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What can government do for open source

There are hundreds of others which could become really remarkable if government programmers were actively contributing code to them. Ask not what open source can do for government, ask what government can do for open source.

Sun chairman Scott McNealy, continuing his rising public role, is in Washington banging the drum for open source. Think of it as McNealy 2.0.

He's not asking what Sun can do for government but what government can do for Sun. A commitment to open source would give Sun hardware a big leg-up on procurement. By the numbers Sun is still a hardware company and McNealy its chief salesman.

What's interesting to me is that some in the White House already understand the power of open source. Dries Buytaert confirmed 10 days ago that the Recovery.Gov Web site is based on Drupal, the open source CMS. (The illustration is from that site.) 

Given the site's similarity in look-and-feel to the official Whitehouse.Gov site I have to wonder if there might not be more open source to come. (Word to your blog. The President wore number 23 when he played, but we can understand if you feel that's taken. Lucky Michael chose 45 for his comeback.)

The point is we already know what open source can do for the government. What can government do for open source? I mean, if it really got serious about it.

Imagine the number of open source programmers it could hire, or retrain. Imagine the contributions, if the federal government took its responsibility as an open source user seriously.

I don't have to imagine.

I have covered it, over at ZDNet Healthcare, in terms of the Veteran Administration's VistA system, Despite a systematic attempt to scuttle it under the last Administration, the code base is continuing to move forward, and grow in complexity.

If the U.S. government built its health care systems on VistA, imagine what that project could become. And that's just one project. There are hundreds of others which could become really remarkable if government programmers were actively contributing code to them.

Ask not what open source can do for government. Ask what government can do for open source.