Government agencies are no strangers to open source, according to an FCW.com piece published today. At first blush, we imagined part of the attraction lies in cost savings, just like it does for many businesses investigating open source; however, FCW.com points out we're wrong.
Government agencies increasingly turn to open source when vendors that they trust -- those that can give the agencies the level of support to which they are accustomed -- take on an open source business model or make open source a large part of their business. According to the U.S. Air Force's principal deputy assistant secretary for acquisition, the government notices when big name vendors that made names for themselves selling proprietary products opt for open source. "They wouldn't be moving in that direction if it didn't make sense for their businesses," he says. And if it makes sense for the likes of IBM and Sun Microsystems, it makes sense for the government.
Just as important, it seems, is the flexibility provided by open source systems. Using open source frees government agencies from vendor lock-in and the too-long software upgrade cycles that accompany proprietary vendors. Open source allows agencies to add functionality they need when they need it, the Air Force spokesman says.
The cost savings that most open source users expect is often not reality for government agencies simply because they're paying more for support than other open source users would -- both because their organizations are larger and because they are willing to pay more for support from big name vendors like HP, IBM, Novell and Sun.
Of course, as InfoWorld blogger Matt Asay notes, it doesn't hurt that several agencies are also "skittish" about Windows Vista.