Defence open source sold by commerce, not ideals

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Defence open source sold by commerce, not ideals

Fanaticism doing the industry no favours.

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Open source software companies haven't done a very good job pitching the technology to the defence sector, according to IT consultant Tom Worthington.

Worthington, who was a senior IT officer at the Department of Defence for nine years from 1990, said the industry wrongly believed that the department frowned upon open source.

While open source policy may not be as well defined in the Australian defence sector as it is in the U.S., "the Australian Government isn't adverse to open source," he explained, pointing to its 2005 'Guide to Open Source Software'.

Rather than policy, the greatest hurdle for open source sales was poor communication between the industry and government, he said.

"They [open source vendors] haven't done a very good job," Worthington told iTnews.

"Defence [staff] are not wanting to be converted to a religious cause; [vendors] need to talk the commercial language and work within the way the bureaucracy does things."

When he was working at the Department of Defence, Worthington was approached by open source software developers seeking funding for a new project.

He was interested in the product and said the department would pay for it if the developers could ship him a copy -- but the developers refused, saying it was freely available online.

"In part, it is an ideology; it's very similar to the idea of research at universities, where somebody pays for it but the results are for the common good," said Worthington, who also lectures at the Australian National University.

Instead of selling open source as a concept, Worthington said vendors should focus on selling software and systems that may or may not rely on open source technology.

Justin Freeman, director of Canberra-based software vendor Agileware, agreed that businesses should approach bureaucratic Defence customers from a more commercial perspective.

Agileware was founded in 2002 and sells open source systems and services to private and public sector organisations, including those in the defence sector.

"Open source is a little confusing for them," Freeman said, explaining that government organisations were used to either completely owning intellectual property (IP) or being under restrictive licensing agreements.

"The challenge is IP and understanding what it means to adopt open source software and what they are permitted to do within the bounds of the license," he told iTnews.

SMEs like Agileware were unlikely to spark major infrastructure changes in the Australian defence sector, Freeman said, highlighting better opportunities in leveraging existing platforms and "riding the coattails of businesses like Red Hat, IBM or Oracle".

But "there's no silver bullet," he said. "You've got to come at it on a case-by-case basis and sometimes you win, sometimes you lose."

Read on for a few tips for selling open source to the defence sector.

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