FOSS vs. the Winged Monkeys: Q&A With Open Source for America’s Chris Lundberg

Chris Lundberg has worked for years to drive the availability oftechnology to the masses. He has managed teams developing software forthe Library of Congress, worked with the U.S. Navy todevelop satellite communications software and consulted for Accenture indeveloping telecom Internet solutions.

Prior to that, Lundberg produced Internet solutions for the financialand entertainment sectors as director of applications at Opion. He isan open source user and advocate. Lundberg is pretty surethat access to organizing technology is the only thing keeping the”winged monkeys” at bay.

“I’ve got this mental image of technological progress being aband marching down a yellow brick road, beset by authoritariangovernments, secrecy, poor information distribution and deceit atevery turn — the winged monkeys, as it were. Open source, and moregenerally open access, gives us some arrows to fire back with,”Lundberg, cofounder and CTO of DemocracyInAction.org and partner forWiredForChange, told LinuxInsider.

Information Peddler

Lundberg worked toget Open Source for America launchedthis summer and is on its board of advisors. This group is a coalitionof more than 60 organizations joining together to advocate open sourcein the U.S. federal government arena. Its membership includes industryleaders such as Red Hat, Sun Microsystems, Google, Novell and Oracle,along with academic institutions, associations, communities, thinktanks and related open source groups.

Lundberg is looking to the new administration in Washington tomove forward with technological reform. So far, he said, the newpresident is making the right moves, but he expects to see moregovernmental cooperation.

The Obama administration has expressed its desire to create anunprecedented level of openness in government and establish a systemof transparency, public participation and collaboration. These goalscoincide with those of open source, noted Lundberg.

Open Source for America provides a unified voice to help bring aboutchange in U.S. federal government policies and practices to allow it to better utilize open source software for costefficiency, security and enhanced performance.

Taking a Stand

LinuxInsider recently spoke with Chris Lundberg to discuss theissues surrounding efforts to advance the use of technology for themasses.

LinuxInsider: How is open source contributing to your image of theWinged Monkey — or changing it?

Chris Lundberg:

Open source and open access represent the idea thatsolutions are often better found via many, than via few. It’s as mucha philosophy as a method of software development.

LI: Why doesn’t proprietary stuff fit this mold?


In some cases, proprietary models can help open up access totechnologies and drive innovation. But the temptations often drivewell-meaning proprietary developers down paths that areunsustainable. It also doesn’t make for good governance, as it becomesdifficult for constituents to have an influence on their governments.

LI: What role is Open Source for America playing in the push for technology?


The last 10 years have seen a growing set of individuals andorganizations who have been working with the government to learn aboutand use open source technologies. This year, there have beeninitiatives at the federal level around openness, transparency andcollaboration. Not long after President Obama signed his transparencymemorandum, some of the members discussed that the new administrationseemed interested in technologies that could improve access totechnology.

LI: Since it was part of his platform, how effective has the Obamaadministration been in creating unprecedented levels of openness ingovernment?


He faces a tough battle, particularly with the breadth of thefederal government. But they’re making good strides withWhitehouse.gov and a few other federal sites. I worked at the Libraryof Congress for a little while, and I know the many, many hoops thatremain. We hope that this movement toward open communication iscontinued and is also reflected in the technologies the administrationchooses to deploy.

LI: What factors led to the formation of the Open Source for Americaorganization?


Open Source for America’s goal is to promote the benefits of opensource software. The campaign seeks to educate Americans andgovernment leaders about the incredible power of open source softwareand its reliance on a broad community of review and testing. Webelieve open source software is more secure, more reliable, lowerscosts, enables better choice and will provide improved governmentperformance and service.

LI: What goals have you laid out for the organization to accomplish all of this?


Some of our goals are to affect change in the U.S. federalgovernment policies and practices so that the federal government maymore fully benefit from and utilize open source software. We want tocoordinate an open source community to collaborate with the federalgovernment on technology requirements. We also want to raise awarenessand create understanding among federal government leaders about thevalues and implications of open source software. We hope that OpenSource for America may also participate in standards development andother activities that may support its open source mission.

LI: That is quite a goal set. Is the growing trend toward opensource software changing the emphasis on giving technology to themasses?


Open source has always been about distributing technology as farand wide as possible, both for altruistic purposes and tangiblepurposes such as security, etc. While the masses may not always beable to install their own operating system or database, it allowsservice providers such as ours to reduce overhead, minimizemaintenance and ensure that problems can be identified and resolvedbefore they become major issues. This combination of open sourcesoftware and service models can get organizing technology to themasses more effectively than ever before.

LI: And this is the added push, then, that your organization is providing?



LI: What are the road blocks in the drive to make technologymore available to the masses?


Well, of course it differs by country and region, but we try andcategorize it as: A) Access — is a computer, cellphone, or Internetconnection even available?; B) Price — is the technology priced outof a reasonable range?; C) Complexity — is it prohibitively hard touse?; D) Effectiveness — Does it make a difference? Our day-to-dayaim is trying to move the ball down the road on each of these.

LI: Have any of these roadblocks been solved?


Well, sheesh, of course everyone has 100MBit access now, right?They’re all moving targets, of course, but we’ve seen and helped driveprogress in the last five years on reducing price and complexity andincreasing effectiveness. Access is moving slowly.

LI: What kind of differences are you seeing regionally?


In the U.S., I hope that some of the new broadband legislation willdrive up access in remote regions and some cities. Internationally indeveloping countries, we’re going to have to be creative in creatingeffective technologies over cellphone connections. Lots of challengesremain.

LI: Is open source making any inroads in the U.S. government as it isin governments in Europe, Asia and Africa?


In 2004 the U.S. Office of Management and Budget issued amemorandum, M-04-16, which called on all federal agencies in thenation to exercise the same procurement procedures for open sourcesoftware as they would for commercial software. A pretty astoundingstep. … Since then, open source software adoption has grown with agenciesfrom the U.S. Navy, Federal Aviation Administration and Census Bureauto the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and many more.

LI: Can you offer some examples of this progress?


Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah, migratedto an open source operating system at just two percent of the cost ofits previous operating system, realizing tremendous savings in costand time while maintaining user satisfaction and continuing to meetstrict security standards. Another example is the U.S. Department ofHealth and Human Services.

LI: What do you look forward to happening in the immediate futureregarding open technology?


I hope primarily for open access to government information. Rightnow there are very few standard ways to communicate with government,but that’s moving along.

LI: Is this a level playing field in each country, or are some nationsmore cooperative than others?


Frankly, most administrators and governments are trying to feeltheir way around technology, and so we’re seeing this back and forthbetween open source and proprietary technologies.

LI: Do you see this as your group’s biggest challenge?


We see the biggest challenge being connectivity, both in the U.S.and internationally. We see access to cheap, simple organizing toolsis a surprisingly difficult step but one that we feel can change howwe govern and are governed.

LI: Is this because of the struggling third-world nations orgovernment resistance to open communication?


I think it’s because there’s very little incentive for good geeksto work in government, thus making technology decisions more about thesales process than the technology.

LI: Any final observations?


Wrangle the geeks, and the rest will come through.

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