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Your Tax Dollars Buying Open Source Software 182

Roblimo has a story over at NewsForge about DevIS, a software company that relies on Free and open source software to not just weather but actually do well in the current software economy. Part of the reason may be that the company doesn't preach software philosophy; they just find that combining well-tested (and mostly GPL'd) software tools is the path of least resistance when it comes to building Internet applications. Most of their work is for the Federal government; always nice to see public dollars supporting public software. Can anyone point out other good examples of similar businesses?
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Your Tax Dollars Buying Open Source Software

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @06:05PM (#5184732)
    If I, Joe Anonymous Coward, sell the government a copy of Apache, I make money, Apacha does not. Unless I take that money and spend it on helping Apache, then it doesn't support them. That's a pretty big step.
    • by nanojath ( 265940 ) on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @06:25PM (#5184955) Homepage Journal
      This is missing the point, isn't it? If you take open source software and do whateve with it, your derivative product is also open source, and therefore you are an open source software producer, and if the government pays you money for your product, they are supporting open source software.

      If your question is, how does this activity support companies that can't create a sustainable business model for their open source software product and/or service (not suggesting this describes Apache), well... it doesn't. I don't necessarily know that I want my tax dollars heading that direction anyway.

      If your asking, how does this support the open source software movement in general, well, lots of ways. Open source developers are likely to contribute to and enrich the public code base, since they use it to create their own software, even if they are creating something so specific or odd that their particular project isn't really adding to the public pool of code. I've never met anyone using open source in their professional life who wasn't an enthusiast and contributor to noncommercial open source movement, so the simple fact that an employer is putting food on the tables of open source enthusiast programmers will tend to enrich the movement. And it all gives open source legitimacy and a toehold in the government.

      • by rherbert ( 565206 ) <> on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @06:38PM (#5185042) Homepage
        This isn't what they're doing. They're using open source software as a framework for the software they produce, which probably is not open source. If I use JBoss and Apache to serve my web application, that does not mean that the web app the I wrote is open source.

        You're supporting open source by using it, and possibly submitting bug reports or fixes that you find in the process of using it. As for actual financial contributions, that's probably not happening.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @08:18PM (#5185807)
          This is being shortsighted. It assumes that the only way resources are granted to something is by a direct line of money/developers and this is just not the way ANTY economy works (and many people seem to make this mistake).

          For isntance, if this increases apache's user base by even 1% and adds a layer of legitimacy do you really think apache will see nothing from this? Sure if the govt stamped thier money with "tax dollar" on it apache would see none but thier income would still increase: A larger user base will do that. It will increase developers, the more popular the software the more people who will want to write for it.

          Next is open source as a whole. Large portions of the Govt have been really deriding free software (while large portions also support it). That makes a dent in the over all adoption of open source apps (the govt says it's unsafe so it must be). Publicity of a somewhat trusted body means more people willing to try some of it, if what they get works well (and apache does) it makes it much easier to switch them. Stuff like this really helps the pointy hair type fell more confortable with a switch.

          And in the end publicity will generate MCUH more money than a direct line through this company ever would.
          • This is being shortsighted. It assumes that the only way resources are granted to something is by a direct line of money/developers and this is just not the way ANTY economy works (and many people seem to make this mistake).

            So long as developers need to eat, pay rent, wear clothes, drive cars etc, then I'm afraid that ultimately, the only was to support them is to give them money.

            And in the end publicity will generate MCUH more money than a direct line through this company ever would.

            Tell that to VA Linux' shareholders.
      • If you take open source software and do whateve with it, your derivative product is also open source,
        That is only true for viral licenses, such as the GPL. I do not think it is true for the Apache license.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        Two points, so we that issues stay in proper prospective:

        1. Don't confuse "open source' with GPL. Derivative
        works from GPL must stay GPL, which is not always
        true for the other favors of open source licenses.

        2. As a professional Linux developer, I know
        very well that the most companies using Free Software
        are, for the most part, users that don't give back to the
        community. They are leeches! And of course there
        can be some vage indirect benefits to the Free Software, but
        lets not spin this out of control: the benefits are in very general
        indirect. This is not what in English we mean be "contributing".

      • by Anonymous Coward
        This is missing the point, isn't it? If you take open source software and do whateve with it, your derivative product is also open source, and therefore you are an open source software producer, and if the government pays you money for your product, they are supporting open source software.

        Ummm, that doesn't make any sense whatsoever! Are you thinking GPL??? Just cause software might be open source, depending on the license, it doesn't mean it'll be re-released as open source.

        Take the less restrictive (err.. non-restrictive) BSD license as an exmaple. Anyone can take that code, close source it with all rights and make million$!

        GPL on the other hand, whole different ball game.

        You should either...

        1.) Get a clue!
        2.) Be specific on what you mean, GPL vs BSD vs MIT vs ...
        3.) Get a clue!
        4.) Troll on elsewhere!
        5.) Get another clue!
    • by BradleyUffner ( 103496 ) on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @06:35PM (#5185021) Homepage
      Support != Money.

      Open source software can be supported by someone by the mere word of mouth that it is being used.
  • by Whatthehellever ( 93572 ) on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @06:06PM (#5184754) Homepage
    I've finally found a reason to stop complaining that my tax money isn't being properly used. Now I'll happily pay my taxes!
  • by grub ( 11606 ) <> on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @06:07PM (#5184762) Homepage Journal

    Does RMS' welfare cheques count as another example?
  • Yahoo! too (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @06:07PM (#5184768)
    Yahoo relies almos exclusively on open source and it's own software and it's more than survived the crunch
  • by dillon_rinker ( 17944 ) on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @06:08PM (#5184771) Homepage
    IIRC, General Dynamics made some pretty decent money selling $600 toilet seats to the government, though I think that selling free software to the government is infinitely better.

    In seriousness, I REALLY hope such business do not include line items for free software on their bills to the government. (Microsoft's lackeys in Congress could have a field day with that.) Rather, all costs should be related to development, implemenation, etc of solutions...that just happen to utilize free software.
    • by sbuckhopper ( 12316 ) on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @06:15PM (#5184842) Homepage Journal
      You said: "In seriousness, I REALLY hope such business do not include line items for free software on their bills to the government. (Microsoft's lackeys in Congress could have a field day with that.) Rather, all costs should be related to development, implemenation, etc of solutions...that just happen to utilize free software."

      It is fairly well spelled out in the article, "DevIS does not "Sell Open Source." It sells solutions and applications that meet specification laid down by clients. Often, in the case of Federal sites and online database applications, those specs have to do with accessibility and security, but as long as they are met, Gallagher says, no one really needs to care about what's on the back end as long as whatever it is does the job and can be easily maintained after it is built. If the most cost-effective solution is Open Source, great. If not, Gallagher is not dogmatic. He points out repeatedly that Open Source and proprietary applications can coexist on a server and work together without any problems, and that if his clients require a proprietary application for a specific purpose, that's fine with him."

      I realize that was an attempt to be funny about the $600 toilet seats, but that shouldn't be taken lightly. I've worked with a lot of people that were defense contractors at some point in their life and they get really touchy when people start saying blanket statements about things like this. Just because a few people/companies were guilty of this doesn't mean that they all are crooked.
      • I have worked for years in the Medical Device industry, another heavily regulated and heavily government overseen category. The big companies thrive, indeed they mainly get by, on the jacked up prices that come with being a government regulated industry. I worked on teams that developed medical devices with less in them than the average Sony Walkman, yet they sold for $800-$2000 dollars. Furthermore, similar devices sell in Japan for $30-80 because there isn't a big bueracracy in Japan preventing the devices from being sold Prescription Only for the Protection Of The Patient.

        That kind of overspending, overspecing, and all the layers of boilerplate documentation and red tape are the Bread And Butter for the fat-assed companies that provide it.

        Sorry. The $600 toilet seats may just be anectotal, but they're evidence of a big hustle scene that Stinks.
    • lets see you buy 12 custom order toilet seats, capable of handling repeated launches into space for less.
      • capable of handling repeated launches into space

        You mean the toilet seats have to be capable of repeatedly launching payloads into space? Doesn't that make the LEO really nasty?

    • by Lil'wombat ( 233322 ) on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @07:02PM (#5185214)
      IIRC, General Dynamics made some pretty decent money selling $600 toilet seats to the government, though I think that selling free software to the government is infinitely better.

      A word about defense contracting, any product you supply the government most likely has a detailed MIL-SPEC (Military Specification). One of the many DFARS (Defense Federal Acquisition Regulations Supplement ) you contractually agree to is documentation of your compliance with any and all specifications. So consider the lowly toilet seat.

      There is probably a MIL-SPEC related to acceptable materials - now you need to test and document the source
      Is it on an combat aircraft - then there are MIL-SPECs relating to the explosive combatibility, breakability, and maximum static charge buildup allowed.

      When you start to look at all of the required documentation and testing, and the time involved the price gets up there - especially when the lowley $20/hr technician can be billed to the government at $90/hr ($20 + 300% Overhead + allowable Profit ~7% (of the gross!))

      As a point of refernce the MIL-SPEC for a 13in antenna for use in the 420 to 460 megacycles per second range is 7 pages long, and references 10 other MIL-SPECs as well.

      The really sad thing is that Home Depot probably has a better profit margin on their toilet seats than General Dynamics did.

      • Oh, cry me a river.

        Most defense contracting is a rubber stamp process. Contractors get the MANDATORY yearly price increases, freely given by the gov't, then you have companies tack on extra in fees with little or no real accountability.

        If Lockheed builds your F-16, you get the parts from them. If, for some reason, the price on an F-16 widget goes up 200% in one year, this is rarely challenged. The process to do so costs almost as much.

        As a Navy boss once said, "Yeah, they got us on this one, but we'll get them on the BIG ones..." This was for a part that was elevated over 1000% in less than three years time. Total cost was over 10 million dollars. Big ones... Right.

      • Ok, if the military is so worried about static charge buildup on your ass when taking a shit on your F16, why do they use NT on there ships???? [] Does MS crap really deserve a MIL specification.
    • by JonWan ( 456212 ) on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @07:18PM (#5185357)
      General Dynamics made some pretty decent money selling $600 toilet seats to the government,

      My father worked for GD in Ft.Worth, He told me about a $300 screwdriver a sub-contractor made. The reason for the outragous price was that they charged for all of the R&D time to design the thing and the time it took to frabricate it. When you take into account the machine time and the cost of the design work I'm amazed they could do it that cheap. Thats not to say that the Gov. dosen't get overcharged for things, just that it might not always be as bad as it seems.

      I've built special tools back when I worked as a line mechanic. I made $25.00 per hour flat rate, if I spent 2 hours making the tool it cost me $50 .00 for that tool plus materials. I knew a machinist that charged $100.00 per hour for mill work, so it wouldn't take long to rack-up $300.00. That dosen't even take into account exotic materials.

      I've always seen the toilet seat example and wondered what the whole story was. I figure that it was a price based on a small number of seats that were designed for a specfic location like an aircraft. Required to meet Mil. Specs. and one from the local Home Despot wouldn't work. For the price I'll bet it's Aluminum (Brrr) and with a short run, mostly hand made.
  • by SHEENmaster ( 581283 ) <travis AT utk DOT edu> on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @06:08PM (#5184773) Homepage Journal
    I think that the NSA's SE Linux helps us more; we are getting something for our tax dollars.

    Is this company "better" because it redistributes OSS for cash? I see that as a necessity of making the software truly free, not as anything that can particularly help us.

    M$ has been using OSS to make money for years, but where's their parade?
  • Right (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bob Abooey ( 224634 ) <> on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @06:08PM (#5184780) Homepage Journal
    But is this really a surprise anymore? I think we've gotten beyond the marketing hype that exploded when the dot com bubble burst and people are simply looking for the best value proposition. We truly have seen a major paradigm shift over the past few years for many grassroots companies.

    Sadly it's the fortune 500 corporate america that has yet to embrace common sense and as they still feel the need to live by the "Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM" mindset which some see as a way to survive. Large corporations have very differnt forces driving them.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      He's right you know. I work for HP and I can tell you that most people in my division make IT decisions based upon not screwing up rather than taking a risk and maybe doing something special. I'm guessing it's pretty much that way in most huge companies.
    • Re:Right (Score:2, Funny)

      by grub ( 11606 )

      Sorry, you get "+1; Insightful" for the overall message, but "-1; Catch-Phrases" for major paradigm shift

      The Editors.
    • Re:Right (Score:5, Funny)

      by swillden ( 191260 ) <> on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @07:18PM (#5185359) Homepage Journal

      Sadly it's the fortune 500 corporate america that has yet to embrace common sense and as they still feel the need to live by the "Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM"

      IBM is selling them Linux!

      • As is usual in these lists, no one is really answering the main posters question: what companies are successfully making a business with open source? IBM is. Not only is IBM contributing huge amounts of software ($40 million for Eclipse, XML4J, etc) to the open source world, they also use it in their projects or regular systems (for example, Ant is used to simplify WebSphere Commerce Suite build and deploy). Even better, they *make* software that runs on Linux, such as WebSphere, DB2, MQSeries, etc.
      • I work at a large company that is converting an existing e-commerce app to IBM WebSphere. I pushed for Linux, IBM pushed for AIX. They talked down Linux scalability, and basically spread open source FUD. There certainly are some people at IBM who support open source, but they don't work in sales.
        • I work at a large company that is converting an existing e-commerce app to IBM WebSphere. I pushed for Linux, IBM pushed for AIX.

          I work for IBM, and I know a sales guys who push nothing *but* Linux (well, actually Linux on IBM hardware and under IBM software).

          However, no company has a completely consistent viewpoint on any topic, and certainly no company with 400,000 employees will always deliver a consistent message. In addition, it's entirely possible that the IBM sales guys in question did have some IBM engineers look at the situation and there were good reasons why AIX was a better choice than Linux, right now, for your application.

  • I'd rather see... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by NineNine ( 235196 ) tax dollars supporting the economy better. Instead of going to a company that uses that money to grow, pay taxes, pay employees, and pay investors, tax money goes into a company that does little more than repackage somebody else's work. Not exactly a good return on tax dollars, in my opinion.
    • Great troll. You'd have us believe that you think Microsoft actually does systems integration for all the government agencies that use MS software, and that you think that paying money to MCSPs, consulting firms, and resellers of MS software is wastage. Replies to your post will either wonder about your relationship with Microsoft, explain to you how good Linux is, or simply bash MS. Excellent work.
    • Doesn't "repackage someone else's" content to create a "Free Porn" site? Doesn't your stated philosophy here say you should be hiring/paying the, uhh, content providers?
    • by jmkaza ( 173878 ) on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @06:30PM (#5184995)
      This isn't someone repackaging someone else's work. Free software is great, but you have to have someone install, configure, and maintain that software. As a taxpayer, what bill would you rather the gov't pay...

      Labor: $500,000
      Hardware: $1,500,000
      Software Licenses: $3,500,000


      Labor: $500,000
      Hardware: $1,500,000
      Software Licenses: Free
      • How about profit. For example:

        Proprietary Vendor:
        Profit: $500,000
        Labor: $500,000
        Hardware: $1,500,000
        Software Licenses (profit for someone else!): $3,500,000


        Open Source Vendor:
        Profit: somewhere between 500,000 and 4,000,000
        Labor: $500,000
        Hardware: $1,500,000
        Software Licenses: Free

        If it comes to a bidding war for a fixed priced project, the OS vendor should easily win and make more profit. The client pays less, the vendor makes more profit, and the tax payer saves money (I won't even get into government security:). If you do fixed price projects with proprietary software, someone else is eating your lunch!
      • The software license fee saved can be well used on Labor and Hardware to provide better quality of both. That's what we do in dealing with Government(non-US) tender - we provide better hardware and services for the same cost. Of course that's not without problem, we need to spend great deal of time to change their impression on free software because we don't usually have corporate service assurance provided by the organization which provides the software we sell, but that's getting easier and easier recently.
    • Oh, how cute! Another "Waste is good" economist.

      Meanwhile, in the real world, the only thing that ever, ever, ever helps the economy is production of value. Paying money to produce something that is already available for free, is not production. Moving money around without getting anything for it, is not production. But somehow when the politicians start running around , pumping their arms, shouting, "Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!" people think the politicians are doing them a favor.

      • Re:I'd rather see... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by mt_nixnut ( 626002 ) on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @08:42PM (#5185967)
        Maybe I got lost in this thread somehow. but...

        exactly why doesn't the work these guys do to produce solutions count as production? and how is a complete solution to a specified problem(need) without value? Open source is a large collection of unrealated works. Production in this context is turning the raw material (OSS) into marketable products. Think about the difference between iron ore and punch presses and cars. I think you would call a building a car production no? How is taking the raw material of OSS and making it into a solution different if someone needs it?

        If you are making the point that only things like real estate and gold have real value ok. But in the everyday world of common idioms. People pay for the things they need. And value is a measure of satifaction with the solution.

        my $.02

      • Oh, how cute! Another "Waste is good" economist.

        From an economic standpoint, waste often is good. For instance, in retail products, more packaging means a more expensive product, and therefore increased revenue that produced it. Time wasted on contracts is often paid for by the principal -- translating into profit for the contractor. You see, waste increases the flow of capital in nearly every case. Of course, that doesn't make it right, just economically desirable. The social and environmental costs are tremendous, though, and far outweigh the economic benifit - IMHO.

        And now to move back on topic. What you seem to be missing here is that many companies include open source software in their solutions. They don't charge for the inclusion of that software, just for the custom stuff they developed to work with the OSS stuff. Their customers are paying for custom solutions that build on this software, not for the (open source) software itself.

        Here at the company I work for, we are developing web software that uses Linux, qMail, Apache, MySQL, Perl, and ColdFusion. We don't charge for any of those licenses except for the ColdFusion. We'd have to charge more if we went with Netscape iPlanet and Oracle.

        So, we save money for our customers by saving on the cost of those liscenses. As for the ColdFusion, well, all of our developers are proficient in it and few are comfortable with the OSS app languages such as PHP and Perl (my personal preferences). Perhaps one day...
        • From an economic standpoint, waste often is good. For instance, in retail products, more packaging means a more expensive product, and therefore increased revenue that produced it. Time wasted on contracts is often paid for by the principal -- translating into profit for the contractor. You see, waste increases the flow of capital in nearly every case.
          Flow of capital, alone, neither hurts nor helps the economy. If you hire me to produce a widget worth $1000, it doesn't matter if you pay me $2000 or $4000 for it. The economic gain for the system as a whole is the same. The only contribution to the economy, is the value of the widget that I built.

          If you pay me $4000 instead of $2000, the fact that I have that extra $2000 instead of you may end up having an effect on the economy, but whether that is good or bad, depends on how well I use that $2000 compared to how well you may have used it.

          Then suppose it costs a printer $1 in raw materials to make a glossy colorful cardboard box, which they sell to me for for $5. I package the widget in the box and ship it to you, and you unwrap it, and get $0.10 worth of pleasure from seeing the pretty box, which you then throw away. $0.90 of capital has just been lost.

          A more dramatic example of waste harming the economy was in the news a while back. Suppose an expensive office building is destroyed by terrorists. An insurance claim is filed and paid, and a while later, there is a great construction project to build a new office building. Lots of money is moving around, workers employed, taxes paid, etc. But surely the economy was nevertheless harmed by the destruction of capital (the office building), no? The value of the new building, minus whatever was lost to waste in its construction, might outweigh the value of the previous building, but probably not.

          Waste almost(?) always involves the destruction of capital; that's why we call it waste. If it isn't destructive, we call it something else, perhaps "added value" or something like that.

          Here at the company I work for, we are developing web software that uses Linux, qMail, Apache, MySQL, Perl ... So, we save money for our customers by saving on the cost of those liscenses
          Verily, I understand this. I flamed NineNine for not understanding it. It seems he would prefer that you hire extra people to reimplement those free tools, or buy commercial alternatives, in order "to grow, pay taxes, pay employees, and pay investors." I say it would be a waste to duplicate that effort, and you already know what I think of waste. ;-)
  • by gokubi ( 413425 ) on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @06:10PM (#5184796) Homepage
    Now that we've publicized that DevIS is a bunch of communists, you can be sure that federal grants for this company will mysteriously dry up.
  • mmm... $ (Score:5, Funny)

    by goatasaur ( 604450 ) on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @06:10PM (#5184803) Journal
    I thought our tax dollars were used to market government-approved violent games [] to our nation's youth. Silly me, it's being used for the development and proliferation of OSS!

    Why do I always feel like I'm waking up from a nightmare?
  • by kwoo ( 641864 ) <> on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @06:12PM (#5184814) Homepage Journal used to run cl-httpd, an open source web server written in Common Lisp. I just checked the link and it's dead now, but according to NetCraft, is running an unknown web server on Linux.

  • by rherbert ( 565206 ) <> on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @06:12PM (#5184816) Homepage
    My company, Sycamore Associates [], does a good deal of government work, and we use OSS products whenever possible (including Linux, Apache, perl, and JBoss, among others). It seems, though, that it's easier to convince government clients to use these products when they're outsourcing and we agree to support the products - that way, it's transparent to them, and we take care of any problems.

    What's harder is when we have subcontractors on site and we try to convince them to use these things internally. They're concerned that the subcontractors will move on and they'll be stuck with something they don't understand or know how to support. I suppose this is a valid concern, but a little education would go a long way to alleviate this.

    Right now, I'm working as a subcontractor to Lockheed Martin [] on a NIMA [] contract. They still use Sun and SGI servers, but they run Apache, Tomcat, and Samba, as well as many GNU tools.
  • by melted ( 227442 ) on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @06:13PM (#5184824) Homepage
    I don't give a flying fuck whether the software my tax dollars are buying is free or not. What I do care about if it's the right software for the job, and whether the government will be more effective as a result of buying this software. It is unwise (at best) to base your decisions solely on whether the software is open or not.
    • I do care (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ChaosDiscord ( 4913 ) on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @06:28PM (#5184978) Homepage Journal
      I do care if the government is spending my tax dollars on free software. I agree with your core statement, "What I do care about if it's the right software for the job, and whether the government will be more effective as a result of buying this software." It just happens that one of the many variables that should be considered is the openness of the software. What happens if the company you bought the proprietary software goes under or simply discontinues on unprofitable product? How expensive will it be to purchase the source or move to another platform. What is the risk of the company forcing you to upgrade to fix bugs? What is the risk that the company will refuse to make changes that you desire? Can you gain any benefit from shopping the source around to competing contractors to get modifications you require? What's the risk of facing an expensive audit? What will it cost now to minimize the cost of a potential audit?

      Making a buying decision solely on the openness of the software is probably a bad ideal. But open source has alot to offer that needs to be weighed against the advantages of proprietary software. In particular open source helps limit risk, if all else fails you can take the source and contract with a competitor to fix or change it. Too many software purchasing decisions are simply "Which software provides the best balance of functionality now for payment now?" completely ignoring future costs and risks. That's an equally foolish way to purchase software.

    • If you read the article, you'd see that they use a combination of open-source and proprietary software to accomplish the job, whatever worked best for the situation...

      That's if you read the article...

      You haven't have you?

      Don't give me that look.
  • by Mastos ( 448544 ) on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @06:19PM (#5184899)
    I work for a company, DigitalNet (previously Getronics Government Solutions), that does pretty much all its business with the government. In the consulting business, what matters is we get the job done, not how we do it. Traditionally, all the development was with commercial software tools and libraries but more and more open source is starting to creep in. In my current contract, 100% of the code is open source. The beauty of multi-platform code (in this case Java and ANSI SQL) is the core application can be integrated with commercial databases or run on a commercial application server (instead of the Tomcat I developed with). This allows me to distribute the app with OSS fully functional yet allow the client to replace key infrastructure with commercial software as desired.

    Projects like Struts, stxx, Lucene, JFreeChart, AspectJ, etc allow me to add tons of functionality without having to do anything. In only a few hours, I used Lucene to add the ability to search the entire database. Even better, when the client is willing and usually is, you can release any changes/fixes/improvements back into the project. My boss is convinced open source is going to be key going forward.

    If you want to have a job programming open source software, this is a great field for it. BTW, thanks partially to the success of this contract, our next job ad features the preferred knowledge of open source technologies. :)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @06:20PM (#5184906)
    Listen folks, the point of this company is not selling software, but services. If you would READ the article, you would see that. devIS is a services company. That's the whole point. They don't charge for the free software they use, but for the solutions the produce using these tools. For instance, you can't just hand the government a Zope server and expect it to do everything they want. Someone has to program it to do something relevant. This is what this company happens to do. Now, because they use free software, like Apache and Zope and Postgres, your tax dollars are saved from buying proprietary solutions that soon require costly upgrades and such. This money that is saved then can be pumped back into the economy elsewhere, whether to another contractor, or another economic program like finding some of these whiners jobs.
  • by 4of12 ( 97621 ) on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @06:25PM (#5184956) Homepage Journal

    Just to restate the obvious, but if you donate some of your own money to a qualified 501(c)3 organization such as the Free Software Foundation, then, at least in the USA, you may deduct it on your tax return from your gross income.

    So in that sense, the government is subsidizing open source software at whatever your marginal tax rate happens to be.

    They're subsidizing a lot of other organizations that way, too, such as mortgage creditors, but I feel that the public investment in more and improved free software contributes more to the overall productivity of the economy [I'm sure realtors and home builders would dispute me].

  • by rtv ( 567862 ) on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @06:27PM (#5184974)
    The Player/Stage Project [] makes the Player server, a networked interface to lots of robot hardware, and Stage a multiple robot simulator that uses the Player interface. All the code is GPL, managed from Sourceforge [], and has been funded largely by DARPA [], via USC Robotics Research Labs [] and HRL Labs [] from the start.

    P/S is used by research labs all over the world, as well as by several DARPA funded projects in the US. The program manager (an official agent of the Man) has always been extremely cool about the OS nature of the project. He immediately understood that by staying OS we could pool the resources of hundreds of researchers, most of whom were not being paid by DARPA, to solve a pressing need for network-friendly robot interfaces and re-usable code. A good deal for everyone.

  • Simple (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mao che minh ( 611166 ) on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @06:37PM (#5185033) Journal
    I don't see why some people would see this as an issue at all. This company here uses open source code to get a job a done. This job just happens to be for the United States government. Whoop-de-doo.

    I could go on and on about the benefits of open source, but we have all heard that arguement before, so here is just a real brief recap:

    1. OSS is cheaper then proprietary, or free
    2. Because it is open source, you can always have in-house people maintain it or hire someone else too. This longevity of the same product will save the tax payers even more money by avoiding upgrade cycles.
    3. Because it is open source, you can integrate it into future projects easily.
    4. Because of 2 and 3 above, you as a government entity are not chained to a single closed-sourced vendor with no control over products purchased with the public reserves.

    • In response to #2 and #3. WTF are you smoking, and will you share?

      Open source has nothing to do with your company having someone in house that can maintain your product/service. For example, MAS 90 is absolutely closed source, yet companies that sell and implement it provide maintenance as well as customized (modular) solutions.

      How does something being open source make it more likely to be integrated with other projects easily ? A program that is written badly is still bad, whether open of closed source.
  • I can imagine the phone call now...

    President Bush: Let me get this straight, tax dollars that isn't going in our pockets?

    Bill Gates: Unbelievable right?

    President Bush: Even though I can not pronounce their name *giggle* hasn't stopped me in the past *giggle*, i'm still going to add this Deeev-ess to the Axis of Evil.

    Bill Gates: and make them run Windows? *fingers crossed*

    President Bush: Yeah i'll make some sort of anti-terror law about free something or other.

  • by bdsesq ( 515351 ) on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @06:46PM (#5185107)
    I know this is going to be a popular post.

    By law any software produced by tax dollars is available to a citizen for the cost of distribution. Classified stuff is obviously not available.

    But if you want a copy of that Cobol program that calculated your income tax on a nice new 6250BPI tape just ask.

    All of this predates GNU, copyleft and OSS by many years. So the government (Al Gore anyone?) can take credit for Open Source.
    • By law any software produced by tax dollars is available to a citizen for the cost of distribution. Classified stuff is obviously not available.

      NOT true! By law, any work created by the government is public domain, but a work for the government, even if paid for by the government, is not necessarily put in the public domain. That is one reason they are trying to get civil servants to write less software, and contractors to write more software (so that they can 'commercialize' the contractor made software.)

      I work as a contractor, doing research and writing software that is paid for by government sources. Even though my company (typically) signs off the rights of my code to the government (it can be useful, but not really commercializable; just lots of research related code), it is QUITE a pain to get that code made available for public use (and it is NOT public domain, thanks to the wording of the law (title 19, or some such thing))

    • You have none to show. By the way, did I ever tell you about the gold mine that I sold to the government? It's called Alaska! Yeah, I once owned Alaska...before Russia stole it from under my feet, and then after the Civil War; the United States bought it from Russia at an inflated price to secretly compensate the Czar's kindness of stationing Russian troops off the coast of California in preparation to fight against the 8,000 British forces stationed in Canada to await the Union and Confederate armies of America to exhaust themselves and Britain to reclaim the rebel colonies.

      I sware I'm not speculating, but if you read your history you will discover that I am correct. However, that is merely on what I am claiming and I can't point you to any reference supporting my claim. You have done the same. So, feh!
  • by e2d2 ( 115622 ) on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @07:11PM (#5185284)
    Perhaps the ideal Open Source company is not a behemoth run by a ruthless, profit-driven executive, but is something like devIS, run by a Volvo-driving, former Peace Corps volunteer like Gallagher, who talks more about money he has saved taxpayers and how well the sites his company has made serve their intended constituencies than about the amount of money he has put in his (or investors') pockets.

    Hey! Some of us like money, american muscle cars, tits, red meat, guns, AND Open Source thank you very much ..

  • We fund public schools. How much of your tax dollars ultimately end up in the hands of Microsoft? Is it necessary?

  • This site [] is a dutch hosting company which only hosts websites for non-profit organisations. They only use open-source software to host those websites.

    I don't know whether it's because it saves a lot of money or that it's an idealistic point of view, but it certainly is a good example :).

  • Serously, they pay for what they can do for free?

    NAI could have used the technology behind Deersofts software, SpamAssassin for free! But they still bought it.

    How wierd. How do companies justify this stuff?
    • What NAI bought was the ability to steer and effectively control the direction of SpamAssassin's development. They didn't purchase the ability to download or use the software, what they purchased was a stake in controlling the userbase.
    • No, it's not for free. Somebody has to do the work. It doesn't matter if you're using OSS or commercial software.

      It's a bit like this - if you want fresh shellfish, you can go to the beach. Spend an afternoon digging, and you'll have a bucket of cockles. If you want me to get the bucket of cockles, then I'll want paid for it - the cockles didn't cost anything but I did have to go and get them. You do get them cooked, though.

      Another example might be the diagnostics output on car ECUs. I can read, for example, Citroen suspension fault codes from the Hydractive suspension ECU, and tell you what's wrong with it, for which I will want paid (mine's a Guinness, thanks). Normally, Citroen garages spend a lot of money on special tools to read this. I built my own - they're incredibly simple. Even though I made the special tool myself, I still want paid *for knowing how to use it*.

    With 30+ employees (I'll assume 32.5 employees) and $4 million in revenue, that's $123,000 per employee.

    Business owners know that your typical employee costs around 150% of their yearly salary. With that in mind, only $82,000 of your original $123,000 per employee is left.

    But, wait! You haven't paid for their computers yet. Or the office space. Or the guy that empties the trash cans. Or electricity. Or the Internet connection (hey, browsing pr0n takes bandwidth, and bandwidth costs money!). And a million and one other things that we don't ever think about. Running a business COSTS MONEY.

    I'll pull a number out of my and shave off another 25%. That leaves $61,500 per employee.

    There's more! You damn well know the managers and executives are paying themselves a lot more than the slaves ^H^H^H^H^H^H developers.

    At the end of the day, the developers are probably getting a well "below average" paycheck, and the company is probably barely getting by.

    This is success? By some measures, YES.

    BUT...forgive me if I'm NOT impressed. They probably won't be able to keep every employee busy 100% of the time (and you still have to pay idle employees -- at least, I assume they're salaried rather than hourly). If rough times hit this company, I'm willing to bet they don't have enough money in the bank to get by for long.

  • Don't we have enough parasites screaming for handouts without the government paying out money for that which is, by definition, free?
  • by someguyintoronto ( 415253 ) on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @08:02PM (#5185698)
    While I do not want to take away attention from open source software being used in mainstream business (or in this case public sector), I find that sometimes we hype too much over everything.

    So what if a "web services" company is using open source software for the government. Open source has always been at the centre of web applications since the first script kiddie made a web site using Perl.

    My own company has made banking applications using open-source technologies for years, no one's written an article on us.

    The point is really: their is some good free open source software out there, and we (as it's supporters) must continue using, improving and recommending it in all our projects. The software will speak for itself!
  • by Mr_Tulip ( 639140 ) on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @08:33PM (#5185908) Homepage
    I've been involved in many web-application software projects, and they have mostly used OSS, a generous slathering of perl, and usually run on some version Linux.

    What's been great lately, private companies are making use of open-source Win32 libraries, and are actively contributing to the pool of Win32 open source applications.

    For examples, look at Indy [] and Turbopower []. There's hundreds more...

    The main reason, in my mind at least, is that the MPL (Mozilla Public License) has opened up new ways of ensuring intellectual property remains secure, while allowing companies to make use of and develop open software as well.

  • BNT and WDI (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    My company, WDI, is a part of BNT (Brunswick New Technologies) which is Brunswick Corporation's high tech division. We have built an Java based EAI (App Integration) system and related tools using open source / GPL'd components.
    Ant, Axis, Tomcat, Xerces, Xalan, Log4J, probably others.. from the Apache project are core components.
    The system uses MySQL for its own persistence purposes (it can run on almost any SQL db, but we prefer MySQL)

    Also, some experimental/newer components use Castor for XML marshalling/unmarshalling,
    the JCSP package (Java Communicating Sequential Processes), JUnit for test first development.

    When time permits or the need arises, I try to make useful contributions to the open source projects whos code we use. (finding bugs, making patches, etc..), which I think is the best way for developers to help open source software projects.

  • by WillSchroeder ( 623261 ) on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @09:28PM (#5186289)
    Kitware has received on the order of millions of dollars to develop three open-source systems: VTK, ITK, and CMake (,, Sponsors are the US National Labs who are invsting to make VTK (the Visualization Toolkit) run on large parallel supercomputers; the National Library of Medicine who have funded the entire development of ITK (Insight Segmenation and Registration Toolkit); and both have helped fund CMake a cross-platform build management tool. BTW- we use a BSD-style license. GPL is an extreme license, it is not business friendly and comes with it's own strings attached. Strings mean limits on freedom...
    • Can you be more specific (give us some details) about when and how GPL makes (would make) your business suffer comparing to using BSDL?

      Please stay on topic that you've got (paid) the order to develop open-source systems. Had it specified the type of open-source license?

      I just have a suspition that someone just wanted to take money for the contract, comply the order to develop the open-source software and than (after the contact is completed) hijack (fork to close-source) the code in own proprietary purposes. BSDL is very friendly for such cases, isn't it?

  • by Flamesplash ( 469287 ) on Wednesday January 29, 2003 @10:17PM (#5186530) Homepage Journal
    I think people are missing a big point, very very few companies are Homogeneous in the technology they use.

    I work for Lincoln Laboratory and almost every project we do is for the DoD and is paid for by the federal government. The lab is broken into divisions then groups. My group not only uses windows and employs 2 Windows tech support people, but we also have our own solaris network that is bigger than the windows one and 1.5 full time admins.

    My group is not alone, many others are similar in the group.

    Just because a company uses Windows, doesn't mean they are devoid of *nix, and vice versa.
  • We do work entirely for the government, especially for DARPA, the IRS and the FAA. A fair number of our projects involve, in whole or in part, software of an open source nature. Some of the stuff I have played with in the past, and even helped bug-fix or improve:

    lame (think sonar), MySQL, samba (smbtar fixes, largefile fixes in client), octave and linux-wlan-ng.

    Moreover, our infrastructure teams use OSS extensively. They have a corporate printing system built from LPRng, samba, openldap, and apache. Tons of perl glue. We have some wicked cool scripts for unix desktop users that automagically pick the closest printer to the user as the default.
    • No really, he was a guest speaker for us yesterday, out in our Washington site. Standing room only! :-)

      Us MITRE techies are committed. (In more way than one...)

  • ...always nice to see public dollars supporting public software.

    But do the programmers who spend a lot of time on it see a dime?
  • Apple does a great job of that too.
  • You're a small software company, you work hard as do your employees.
    Your software is excellent, while the open source software is very good. When you innovate the open source team just copies what you did.
    Now every year you pay taxes thereby supporting the open source guys and paying to make the competition better.

    Do get me wrong I think open source has many advantages, but lost in the shuffle and hatred for MS, many small companies get run out of business.
  • by Aron S-T ( 3012 ) on Thursday January 30, 2003 @03:14AM (#5187577) Homepage
    We [] are a company which is almost totally based on open-source software solutions. We are currently doing a nice size project for a government agency (who currently must remain nameless - no this is not defense related) which is all being done in Python [] and the Twisted Framework [].

    One issue we confront is that you have to have software tools that play nicely with all the legacy and Microsoft systems out there. Customers aren't going to throw out their existing investment in infrastructure. The open source model almost by definition guarantees that it is actually great for integration with the proprietary world. In fact, Python is especially so [].

    The other issue is convincing our customers to "give back to the community." At first they almost always say we have to own the IP. Then we explain to them that they aren't software companies so there is no value to them in that ownership. Then they worry about their competitors getting their hands on it (this isn't an issue obviously with government clients, but they still have hesitations.). In the end of the day, we always manage to educate them on the benefits they will derive in releasing as much as possible back to the open source community. We usually add a clause in the contract which gives them the right to exclude code from being open sourced, but they rarely invoke it. In more commercial environments, there may be proprietary ways of doing things embedded in the software, but that kind of stuff isn't usually amenable to opens sourcing in any case.

    Bottom line: open source development is a business both in commercial and government sectors.
  • by bockman ( 104837 ) on Thursday January 30, 2003 @07:24AM (#5188084)
    I write software for a company that gets sub-contracts for the Eureopean space programs. In the latest years, Linux-Intel platforms are slowly but increasingly replacing traditional Unix platforms (SUN/ex-HP/ex-Digital) in many fields (mostly ground support centers and testing facilities). The reason however is mostly the minor cost of the platform. Linux here is usually well accepted, because the engineers (software and not) are already used to Unix.

    This might not been well received by SUN & co, since space programs have always been a fat niche market for them, but I think that they realise that if it wasn't Linux it would have been Windows (which also is gaining market share in this field, anyway), and they prefer Linux because they can still try to win back the customers.

    Now, the space program money comes from tax-payers. I doubt free software programmers will see any of it, but companies like SuSE are getting more work, and this is something. Also, experienced Linux programmers can more easily find a job in the field (if they can stand it).

The Macintosh is Xerox technology at its best.