NHIN code-a-thon may change government attitude toward open source

While open source code has won approval from the Obama Administration, the processes by which such code is developed have not fared as well.

Tomorrow, the Department of Health and Human Services will host its first "code-a-thon" dedicated to the National Health Information Network and its Connect software.

About 80 programmers, led by Apache developer (and Collabnet employee) Brian Behlendorf, will spend about four hours trying to stamp out bugs in the open source software gateway, which is based on National Health Information Network (NHIN) conventions.

Behlendorf's presence is not ceremonial, as CollabNet runs the military's forge.mil open source forge site.

The code-a-thon, and the resulting code, could be a great demonstration of the power of open source in dealing with big problems like health care. The participation of Behlendorf offers hope the open source movement will have a great success.

While open source code has won approval from the Obama Administration, the processes by which such code is developed have not fared as well.

While the Veterans Administration is still working with its open source VistA platform, for instance, it has placed a moratorium on accepting code from local VA facilities. Instead of developing VistA through a network of collaborators, open source IT advocate Fred Trotter writes, "it will be centrally developed by a single, controlling entity."

The decision may improve security and manageability of the code base, but it's also going to slow down development, and give one contract holder control of the software.

Whether Behlendorf and his code-a-thon can give U.S. CTO Aneesh Chopra a little open source religion may be an open question. As Virginia CTO Chopra outsourced development work to India under a master contract signed with Northrup-Grumman which has since become highly controversial.

Are open source projects that are centrally controlled by single vendors really open source projects, or are they proprietary projects using open source as a feature? That's a question the Obama Administration needs to answer if it's to get full value from open source.