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The Department of Defense has come out in support of open source software in a memo from deputy CIO David Wennergren to top military officials.

"To effectively achieve its missions, the Department of Defense must develop and update its software-based capabilities faster than ever, to anticipate new threats and respond to continuously changing requirements," Wennergren wrote. "The use of open source software can provide advantages in this regard."

Open source is already is use by the Department of Defense. In just two examples, the Defense Information Systems Agency's Rapid Access Computing Environment runs Linux, and DISA recently launched a Web site for sharing open source code within the military. The site, Forge.mil, is modeled after the popular SourceForge.net.

Wennegren warns that "misconceptions and misinterpretations" of laws and Defense policy "have hampered effective DoD use and development" of open source software. The memo, dated October 16, supersedes a 2003 memo that imposed restrictions on the use of open source in the military.

An attachment to Wennergren's latest memo points to the potential benefits of open source for Defense: reliability and security, the ability to modify code for new missions and changing situations, reduced reliance on software vendors, non-restrictive licensing that enables rapid provisioning, lower licensing costs, lower total cost of ownership, and suitability for rapid prototyping and experimentation.

"The continuous and broad peer-review enabled by publicly available source code supports software reliability and security efforts through the identification and elimination of defects that might otherwise go unrecognized by a more limited core development team," the attachment noted.

The memo and attachment address some of the "misconceptions" mentioned by Wennergren. They noted that a DoD cybersecurity document limiting use of software "with limited or no warranty" doesn't necessarily apply to open source, and that the DoD isn't always obliged to distribute to the public open source code it modifies.

Open source is finding its way into other government agencies as well. Federal CIO Vivek Kundra has encouraged the use of open source, and the White House recently swapped the Web content management system behind its Whitehouse.gov site with Drupal, an open source content management platform.



InformationWeek and Dr. Dobb's have published an in-depth report on how Web application development is moving to online platforms. Download the report here (registration required).

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