The Meaning of Open Source (to the U.S. Govt.)

by Todd Ogasawara

I read about the U.S. government's USAsearch.gov site using the Vivisimo engine for search federal, state, and local government sites in the U.S. This is the same engine used by the Clusty search site (which somehow always reminds me of Krusty the clown from the Simpsons :-).

The first phrase that came to mind to search for was Open Source. But, the result surprised me although I should not have been surprised. Why? The first hit was a site named OpenSource.gov. That makes sense, right? And, it does unless you are a tech geek (like me and most of you reading this) and always think of Open Source in terms of software. In government lingo Open Source means available sources of intelligence information (not in the espionage sense of the word). So, in their own words: OpenSource.gov provides timely and tailored translations, reporting and analysis on foreign policy and national security issues from the Open Source Center and its partners.

For some reason, after slapping my forehead and uttering a Homer-esque "Doh!" when I realized my error, I thought about Sam Ramji's blog entry titled Managing Towards Open. And then, with all seriousness, it occurred to me that Microsoft's Open Source Labs is performing somewhat similar work as OpenSource.gov by gathering intelligence about software countries (so to speak) with different philosophies like various Open Source licenses (both in the free as in freedom and free as in beer - or carbonated beverages in my case).

BTW: I found it a bit odd that my search on USAsearch.gov using both "open source" and "open source" + "software" didn't actually result in many finds or of the ones kinds of results I expected (SELinux, NASA related projects, etc.).