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FOSS vs. the Winged Monkeys: Q&A With Open Source for America's Chris Lundberg

FOSS vs. the Winged Monkeys: Q&A With Open Source for America's Chris Lundberg

For Chris Lundberg, open source is as much a philosophy as it is a method of software development. Open source and open access represent the idea that solutions are often better found via many, than via few, he says. Those are some of the ideas he takes to the table as a member of Open Source for America's advisory board.

By Jack M. Germain LinuxInsider ECT News Network
08/21/09 4:00 AM PT

Chris Lundberg has worked for years to drive the availability of technology to the masses. He has managed teams developing software for the Library of Congress, worked with the U.S. Navy to develop satellite communications software and consulted for Accenture in developing telecom Internet solutions.

Prior to that, Lundberg produced Internet solutions for the financial and entertainment sectors as director of applications at Opion. He is an open source user and advocate. Lundberg is pretty sure that access to organizing technology is the only thing keeping the "winged monkeys" at bay.

"I've got this mental image of technological progress being a band marching down a yellow brick road, beset by authoritarian governments, secrecy, poor information distribution and deceit at every turn -- the winged monkeys, as it were. Open source, and more generally open access, gives us some arrows to fire back with," Lundberg, cofounder and CTO of DemocracyInAction.org and partner for WiredForChange, told LinuxInsider.

Information Peddler

Lundberg worked to get Open Source for America launched this summer and is on its board of advisors. This group is a coalition of more than 60 organizations joining together to advocate open source in the U.S. federal government arena. Its membership includes industry leaders such as Red Hat, Sun Microsystems, Google, Novell and Oracle, along with academic institutions, associations, communities, think tanks and related open source groups.

Lundberg is looking to the new administration in Washington to move forward with technological reform. So far, he said, the new president is making the right moves, but he expects to see more governmental cooperation.

The Obama administration has expressed its desire to create an unprecedented level of openness in government and establish a system of transparency, public participation and collaboration. These goals coincide with those of open source, noted Lundberg.

Open Source for America provides a unified voice to help bring about change in U.S. federal government policies and practices to allow it to better utilize open source software for cost efficiency, security and enhanced performance.

Taking a Stand

LinuxInsider recently spoke with Chris Lundberg to discuss the issues surrounding efforts to advance the use of technology for the masses.

LinuxInsider: How is open source contributing to your image of the Winged Monkey -- or changing it?

Chris Lundberg: Open source and open access represent the idea that solutions are often better found via many, than via few. It's as much a philosophy as a method of software development.

LI: Why doesn't proprietary stuff fit this mold?

Lundberg: In some cases, proprietary models can help open up access to technologies and drive innovation. But the temptations often drive well-meaning proprietary developers down paths that are unsustainable. It also doesn't make for good governance, as it becomes difficult for constituents to have an influence on their governments.

LI: What role is Open Source for America playing in the push for technology?

Lundberg: The last 10 years have seen a growing set of individuals and organizations who have been working with the government to learn about and use open source technologies. This year, there have been initiatives at the federal level around openness, transparency and collaboration. Not long after President Obama signed his transparency memorandum, some of the members discussed that the new administration seemed interested in technologies that could improve access to technology.

LI: Since it was part of his platform, how effective has the Obama administration been in creating unprecedented levels of openness in government?

Lundberg: He faces a tough battle, particularly with the breadth of the federal government. But they're making good strides with Whitehouse.gov and a few other federal sites. I worked at the Library of Congress for a little while, and I know the many, many hoops that remain. We hope that this movement toward open communication is continued and is also reflected in the technologies the administration chooses to deploy.

LI: What factors led to the formation of the Open Source for America organization?

Lundberg: Open Source for America's goal is to promote the benefits of open source software. The campaign seeks to educate Americans and government leaders about the incredible power of open source software and its reliance on a broad community of review and testing. We believe open source software is more secure, more reliable, lowers costs, enables better choice and will provide improved government performance and service.

LI: What goals have you laid out for the organization to accomplish all of this?

Lundberg: Some of our goals are to affect change in the U.S. federal government policies and practices so that the federal government may more fully benefit from and utilize open source software. We want to coordinate an open source community to collaborate with the federal government on technology requirements. We also want to raise awareness and create understanding among federal government leaders about the values and implications of open source software. We hope that Open Source for America may also participate in standards development and other activities that may support its open source mission.

LI: That is quite a goal set. Is the growing trend toward open source software changing the emphasis on giving technology to the masses?

Lundberg: Open source has always been about distributing technology as far and wide as possible, both for altruistic purposes and tangible purposes such as security, etc. While the masses may not always be able to install their own operating system or database, it allows service providers such as ours to reduce overhead, minimize maintenance and ensure that problems can be identified and resolved before they become major issues. This combination of open source software and service models can get organizing technology to the masses more effectively than ever before.

LI: And this is the added push, then, that your organization is providing?

Lundberg: Yup!

LI: What are the road blocks in the drive to make technology more available to the masses?

Lundberg: Well, of course it differs by country and region, but we try and categorize it as: A) Access -- is a computer, cellphone, or Internet connection even available?; B) Price -- is the technology priced out of a reasonable range?; C) Complexity -- is it prohibitively hard to use?; D) Effectiveness -- Does it make a difference? Our day-to-day aim is trying to move the ball down the road on each of these.

LI: Have any of these roadblocks been solved?

Lundberg: Well, sheesh, of course everyone has 100MBit access now, right? They're all moving targets, of course, but we've seen and helped drive progress in the last five years on reducing price and complexity and increasing effectiveness. Access is moving slowly.

LI: What kind of differences are you seeing regionally?

Lundberg: In the U.S., I hope that some of the new broadband legislation will drive up access in remote regions and some cities. Internationally in developing countries, we're going to have to be creative in creating effective technologies over cellphone connections. Lots of challenges remain.

LI: Is open source making any inroads in the U.S. government as it is in governments in Europe, Asia and Africa?

Lundberg: In 2004 the U.S. Office of Management and Budget issued a memorandum, M-04-16, which called on all federal agencies in the nation to exercise the same procurement procedures for open source software as they would for commercial software. A pretty astounding step. ... Since then, open source software adoption has grown with agencies from the U.S. Navy, Federal Aviation Administration and Census Bureau to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and many more.

LI: Can you offer some examples of this progress?

Lundberg: Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah, migrated to an open source operating system at just two percent of the cost of its previous operating system, realizing tremendous savings in cost and time while maintaining user satisfaction and continuing to meet strict security standards. Another example is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

LI: What do you look forward to happening in the immediate future regarding open technology?

Lundberg: I hope primarily for open access to government information. Right now there are very few standard ways to communicate with government, but that's moving along.

LI: Is this a level playing field in each country, or are some nations more cooperative than others?

Lundberg: Frankly, most administrators and governments are trying to feel their way around technology, and so we're seeing this back and forth between open source and proprietary technologies.

LI: Do you see this as your group's biggest challenge?

Lundberg: We see the biggest challenge being connectivity, both in the U.S. and internationally. We see access to cheap, simple organizing tools is a surprisingly difficult step but one that we feel can change how we govern and are governed.

LI: Is this because of the struggling third-world nations or government resistance to open communication?

Lundberg: I think it's because there's very little incentive for good geeks to work in government, thus making technology decisions more about the sales process than the technology.

LI: Any final observations?

Lundberg: Wrangle the geeks, and the rest will come through.


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