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While open source software and its adoption in government continue to grow, the push for open source is not as clear as for other government mandates. Though there is no requirement to use open source, there are clear indications that open source solutions should be given at least as much consideration — if not more — than proprietary systems. 

“We believe in using and contributing back to open source software as a way of making it easier for the government to share data, improve tools and services, and return value to taxpayers,” the White House recently posted on its developer-focused website.

For a variety of reasons, government IT leaders favor open source software solutions, which offer a number of significant to advantages for government agencies:

  1. Open source platforms get agencies away from proprietary systems for which the cost of long-term ownership must include the expense incurred from the software provider for all updates and new applications. Agencies themselves are not able to take advantage of the source code because that is owned and maintained by the provider.
  2. The ability to adapt new applications to existing open source platforms is significantly easier and more reliable. Most open source platforms have tens of thousands of developers producing new applications for the latest programs, often making these types of updates very low cost to implement.
  3. Security flaws are more readily identified and patched because the universe of developers with access to the open source platforms and ability to identity bugs is far greater than for proprietary systems.
  4. Reluctance to implementing a platform that is not commercial software is misplaced. In fact, open source software meets the government definitions for commercial software.
  5. Because open source software is in the public domain, government agencies do not have to worry about whether the company behind the software will still be in business in 10 or 20 years, if not longer, as they would with proprietary systems.

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The result for government agencies is that there is a strong preference for new software systems that are based on open source platforms and that proprietary systems should only be considered if they can meet all of the same long-term benefits. 

Austin Adams is the vice president of Public Sector for Alfresco Software.

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