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A Timeline of Open Source in Government

by Sam Williams, author of Free as in Freedom

When it comes to adopting open source as a management tool, the U.S. government actually lags behind other major governments. Here's a timeline that stretches from 1995 to the present documenting the use of open source software by governments around the world.


In an effort to save money, Garden Grove (a suburb located in the heart of California's newly-bankrupt Orange County) decides to switch its municipal computer system over to Linux. "It's been fantastic," says city network manager Gary Shingledecker, five years later. "I have no hesitation recommending [Linux] to anyone."

October, 1999

French Senators Pierre Laffitte and Ren&#eacute; Tr&#eacute;gou&#euml;t introduce Proposition de Loi 495, a bill that would obligate all French government agencies to use software with accessible source code.

January, 2000

China's Yangcheng Evening News reports that the Chinese government is preparing to name "Red Flag" Linux, an as-yet-unannounced Chinese language distribution of the Linux operating system, the "official" operating system of China. Followup reports dismiss the rumor, but verify the existence of Red Flag Linux.

February, 2000

The French Ministry of Culture and Communications announces a plan to replace proprietary software running on 300 of its mail, file, and Web servers with a combination of Red Hat Linux, the Apache Web server, and Zope. Bruno Mannoni, the ministry's IT manager, says heightened security concerns are the reason for the switch.

April 2000

Following a meeting with Free Software Foundation president Richard M. Stallman, French Senator Laffitte agrees to rewrite Proposition de Loi 495. Previous language had called for the exclusive use of "software free of rights," but Stallman views the language as problematic, recommending "free software" [in French: logiciel libre] instead. Laffitte adds an additional provision to the new bill, calling for the establishment of an official Free Software Agency within the French government. The revised bill is eventually defeated.

Related Article:

Linux in Government -- Open source has flourished in places where users view software not as a political football but as a pragmatic tool. In this article, Sam Williams looks at the impact of open source software in government--both inside and outside the U.S.

May, 2000

The first annual Free Software International Forum is held in Porto Alegre, capital of the Brazilian state Rio Grande do Sul. Rio Grande do Sul's is the first major government, state or national, to pass a law making open source software use mandatory within both government agencies and government-managed utilities.

July, 2000

A New York Times article reports that some Chinese government officials are concerned about Microsoft Windows and feel that Linux might be a better alternative. "A growing number of Chinese have likened dependence on Microsoft to leaving the keys to the country's increasingly computerized economy in the hands of a potential enemy," writes reporter Craig Smith.

February, 2001

The European Union, as part of its Interchange of Data between Administrations project, hosts a one day "Symposium on Use of Open Source Software in EU Public Administrations."

March, 2001

The Chinese government announces that it is indeed investing in Red Flag Linux. Without such an investment, says Qu Weizhi, vice minister of the China Ministry of Information Industry, the Chinese software market stands the risk of becoming "completely controlled" by foreign software vendors.

May, 2001

Argentine Congressman Marcelo Dragan introduces a bill, inspired by French proposal 495, calling for the mandatory government use of free software. Because of skyrocketing debt and a collapsing currency, however, the entire government of Argentina is forced out of office before it gets a chance to vote on the bill.

July, 2001

MITRE, a McLean, Va.-based technology consulting firm, publishes "A Business Case Study of Open Source Software," part of its ongoing "Open Source Software in Military Systems" research project. Among the paper's findings: "Open source will benefit the goverment by improving interoperability, long term access to data, and the ability to incorporate new technology."

August, 2001

French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin orders the establishment of an Agency for Technologies of Information and Communication in Adminstration (ATICA), which will seek, among other things, "to encourage...the use of free software and open standards."

November, 2001

Peruvian Congressman Dr. Edgar Villanueva Nu&#ntilde;ez introduces bill 1609, a bill that would require the Peruvian government to use open source software programs instead of proprietary software. Villanueva cites similar bills in Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico as inspiration. He also cites Peru's staggering debt load in relation to proprietary license payments.

January, 2002

Korean vendor HancomLinux, Inc. announces a deal with the Korean government to supply 120,000 copies of its HancomLinux Deluxe 2.0 office suite. "We hope that this might be a good start to pump up the Linux vendors to maintain technological competence," says Dongkun Lee, chief of the Korean government's Central Procurement Office.

February, 2002

After a yearlong internal IT audit, the German Parliament announces that it will begin incorporating more open source software, including SuSE Linux and OpenLDAP, into its IT infrastructure.

March, 2002

Juan Alberto Gonz&#aacute;lez, general manager of Microsoft Peru, issues an open letter to Edgar Villanueva, challenging bill 1609. "If open source software satisfies all the necessary requirements of state agencies, why create a law making it mandatory?" asks Gonzalez. "Why not let the market freely decide which products give the most benefit or value?"

April, 2002

Peruvian congressman Edgar Villanueva releases a lengthy rebuttal to the Gonz&#aacute;lez letter. "The State must take extreme measures to safeguard the integrity, confidentiality, and accessibility" of...information entrusted to it by its citizens, writes Villanueva. "The use of proprietary software raises serious doubts as to whether these requirements can be fulfilled."

Hewlett Packard announces the signing of a $24.5 million contract to deliver the world's largest Linux-based supercomputer to the United States Air Force.

May, 2002

At a Tokyo trade show, IBM announces the sale of more than 75 Linux-based computer systems to various U.S. goverment agencies, including the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, and the Federal Aviation Administration.

June, 2002

German Interior Minister Otto Schilly announces that his department has signed a major contract with IBM to install Linux and other open source programs across a broad portion of his ministry's IT infrastructure. "We are raising computer security by avoiding a monoculture," says Schilly.

Sam Williams is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, New York, and the author of O'Reilly's Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software. He has covered high-tech culture, specifically software-development culture, for a number of Web sites.

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