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Beware the Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

Logically, you would think an organization called The Initiative for Software Choice (ISC) would be for software choice. But it's not, and make no mistake about it. This organization is all about squashing choice, and the main choice is open source.

In its latest attempt to gain mindshare, ISC presented a response to Mitre Corp.'s report "Use of Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS) in the U.S. Department of Defense" V 1.2.02. Mitre's report recommends that OSS (open-source software) be considered and legitimized as an option to closed source software. The ISC's response, which contends that existing closed source solutions should ultimately hold sway over their poor OSS cousins, is a fine example of rhetorical FUD. Sometimes ISC makes a good point, but then perverts it.

My main contention in this instance is ISC's claim that Mitre is advocating preferential purchasing treatment for OSS over closed source software, which is simply not the case. There is no statement that OSS should be given preferential treatment on the basis of its simply being OSS. To me, Mitre's position is painfully clear: OSS is already used in critical systems, and it should continue to be considered a viable option to closed source when the software features serve program requirements. The merits of continuing and expanding consideration of open source also are clear: OSS packages are already in use, and expertise and support are available. In addition, a number of OSS applications are a direct benefit.

ISC goes on to raise the specter of intellectual property rights. The only problem is that the specter is a phantom. ISC wants you to believe that you can't use closed source software with OSS, and that is simply not the case. In fact, ISC seems to say that in no way can a GPL (gnu public license), and by extension an OSS, program use proprietary code without also releasing the proprietary code. That is not always the case, however, and the GPL covers exceptions to this.

For example, if the GPL code is an independent program that uses input from or outputs to a proprietary program, then the proprietary program doesn't need to be GPLed. If, on the other hand, GPL libraries are linked at runtime, then the resulting program does fall under GPL. However, the library author can make exceptions that allow third parties to link to the GPL library without also making the program GPLed, which puts intellectual property where it belongs, in the hands of the author. It's important to note that the Mitre report does caution about the use of GPL, and for good reason--the DoD should be cognizant about potential GPL violations.