Grooving at GOSCON

I was up in Portland, Oregon, last week attending the Government Open Source Conference put on by Oregon State University. This was my first Open Source convention, and it was a hoot. Sun and OpenOffice.org were ably represented by featured speakers Erwin Tenhumberg, Doug Johnson and Louis Suarez-Potts, so all I had to do was hang around and absorb the atmosphere.

There were some rather heated debates, including one I witnessed between Jason Matusow, Microsoft interop guru, and Arnaud Le Hors, IBM Open Source maven, on the merits of Open XML versus Open Document Format. Fun stuff! I was also impressed by the keynote by Jim Zemlin, Executive Director of the Linux Foundation, who bears a striking resemblance in mannerisms, accent and intelligence to my hero Sen. John Edwards. Who knew Open Source could be so slick?

More than one speaker made a critical point that I think deserves some intensive thought. There are plenty of government agencies that would like to use Open Source software, but that are prevented from doing so by the procurement processes they have to follow. Typically, they have to issue a Request For Proposal that must be filled out by all interested vendors. These things often run to 100 pages of detailed questions. Microsoft and Oracle have whole teams dedicated to filling out RFPs. The Open Source world has no one. Result: the Open Source product doesn't get selected. There's got to be an answer to this. Maybe some civic-minded foundation would like to dedicate some resources to promoting the use of Open Source in government by responding to RFPs? Seems like a great way to save the taxpayers some big bucks.

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