When the chairman of a company that spends $2 Billion dollars yearly on R&D makes more or less the same joke that you do, it makes you see the kernal of truth in that statement.
I attended Scott McNealy’s keynote on the first day of FOSE expecting something about cloud computing, or network security. Some sort of very “Federal IT” type of topic. Instead he spent an hour making the case for why the Federal Goverment needs to embrace Open Source Software. And he made that case by walking through a number of reasons:
No Barrier to Entry: Getting started with open source software doesn’t require an RFP process to be undertaken. You can just download the software, and he’d like you to download that stack that Sun has open sourced: OpenSolaris, Java, OpenOffice, MySQL etc. He made the case that with open source, you can prototype your application without spending capital up front on licenses before you know what you’ll need for a production system.
More Interoperablity: The Federal Government builds systems that last a VERY long time. So there are lots and lots of different vendors, different platforms, different interfaces.. Scott cracked the joke that “… you have two of everything, no, actually you have 200 of everything…” which means that most of the Federal IT budgets are spent on maintence and support of existing legacy systems that are old, inefficient, and cumbersome, and only a very small slice is spent on new systems. Open Source systems drive interoperablity because the source is available. Anyone can look at the interfaces of a system built using open source and figure out how to provide interoperatiblity. Interoperabilty means the cost of integrating legacy and new systems drops drastically.
Sharing: Sharing means more R&D per dollar. Sun is the 42 largest spender on R&D in the world. They spend over $2 billion dollars a year, but because they have open sourced most of their portfolio, they can leverage the efforts of others. For the $2 billion they spend they estimate they get over $5 billion a year in addtional value on their open source portfolio of software from around the world. Sharing begets sharing.
Communites drive adoption: By opensourcing the Sparc microchip as “OpenSparc, the Chinese technical universities have standarized on that platform as what their students will be learning on. Guess who is going to be advocating Sun’s Sparc chips when they graduate school? Guess where Sun will be finding innovative ideas for the Sparc chip design?
Safe, Secure: Open Source is more secure then closed source. Software gets hacked when it contains sccrets that people find. A big secret leads to a big security hole. Open Source, by it’s nature, doesn’t have secrets, therefore you can trust it to be secure. Open Source code is heavily vetted by peer communities.
And biggest of all: No Barrier to Exit. Scott spent the most time on this point, suggesting that the barrier to exit is the biggest cost to any IT system. He said there are three costs: A) the initial acquisition cost… B) the lifetime opperating cost. And both of those are typically addressed in an RFP issued by the Federal Government. But cost C), moving to a new system is never factored into an RFP. So once a vendor has sold the government a system, they keep the renewel cost “… just 5$ less then cost of moving to another system…”.
So there you have it, from the chairman of Sun why open source is the way forward for Federal IT projects, direct from FOSE: the Federal Open Source Expo!