to be able to chat with their customers. You might argue that this is a good thing, but I think it's doubtful. And this approach isn't available to anyone except big SW companies.


          Far better to use the GPL. If AOL wants to use the SW they paid for, they can do so. If they want to improve it, they can do that too, but they must distribute their source, so they can't create a huge "incompatibilty-hole" amongst the people who originally paid to produce the software.

          • Far better to use the GPL. If AOL wants to use the SW they paid for, they can do so. If they want to improve it, they can do that too, but they must distribute their source, so they can't create a huge "incompatibilty-hole" amongst the people who originally paid to produce the software.

            This is patently incorrect. If they want to use (in any way, shape or (modified) form) GPL-ed software, they can do so without restriction. However, if they distribute it to someone who is not in-house, and have made modifications, they must also make the source available to them (and for that matter, to anyone else).

            I hate it when people assist in the sullying of the GPL name when they attempt to defend it.
            • This is patently incorrect. If they want to use (in any way, shape or (modified) form) GPL-ed software, they can do so without restriction. However, if they distribute it to someone who is not in-house, and have made modifications, they must also make the source available to them (and for that matter, to anyone else).

              What you say makes sense only because you didn't quote the whole of my post. The example I was talking about involved AOL distributing the "enhanced" chat application to all of their customers

          • by YU Nicks NE Way ( 129084 ) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @01:53PM (#9414114)
            Why is software different from a road surface, or from police and fire protection? I payed for those, and I expect them to be available to me in the normal order of things. Companies exploit that fact for profit all the time. Why is code different?

          • umm, actually if AOL wanted to replace AIM with a pay service, they could still use an open protocol and open software, nothing prevents them from having paid account verification, If knowing how the software worked meant automatic access to the network, the network is really fucking insecure
          • by wkitchen ( 581276 ) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @05:49PM (#9415472)
            Far better to use the GPL. If AOL wants to use the SW they paid for, they can do so. If they want to improve it, they can do that too, but they must distribute their source, so they can't create a huge "incompatibilty-hole" amongst the people who originally paid to produce the software.
            That's it exactly. A company that is dominant in some market can effectively destroy the value of PD software by ensuring that only their proprietary derivative will work with their dominant product or service. So even though they can't take the PD code away from anyone, they can take most of the value of that code for themselves, and effectively deny it to everyone else. And that has very nearly the same effect as if they could steal the PD code outright.

            As for some posters comments about granting companies, who are also taxpayers, the same benefits as everyone else, I believe the GPL does that just fine. Under the GPL they have the same rights to use, modify, and distribute as individuals do. It just prevents them from gaining any special advantages compared to individual taxpayers or even other companies. And while PD would not prevent individuals from comitting such abuses, it would still produce a very unlevel playing field because large corporations are in an inherently better position to benefit from such practices.

            So I believe that GPL is a much better choice for Government developed software than PD or BSD style licenses. Being able to reap some of the benefits of your tax dollars is good. Being able to destroy the value of those benefits for all other taxpayers is not.
        • by Aim Here ( 765712 ) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @01:26PM (#9413950)
          Yeah but firstly, the US government aids and abets proprietary software, which is much MORE restrictive than the GPL, so whining about the GPL without complaining about them is major-league hypocritical, and secondly, the GPL doesn't stop anyone profiting from the software, including companies, it just stops people profiting with certain types of business model that abuse people's freedom.

        • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @04:47PM (#9415127)
          Companies pay taxes as well.

          No they don't. Really. At first glance, it may appear that companies pay taxes but they really don't.
          In fact, it is their customers that pay the taxes as part of the final price, the company is just a middleman.
      • Many works of the US Gov't, the CIA, etc. are in the public domain, whilst I am a big beleiver in the GPL, I think it would be fairer for Tax-funded software to be in public domain.

        Granted, the GPL doesn't actually prohibit MegaCorp(TM) from using it, but most MegeCorp's business plans are not (yet) GPL-compatible. Although, maybe if this large body of Gov't GPL software was approaching ubiquity for whatever it does, this may encourage MCs to accept it.
      • by bcmm ( 768152 ) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @02:49PM (#9414433)
        If it was totally free, then someone could instantly take it and GPL a slightly changed version. So you still would get a GPL one.
        But I think this is because they would like anyone who uses it to add to it. It's to make sure public property stays public.
    • by ifwm ( 687373 ) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @01:03PM (#9413797) Journal
      What about hardware? I'd really love to try one of those F-22's....
    • by nwbvt ( 768631 ) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @01:15PM (#9413878)
      I agree, though with a few exceptions (clearly some government projects need to remain behind closed doors). The public funds these projects, thus the public should be able to use them however we wish. Keeping the code under the GPL keeps a large segment of the public who paid for it (corporations looking to sell proprietary software) from using it.

      As the article states, the government is supposed to be required to put out code in the 'public domain', it appears they had to use a loophole in the law to get this done.

      Perhaps an exception for the LGPL would work here. The code could be used with commericial products while still keeping with the copy-left philosophy.

      • by mangu ( 126918 ) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @04:53PM (#9415168)
        Keeping the code under the GPL keeps a large segment of the public who paid for it (corporations looking to sell proprietary software) from using it.


        Anyone can use GPL software, but not everyone may be able to profit from it. Think about roads maintained by taxes. Anyone can drive over them, but corporations cannot charge tolls on people who use them.


        Why should corporations have the sacred right to get profits from software developed for the government, but not from roads built for the government?

    • Agreed (Score:3, Insightful)

      by John Miles ( 108215 ) *
      I don't get to put "license restrictions" on the taxes I pay, so the government should not be allowed to put license restrictions on code it develops with those taxes.

      The GPL is fine for private authors to adopt if that's what they prefer, but it should have no place in the public sector. As another poster points out, it unfairly favors some users over others.
      • Re:Agreed (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @01:38PM (#9414027) Journal
        It does not unfairly favor any users, just certain uses. These uses are fundamentally antisocial and ought to be discouraged whenever possible.
      • I don't get to put "license restrictions" on the taxes I pay, so the government should not be allowed to put license restrictions on code it develops with those taxes.

        Ok, but then why should you be allowed to put license restrictions on that tax-funded code?

        • Ok, but then why should you be allowed to put license restrictions on that tax-funded code?

          I never said I should be allowed to do that. Using the code is not the same as restricting the code.

          As long as I can't take the code away from you, you shouldn't care what I do with it. If I want to fork it into a private closed-source project, and lose the benefits of further public development, then that's my mistake to make, right?
    • If you RTFA, you've realized that:

      "Subject matter of copyright: United States Government works: Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government, but the United States Government is not precluded from receiving and holding copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise."

      For example, Diebold voting software is government funded project but it alone did not make it a public domain, where is in this case, one of the vendor released its
      • Diebold software is not paid for by the U.S. government. Voting machines are purchased by state and/or local governments. The federal government doesn't pay for or control them. And the copyright limitations put on the U.S. government by the law cited don't apply to state and local governments.
    • should be free. It should be free without any restrictions on its use.
    • From the article:

      In many cases, assuming the software is not proprietary, the work is available to the whole government for unlimited use and it falls under the public domain. Public domain materials can be requested by anyone, but in practice the people who know about an internal government project are limited. Thus, being available to the public does not mean anyone would know to ask [for it]. So is it really public?

      A little later:

      The advantage of an Open Source Software license is that the code mus
      • The GPL requires redistribution of the source code with any binary, or at least the offer of that code should the receiving party wish to obtain it. Public domain software, while free of any copyright, may be distributed in binary form with no public access to the source code. Public domain isn't necessarily open source.
    • Ah, spoken as someone that has never worked in a government funded organization.

      Public universities would never, ever go for this, and they shouldn't.

      Public funding is a grant; The same way that public funding for the arts is a grant. Once funded, the government can't swoop in and take what was done.

      The government shouldn't be putting any restrictions on what people do with the money they get, and that includes MAKING someone put work in the public domain. ANY work. That includes software.

      A lot of
  • by sammyo ( 166904 ) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @01:01PM (#9413779) Journal
    But now the Linux kernal will be rewritten in ADA!
  • I think that all publicly funded software (except that with a security concern) should be released under the GPL. The people paid to have it made, the people should be the ones to benefit from it.
    • Balderdash (Score:3, Insightful)

      by John Starks ( 763249 )
      Absolute balderdash. Government software should be in the public domain. Here's why:

      First of all, companies paid for the software too through taxes. I don't understand why you think that they should be prevented from ADDING VALUE to the software and reselling it. It's not that the company is STEALING the software from the people; the people still have exactly the software that the government created. But when companies ADD VALUE, they should be able to sell that ADDED VALUE at the market price. If th
  • SELinux (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cbr2702 ( 750255 ) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @01:04PM (#9413801) Homepage
    What about SELinux? I belive the NSA paid for its development and it is GPL'd.
    • Re:SELinux (Score:5, Insightful)

      by qtp ( 461286 ) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @01:22PM (#9413929) Journal
      What about SELinux?

      And Don Becker's ethernet drivers. (of NASA)

      And the Beowulf software. (Also from NASA)

      Not to detract from the importance of OPen Source in tax-funded development, but the federal government has been producing GPLed code for some time now.

  • Is it just me... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JayBlalock ( 635935 ) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @01:04PM (#9413806)
    or is it inexpressibly sad that this ISN'T a no-brainer? That so many people apparently have no problem with the government taking our tax money and using it to fund projects that never see the light of day? Whatever the government uses my money for, unless releasing it endangers national security, it SHOULD be released for the public to use. We paid for it, after all. And the private sector can undoubtedly come up with applications for it the government didn't think of. Everybody wins.
    • Just try to get your contracted company to *give* you the source code of the program they developed with your money. As a small non-profit we see alot of our fellow agencies spend umpteen thousand dollars in deveopment costs for thier agency's programs only to have thier contractor turn to the other agencies in the field to sell it again to them as well.

      The next problem is that if a cash strapped agency (and 100% of non-profits usually are) does get the source code, that non-profit itself will turn around

  • by cryophan ( 787735 ) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @01:06PM (#9413819) Homepage Journal
    Govt should fund open source SW, as closed source SW vendors will use their power and money to create laws that will close down OSS. That is really the blind spot of libertarians, free traders, etc--they fail to see to see how the so-called "free maeket" is really just a license to allow wealthy entities (e.g., corporations, etc) to manipulate and control lesser entities (i.e., all the rest of us so-called "humans".) If we want an increasingly high standard of living, then we have to engineer a government that will give it to us. Govt is just a machine. Designing machines has NEVER been easy. There aint no such as a free lunch, and a free market is certainly no free lunch, although it comes pretty close to that for corporations and the wealthy and upper income class.
  • I did S[kim]TFA ... (Score:3, Informative)

    by magefile ( 776388 ) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @01:08PM (#9413830)
    But I couldn't figure out what this guy's software actually does. Anyone?
  • by goon america ( 536413 ) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @01:08PM (#9413831) Homepage Journal
    If you take the position that software is a natural monopoly [auburn.edu] like the phone company used to be, then it only makes sense that it should be socialized rather than trying to regulate it into behaving (like they used to try to do with the phone company).
    • What makes you think software is a natural monopoly?
      • near-zero marginal costs, average cost declines to near-zero, and there are network externalities in several different areas.

        Translation: the cost of copying software is ~0 per unit, if including the investment cost of developing it will slowly average down to ~0, and the value of a piece of software increases with how popular it is (amount of support available, interoperability with other kinds of software or hardware, having everyone know the same thing, being "the standard" everone is supposed to be fa

    • The only time that software can be a natural monopoly is when closed standards are used preventing interoperability (ie Microsoft). When open standards are used (as among *nix) it is anything but a natural monopoly (observe multiple flavours of unix, linux, BSD)
    • Yes, but when it was regulated (actually, as a govenment instituted and regulated monopoly) the phone company largely did behave. At least, they had quality-of-service standards that they had to live up to. The near-complete de-degulation of the phone system is what has caused most of the problems since the breakup of old AT&T. That, and a general degradation in business ethic among the corporate elite.
  • by voss ( 52565 ) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @01:09PM (#9413836)
    ie public domain but you must give credit in the source code?

    I know most people are in love with the GPL
    but the government stuff is free...id rather just let users use it free while ensuring that it was not appropriated or falsely credited to a private company.

    • Why prefer that?

      The GPL would represent the peak performance of a society/government: No duplication of effort.

      Competition, capitalism, and general 'survival of the fittest' is not the only way forward. Cooperation, sharing, and intelligence is also an option.
  • What is news about this, apart from the misconception that it is the first Gov funded GPL software? Hellooooo... Has anyone ever heard of DARPA?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Two very popular "free" packages come from government funded (controlled) origins. Proj (http://proj.maptools.org/, MIT style licence) is perhaps the defacto standard in map projection software. It started life in the USGS. Nedit (http://www.nedit.org/, GPL), one of the very popular text editors, started life in the Fermi Lab (?). Both probably were released under the radar of red tape type administrators and both are now safely housed and supported outside government. It is hard to see their governme
  • not the first (Score:3, Interesting)

    by drfrog ( 145882 ) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @01:24PM (#9413937) Homepage
    freewrl might be though!!
    freewrl [sourceforge.net]

    freewrl has been funded by the canadian government for a few years now

  • by guerby ( 49204 ) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @01:30PM (#9413978) Homepage

    The first GPL required US government funded project I know of is the NYU GNAT project which is an Ada GCC front-end, see History in Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]

    This was back in 1994 or some such.

    Laurent
    laurent@guerby.net

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @01:43PM (#9414056) Homepage
    NSA Secure Linux is GPL. It has to be, since it's a set of patches to Linux. It's now part of the standard kernel, even.
  • by (1)down ( 749897 ) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @01:48PM (#9414087)
    if you ask Mr. McBride
  • by danharan ( 714822 ) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @02:08PM (#9414198) Journal
    Just this week a local government department released an RFP for a high-value (>CAD$50k) project which requires exactly what EZRO offers. Odd, isn't it?

    In the answer to this RFP, you must indicate if your solution already implements a series of features, or whether it can be accomplished in the next 3 months. So that's 3 months and at least $50k to add features to an OSS project...

    It seems very odd to me that we should insist that it is the government that should release the software, when it is much simpler to sell them modifications to software that's already open.

    I'm not 100% clear how to accomplish that goal yet.

    Looking for RFP's to bid on doesn't give you much time to research existing projects and get used to the codebase and start contributing features. Trying to get a good comparison of various projects -assuming you managed to find enough to compare- is often like trying to understand theological arguments.

    Alternatively, you could just specialize in or start an OSS project that you knew was going to be needed by many agencies (Collision information management system, electronic medical record...), get a team together and bid on all RFPs on the subject, starting with the ones requiring the least features/customization.

    Either way, there are low-hanging fruits here where we can underbid the commercial vendors with technically superior solutions.

    Has anyone tried this kind of approach? Are there any domains you know that are ripe for an OS solution?
  • why donate? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by akb ( 39826 ) on Sunday June 13, 2004 @02:59PM (#9414489)
    I have to say I found the article lacking on a couple key points.

    First, since DevIS owned the copyright they could have released it as GPL. Why donate it the USG at all, especially if it cost them $20k to do so?

    Second, once the USG had the copyright, why was it licensed under the GPL. What interest does the government find served by having the code under GPL? Specifically, since USG info is usually public domain why not release it as that? I have heard plenty of people on /. say why they think its a good idea but I have no idea what reasons the USG thinks.

    It sounds like the Open Source Industry Alliance wants to be able to say that the USG owns a piece of GPL'd code. Maybe that's good, maybe there's a strategy, but I can't tell from the article.
  • by jbn-o ( 555068 ) <mail@digitalcitizen.info> on Sunday June 13, 2004 @04:10PM (#9414884) Homepage

    The GNU General Public License (GPL) was written years before there was an "open source" movement. Linking together the open source movement with the GPL misstates history and authorship. The language used in the GPL and the freedoms it talks about are not part of the philosophy of the open source movement, they are part of the free software movement which created the free software community we still enjoy today 20 years later. The real author of the GPL is the FSF (most notably, Richard Stallman and Eben Moglen). In a post to the GCC mailing list responding to someone who wanted to help the "open source community", RMS said [gnu.org]

    Open source advocates do contribute to our community, when they work on free software packages, but our community is older than that movement, and owes its existence to the idealism that movement rejects. It was built by the free software movement, so it is the free software community. If you help us, please keep in mind that what you're helping is the free software movement.

    ESR would similarly miscredit the open source movement when he referred to a number of programs [catb.org] as "open-source" projects even though they were written before that movement existed:

    [...] Many other open-source projects of the order of complexity of the early Linux kernel predated it; the BSD Unixes, for example, or the Emacs editor. [...]

    Maybe the authors of the various BSD OSes and the authors of the Linux kernal don't mind being lumped in with that movement, but ESR also includes Emacs which was co-written by RMS, founder of the free software movement. Emacs was most certainly not written with the open source movement in mind nor to benefit those ideals. Emacs was written to benefit the free software movement. RMS has repeatedly stated how he does not want to be lumped in with the open source movement. The FSF provides a concise and informative description of the differences between the two movements [gnu.org] which includes RMS asking the reader to know enough about the movements to distinguish between their philosophies.

    So what did the open source movement do? The Open Source Initiative placed the GPL on a list of approved licenses. Open source advocates have contributed to practical projects and endorsed the GPL. I'm sure the free software advocates have no issue with endorsing the GPL and increasing its use. But the reason this license protects ones freedoms to share and modify software so well is not due to anything anyone at the OSI or the open source movement has done. Thus it is not fair for that movement to receive credit for the GPL.

  • by amdg ( 614020 ) <amdg AT mac DOT com> on Sunday June 13, 2004 @04:25PM (#9414965) Homepage

    I don't understand why this sort of thing doesn't happen more often. In fact, I suspect that the GPL license, may be too restrictive and not enforceable. US citizens have a right to receiving that code (and other information) in the public domain under the US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). [usdoj.gov] (There are limits regarding national security, etc.) This has already been done with software in the past.

    The US Department of Veterans Affairs has been actively developing and using the VistA [va.gov] (Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture) software since the 1980's. This software has a proven track record and is used in hundreds of healthcare facilities of all sizes. Many agree that it is at least as good as multi-million dollar systems from companies like Siemens, GE, Cerner, and McKesson.

    The VistA software has already been released to the public domain under the US Freedom of Information Act. Since then an active open source community has grown around that freely available code and is even being used in non-government facilities around the world. More recently the open source community and the VA developers have begun discussions on how to combine their efforts.

    So if you know of any useful software developed by the US government, speak up and ask for it to be opened up so everyone can benefit!!

  • by KidSock ( 150684 ) on Monday June 14, 2004 @12:46AM (#9417420)
    If you actually attempt to download the software you get a registration page that reads:

    Workforce ConnectionsTM Source and Installation Download

    In order to download the complete Workforce ConnectionsTM source code and installation software, you must provide your information including a valid email address. The password to enable you to download the files will be sent to that email. Please provide the following information.


    I'm glad to see GPL software on a .GOV site but is this ok with the GPL?
  • by Genda ( 560240 ) <mariet.got@net> on Monday June 14, 2004 @02:56AM (#9417815) Journal
    Our government has increasingly over the last serveral decades lost sight of itself as an essential service. That is, a necessary evil, that needs to be pruned within an inch of it's life on a regular basis, and who's only reason for existence is the ability to provide certain global services in a method and manner more cost effective and efficiently than 50 smaller institutions tiled over the face of our nation.

    Producing, using, and supporting GPLed software is precisely the kind of behavior one would hope from a government which was, benevolent, transparent, committed to providing superior service to it's citizens, and working towards a growing common resource that each and every citizen could use and prosper from. Nothing could be more democratic, and nothing could improve our current society more than loosening the grip of special interests.

    Let our government be a service to all it's citizens. Promote a future that insures the value of the commons, and promotes the health and happiness of the common man.

    Genda

Heard that the next Space Shuttle is supposed to carry several Guernsey cows? It's gonna be the herd shot 'round the world.

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