McNealy's back and Obama's got him

When McNealy says he's doing a paper advocating open source, understand that it is actually a vendor white paper being sent to a big customer, nothing more.

Scott McNealy, chairman, Sun Microsystems
Perhaps the least-noticed story of the year is the return of Scott McNealy to the helm of Sun Microsystems, of which he is a co-founder.

While he was happy to push Jonathan Schwartz (and his ponytail) to the front row during Sun's transition to open source, McNealy never really left (unlike Bill Gates).

In addition to remaining chairman of the board, McNealy is also head of Sun Federal, the company's government contracting arm.

And it's in this role that McNealy, a longtime Republican, is calling on the Obama Administration to embrace open source.

Most of Sun's sales come from hardware. The strategy has always been to use free software to sell servers, to give away the blades in order to sell the razors.

This is actually what has kept Sun afloat. When McNealy says he's doing a paper advocating open source, understand that it is actually a vendor white paper being sent to a big customer, nothing more.

Big Money Matt is aghast at talk of mandates, but if you're going to make choices, and you're going to advocate for standards, then someone is going to use that m-word and we should stop fearing it.

But it's important here to note that McNealy's is not the only voice calling for more use of open source within the U.S. government.

Economist Dean Baker has suggested putting $2 billion per year into open source software development, as part of the stimulus package.

Baker's proposal puts this in much better perspective than McNealy's sales pitch.

What the Obama Administration actually faces is a make-or-buy decision. Will its software come from vendors or will it build what it needs and share it with the worldwide computing commuity?

That's why open source. Investing in open source provides immediate stimulus, in the form of government programming jobs, and adds value to everything else we do down the road.

When you consider that U.S. government contributions can also be used by people in other countries, you can think of this as adding to the foreign aid budget as well.

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