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U.S. Administration’s ‘Technology Neutrality’ Announcement Welcome News

Score another landmark for the mainstreaming of open source.

On January 7, the Administration issued a succinct, clear message to Executive Branch IT leaders: Don’t discriminate between proprietary and open source solutions when it currently spends almost $80 billion dollars to buy information technology (IT). In fact, in its message on Technology Neutrality, it goes even further, urging agencies to “analyze alternatives that include proprietary, open source, and mixed source technologies. This allows the Government to pursue the best strategy to meet its particular needs.”

The directive emphasizes, among other things, several key open source factors such as interoperability and re-use in selection of IT.

At one level, this recent announcement is a refreshing reiteration of prior US government direction to agencies. In 2004, OMB made clear that open source was commercial software. Two years, ago, the Department of Defense published clarifying guidance that sought to dispel much of the ‘FUD’ (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) around open source.

But, this most recent announcement takes an important step: Signed by three leading Administration officials responsible for federal procurement, IT reform, and protection of Intellectual Property, the message firmly anchors open source solutions into the mainstream of federal government procurement options. The Administration is to be commended for its continued work to ensure a level playing field, working to ensure technology and vendor neutrality in acquisitions for IT, and emphasizing procurement choices based on performance and value, free of preconceived preferences based on how the technology is developed, licensed or distributed.