OSI and White House agree on open source benefits, platforms

By now you may have read that www.whitehouse.gov is now running Drupal, the open source content management system. So, too, does the OSI itself. So first I’d like to say “welcome to the club!”

But the open source wins don’t stop there. Drupal is running on top of the LAMP stack based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux. On the one hand it’s no surprise at all to see one more website choosing open source software in preference to proprietary software for reasons of value, reliability, and quality. But on the other hand, it signals something far more profound: an administration that not only promises greater transparency, openness, and accountability, but also one that is willing to back up those promises with concrete actions. An open source implementation of its most public face demonstrates that this administration means business!

Last week, as part of my Red Hat responsibilities, I was invited to give a talk for an audience of IT executives from the DoD and Intelligence Community on the topic of security. In preparation for that presentation, I looked up some history on Red Hat’s kernel updates and found that over the past four years of Red Hat Enterprise Linux version 4 there had been zero critical security flaws (and fewer than 200 other total errata). Overlapped with that, over the past two years of Red Hat Enterprise Linux version 5 there had also been zero critical security flaws identified in the kernel. Of course past performance is no guarantee of future results, but clearly where security is important, open source is delivering a solid foundation upon which to build.

Web 2.0 guru Tim O’Reilly sums all this up very well in a blog posting titled Thoughts on the Whitehouse.gov Switch to Drupal. Tim is one of the best writers on the web, so I encourage you to read his article. Tim lays out the complex contexts and realities of Washington’s procurement systems, unique-in-the-world security requirements, and gives color and depth to the real considerations of using, and contributing to, open source software. No two-dimensional cartoon characters so typical of most industry wags there!

To me, the bottom line of all of this is that the Obama administration recognizes that information technology in the public sector can be, and should be, a two-way street. Open source clears the road to let the best ideas travel freely to and from whitehouse.gov, and that makes me proud to be an American.