Since open-source code is open to the public to see and use, there has been some concern that open-source code is not appropriate for classified and other sensitive DoD systems. Wennergren's memo, however, said there are many licenses that do not require public distribution of the code. Wennergren also said that the code should be open to the public if doing so is in the DoD's best interests to benefit from the improvements made by the larger developer community.
"There has been significant recent momentum for the increased adoption of open source solutions in the federal government, and the memorandum from the U.S. Department of Defense providing guidance on the use of open source software in the DoD represents a major tipping point that we hope will break down many of the barriers for open source adoption in Defense agencies and also increase the DoD's contribution back to the open source community," Thomas said..
Agencies can benefit from the improvements made by others, open-source proponents say. Corporations have been using open-source operating systems, such as Linux and MySQL, which manage all the activities on computers, for years, and now they're getting a closer look in the public sector.
Agencies typically pay for a subscription to access the software, and a company like Red Hat, which develops open-source systems, helps maintain the technology and fix glitches. Red Hat is based in Raleigh, N.C., but opened an office in Washington four years ago to sell to the government. So far, intelligence agencies have been big users of open-source systems, the company told me a few months ago.