The Upside of the Downturn

If there is an upside to the economic downturn, some people think it will be the broader adoption of open source software:

In the last major economic downturn, Linux established itself as a widely-accepted enterprise operating system, benefiting a lively ecosystem of vendors such as Red Hat and Novell. The return of tough economic times puts the open source alternative again front and center, this time with focus on databases and higher-level software applications.

This is an area where governments should also look for cost savings an innovation opportunities but, sadly, it seems that few are. Several years ago, I was involved in an effort to create a software repository for governments, a place where governments could share software components with each other — sort of a Sourceforge for the public sector. This wasn’t an original idea — certainly there are other sites that are similar in focus — and initially there was great enthusiasm behind the idea, with a number of state governments (including the one I worked for) voicing early support.

Unfortunately because of a complete lack of vision in the IT leadership of my state, the decision was made not to sign on to the Government Open Code Collaborative project as a full member (an outcome that greatly contributed to my decision to leave state government). Even more unfortunate, the entire project seemed to wither and die after the departure of the State of Massachusetts CIO, Peter Quinn.

I still think the idea of a software repository for the public sector is a good idea. Unlike private sector entities, states and local governments — with rare exception — are not in direct competition. (It doesn’t seem likely that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will make a play to license the drivers of New York, or that the State of Indiana will try to undercut the State of Maryland’s authority to manage the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.) Governments can share software components in a way that private sector entities can not.

So why aren’t there any thriving public sector software repositories out there? I wish I knew.

Maybe the current economic downturn will focus the attention of governments on the potential of this idea. Here’s hoping…

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