Deployment of Linux in US government institutions could be stunted if the open source community does not learn better lobbying skills, a leading US academic has warned.
Addressing users and developers at the LinuxWorld Expo in New York Tony Stanco, founder of the EGovOS Project (the centre for open source in government) and associate director of the Cyber Security Policy & Research Institute at The George Washington University, urged open source advocates to become more politically savvy.
"The community has to realise that open source is not just about developing good software; it also has to be about getting change in policies," he said.
Stanco contended that even though open source software has supporters within government agencies, they could face pressure not to deploy the software. "The bottleneck now is not in the agencies but in policy makers in Congress," he told delegates.
Key to the threat to Linux uptake in government is Microsoft as it rallies to defend its established business with national governments around the world.
Last week, Microsoft stepped up its efforts to woo governments away from open source software by announcing its Government Security Program (GSP).
The program will enhance access to its code for governments and international organisations, giving free access to Microsoft source code for its Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 operating systems.
Under GSP, governments will be able to look at the source code but will not be able to alter or recompile the software, a policy that has drawn criticism from open source development proponents.
Stanco maintained that benefits from open source only come when code is public enough for many developers to work on it.
"GSP loses the best part of open source, and that is letting the whole community work to help find and repair vulnerabilities before they are found by black-hat hackers," he said.
Although Microsoft's GSP strategy falls short of open source development, Stanco suggested that the initiative could deter governments from Linux.
"There is a chance that GSP could be seen [by governments] as open source but better, because it has a business plan," he said.
Microsoft did not return calls to comment by time of press.
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