G-overnment

Google’s announcement of their mobile platform sucked all the wind out of both the mobile and open source markets this week … and it is only Tuesday!

I won’t argue the good news. The mobile operating system market is so disjointed that it makes Pakistan politics look well ordered by comparison. The dysfunction is due to the primary proprietary plays (Windows and Symbian) not opening the stacks enough to allow significant innovation on the application front. Google’s choice of Linux will drive not only adoption of G-phones, but of all Linux-based handsets, and thus a thriving ecosystem.

This is a cascade event.

Obscured this week was a little discussed news report on the antithesis of unrestrained capitalism, namely government. In particular, a report showing that the U.S. Federal government is adopting Open Source almost as fast as it is gobbling my tax dollars. I sure hope their IT savings from Open Source results in my tax rate being lowered. I’m also hoping to win the lottery and be elected planetary emperor. I suspect I’ll be disappointed on all three fronts.

The survey was conducted by a group with selfish interests, namely the Federal Open Source Alliance. Giving them the benefit of doubts and assuming the survey was not rigged, we see 50+% of federal agencies already using Open Source, and 71% believing in the benefits. This is a continuation of trends noted in the past, but now with majority support. This is beyond any tipping point stage and into the run-away scenario.

Interesting yet unsurprising was that 88% of the respondents in intelligence agencies thought Open Source brought operational benefits. This is interesting because of the long and arcane history of security certification systems government has inflicted upon the industry in order to assure that secrets remain secret (well, except for those leaked by nefarious congressional critters). What makes it unsurprising is the active participation of various “spook” agencies in bullet-proofing Linux.

Most telling though is the difference between the aggregate Federal IT mindset and those who have actually dabbled in Open Source. While 71% of the D.C. geeks believe in Open Source benefits, 90% who have deployed Open Source have the same beliefs. In other words, trying is believing.

For the market in general, this means little. Though the government spends a ton of (my) money on IT, it influences little of IT outside of their own shops. However, if government adopts Open Source on the desktop, they may well have a huge public impact as their external miscommunication (i.e., spreadsheets, word processing documents, etc.) must be contended with. If Federal IT loves and believes in Open Source in general, they will eventually try it on the desktop. It has already occurred on the small scale (cities) and overseas, but a big American deployment will begin the cascade.


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