California’s new Open Source policy rings in the New Year

When 2010 was barely one week old, state CIO Teri Takai published ITPL-10-01, which serves to “formally establish the use of Open Source Software (OSS) in California state government as an acceptable practice.”

David Wheeler beat me to the punch with his blog posting, but he noticed the same thing I did: the first sentence of this policy statement is that “The OCIO permits the use of OSS”. Moreover, it does not use some mealy-mouthed or watered down definition of open source software, but it cites the ten points of the Open Source Definition. Very nice!

Taking a step back and looking at the larger picture, the mighty State of California, which would be a top 10 world economy if it were a sovereign nation, is confronting unprecedented costs and challenges brought about by the global economic crisis. In hindsight it has become obvious that the practice of handing out credit without regard for ability to repay has been devastating to more than just the brokers who sold mortgages to unqualified buyers and the buyers who may have falsified their mortgage applications, and it has affected more than just the banks who originated those mortgages, more than just the banks who repackaged and resold those loans, more than just the banks that bundled and securitized those loans, and more than just the insurance companies who insured the banks who both bought and sold those securitized loans. It has devastated not only the local, State, and Federal government, but it has affected virtually every direct trading partner of the US and virtually everybody who holds any assets denominated by or convertible to US dollars. Similarly, 20/20 hindsight has taught us that unquestioned acceptance of proprietary software and proprietary standards have led to equally devastating consequences, which affect not only those who initially locked themselves into a given operating system, office suite, web browser, web server, or application infrastructure, to the tune of $1T USD per year, but an expanding web of cascading consequences, costing perhaps $6T USD per year. The time for such waste is now over.

California’s New Year’s resolution is a clear-eyed way to approach the new economic reality that it is no longer OK to abandon so much money to so few people in return for so much grief and so little joy.

To paraphrase Gandhi, whatever California can begin to save by moving to open source software may, at first, seem insignificant, but it is very important that they do it. Now is the time.