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The DoD and Open Source Software

  • December 8, 2009
  • By Developer.com Staff
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With many major software companies already entrusting their commercial products to open source software—usually selling software that they build with open source components under different licensing terms from open source—should the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) also employ a community-based software development approach for their requirements?

The DoD would need to consider a few major factors:

  • Cost: The cost of new IT systems a major concern within the DoD. As with all government organizations, the DoD must develop a business case based on cost, schedule, performance, and risk across the program lifecycle. Such as case will determine the greatest return on investment for the DoD's software purchases.
  • Reliability: Reliability—perhaps the most important issue in a major DoD IT system—is composed of many important factors, including critical attributes such as robustness, the ability to handle load and stress, and strong information assurance features.
  • Indemnification: While customers expect a commercial software company to stand by its product, and larger customers usually require the company to do so legally, the DoD cannot always expect the same of open source software. In open source, fewer companies offer indemnification for their "products."
  • Community Accountability: Software built under the auspices of community development does not have the financial incentives of commercial companies to produce low-defect, well-documented code, and it is not subject to the same market pressure.

Today, many commercial software vendors not only leverage open source software but also contribute to major open source projects. In the process, they have developed the expertise necessary to blend source code into commercially viable products. This expertise is rare and the DoD should attempt it directly at its own expense.

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