At the US Department of Defense, open source and proprietary software are now on equal footing. According to Defense Department guidance issued yesterday (PDF), open-source software (OSS) should be treated just like any other software product. The document also specifies some of the advantages of OSS for the Department of Defense (DoD). These include the ability to quickly alter the code as situations and missions change, the stability of the software because of the broad peer-review, as well as the absence of per-seat licensing costs.

The document also stresses that OSS is "particularly suitable for rapid prototyping and experimentation, where the ability to 'test drive' the software with minimal costs and administrative delays can be important."

Clarifying OSS Misconceptions

The DoD already uses some open-source products. This new memorandum is meant to provide guidance on the use of OSS and to clarify some misconceptions. According to the DoD, these misconceptions have hampered "effective DoD use and development of OSS."

One of these misconceptions is that the DoD would have to distribute any changes made to the OSS code. In reality, most open-source licenses permit users to modify code for internal use and these organizations only have to make the changes public if they distribute the code outside of their organizations.

It's good to see the government embrace open-source software - though some members of the open-source movement will feel a bit queasy about the DoD using their software. Just last week, the White House website became a Drupal site and hopefully other branches of government will follow the DoD's lead and embrace open source as a valid means of acquiring and developing software.

DOD Open Source Rules