Open-Source Backers March on Washington

Look out, lobbyists: Here come the open-source zealots.

Some of the world’s largest technology companies have banded together in a bid to push open-source software on the United States government. They’ve formed a group called Open Source for America, which seeks to make sure that government agencies at least consider open-source software as an option in their buying decisions. The big, rather timely pitch behind this move is that open-source applications can help save the government money.

“The market for open-source software is growing dramatically, but there still needs to be education around understanding how to get the most out of it,” said Roger Burkhardt, the chief executive of Ingres, a maker of an open-source database, who is on the Open Source for America board of advisers. “There are quirks to the government procurement process that need to be addressed.”

Open-source companies often give away their base product and then charge customers for support and other services. This model, according to Mr. Burkhardt, can perplex government bodies used to buying software upfront. In addition, the group hopes to make sure that open-source software receives the necessary federal nods for use in things like drug approvals and high-security computing projects.

Some of the initial members of the organization include Google, Oracle, Red Hat, Advanced Micro Devices, Novell and Canonical. A host of smaller open-source software makers are involved as well.

The board of advisers is more or less a Who’s Who of open-source advocates, including Eben Moglen, a prominent lawyer; Mark Shuttleworth, the chief executive of Canonical; Michael Tiemann, a vice president at Red Hat; and Jim Zemlin, the executive director of the Linux Foundation.

The government has aimed a large amount of its stimulus money at technology projects, and the open-source backers hope to get their fair share of that cash. More broadly, they would like the United States to follow countries in Europe and Asia with better defined guidelines around buying software.

The open-source “movement,” if you will, continues to have some grass-roots momentum, with developers working without charge to improve projects like the Linux operating system and Mozilla Web browser. That said, large companies have come to dominate the open-source world. I.B.M., Google, Intel and others employ many of the best known open-source programmers and have made the software a key part of their internal operations as well as their business strategies.

Regardless of their affiliation, open-source types have demonstrated a fondness for backing free software in a vocal, often argumentative manner. They’re sure to give the lobbyists working for proprietary software companies a run for their vocal cords and money.