David A. Wheeler's Blog

Thu, 24 Feb 2011

DACS Software Tech News: Open Source Software

The January 2011 issue of the “DACS Software Tech News” (Volume 14 Number 1) is finally available! The entire issue is dedicated to covering the relationship of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and open source software (OSS). If you’re interested in the DoD and software, the U.S. government and software, or open source software, you really need to look at this. Even if you’re not a U.S. citizen, you’re probably influenced by the decisions of the U.S. government (it spends a lot of money on software!), and the experiences and lessons it learns are probably useful in many other places. You have to register (sorry!), but it’s well worth it.

I wrote or co-wrote several of the articles, so please let me point out a couple of interesting points in them.

“Software is a Renewable Military Resource” notes that it’s possible for projects inside the government to use collaborative development approaches, even if the software isn’t released to the public; we call these “Open Government Off-the-shelf” (OGOTS) projects. Another term used for these projects is Government Off-the-Shelf (GOSS); people I respect use the term “GOSS”, but I worry that the GOSS term is confusing (GOSS isn’t OSS, because GOSS projects don’t allow arbitrary use and redistribution). In the DoD, a related term is “Open Technology Development” (OTD), which describes a community-based development process, be it OGOTS or OSS with community-based maintenance. The article has a nice little graphic that I think makes this pretty clear.

My article “Open Source Software Is Commercial” won’t surprise anyone who’s seen my already-posted article Free-Libre / Open Source Software (FLOSS) is Commercial Software. Basically, OSS is commercial software. Anyone who says nonsense phrases like “commercial or open source software” probably doesn’t understand open source software, and is unlikely to make good decisions about software. This new article focuses more on the formal legal definitions.

My article “Publicly Releasing Open Source Software Developed for the U.S. Government” summarizes “when the U.S. federal government or its contractors may publicly release, as open source software (OSS), software developed with government funds”. If you ever interact with the U.S. federal government or its contractors in software issues, make sure they get a copy of this article. It’s easy to say “follow the rules” and “obey the contract” but it’s often impossible to find out what the rules and contracts actually say. Even many lawyers didn’t know the information in this article, and this is the kind of information that many non-lawyers need to know. All too often the government and its contractors should be releasing software as OSS, but don’t know that they have the right to do so. It’s taken me years to pull together this information. The article gives 5 basic questions that you need to answer. One of those questions — “Do you have the necessary copyright-related rights?” — has a supporting table that I’m really happy with. That table manages to take a lot of complicated legal mumbo jumbo and turn it into something that can be actually understood. One point this article brings home is that using the term “intellectual property” is grossly misleading; in government contracting (and in many other circumstances) it usually doesn’t matter who holds the copyright; what matters is who has what rights. Anyway, if you need this information, you need this article.

Anyway, here’s the full list of articles in this issue:

So please, take a look at January 2011 issue of the “DACS Software Tech News” (Volume 14 Number 1).

Full disclosure: I’m on the DACS Software Tech News board (as a volunteer; nobody pays me). But the issue is good anyway :-).

path: /oss | Current Weblog | permanent link to this entry