Open Source Software, Open Source Politics

Jon Perr

They say that politics makes strange bedfellows and this weekend was certainly no exception.  On Friday, progressive activists, software developers and Oregon State University's Open Source Lab (OSUOSL) joined forces to highlight the growing open source software movement and Oregon's increasingly prominent role in it.

The Bus Project and the Portland Open Source Software Entrepreneurs (POSSE) partnered to lead the pilgrimage to the OSU lab in Corvallis.  For the activists of the Bus, the trip was an introduction to the three mantras of open source in Oregon: good jobs, good government and good software.  POSSE, a group of developers and enthusiasts bringing open source solutions to private, public and non-profit sector clients, brought the subject matter expertise.

First a little background.  As I wrote last month ("Open for Business"), Oregon is at the forefront of a global open source software industry.  (Even the Oregonian has taken notice, calling Oregon's open source efforts "world-class.")  Linus Torvalds and the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL), a global organization driving the direction of the open source Linux operating system, are based in Beaverton.  The city of Beaverton, home to open source heavyweights IBM and Intel, has shown its determination to attract open source entrepreneurs, start-ups and jobs with its investment in the Open Technology Business Center.  And Oregon's universities are playing a high-profile role in the open source community as well, not just at OSU's Open Source Labs, but also with the growing curriculum at Portland State.  It's no wonder that Governor Kulongoski named OSDL CEO Stuart Cohen and OVP Venture Partners' Dave Chen the chairmen of the new Oregon Innovation Council.

The visitors from Portland were welcomed by Representative Phil Barnhart and OSL's associate director Scott Kveton.  Barnhart, who represents central Lane and Linn counties, led the ultimately unsuccessful fight for HB 2892 in 2003, legislation which would have required state agencies to consider (though not mandate) open source software in their software procurement processes.

Kveton and his team of staff and students then went on to demonstrate why Oregon State is becoming such a high profile player within the open source industry.  (OSL is hosting the upcoming Government Open Source conference - GOSCON - in Portland on October 13 and 14.) The show and tell started with OSL's impressive hosting facility, featuring the servers, racks and bandwidth that house software from many of the leading open source community projects in the world.  Every day, hundreds of thousands of users worldwide download the Firefox web browser, the Gentoo and Debian Linux operating systems, the OpenOffice desktop suite, the Apache web server and many other critical pieces of software.

More important than the staggering hardware on display at OSU, though, was the team behind it.  OSL developers highlighted custom software development being led by the lab, projects and tools used throughout the open source community.  As part of the tour, two third-year students and leaders of OSU's Linux User Group described their recent internships at NASA and the Mozilla Foundation, coveted spots for open source developers.

By the end of the day, political junkies and technology junkies had a meeting of the minds.  POSSE's David Poole, the creator of Portland's News4Neighbors, described how the collaborative open source development model, which invites from contributions from anyone and provides software source code access to all, is speeding the efficient, low-cost creation of software that can be used and modified by businesses, consumers, universities, non-profits and governments. As it turns out, that same model of community participation and shared benefit is a fitting one for the grassroots mobilization ("open source politics") of the Bus Project.  As the Bus Project's Jefferson Smith put it:

"Progressives should be aggressively looking for chances to be high-road business visionaries.  Oregon's leadership in open source can create a cluster of jobs, while also democratizing information and building on our tradition as an incubator of new ideas.  By trumpeting open source, we can do well and also do good."

(For more on that meeting of the minds, listen to Scott Kveton and Jefferson Smith on Friday's Thom Hartmann show on KPOJ AM 620.)

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    Wish I could have gone on the trip, but taking a day off from my "full time job" isn't all that easy since it's being a stay at home mom.

    I hope they all learned a lot and will be joining the push to get non-profits and governmental groups to switch over to open source software.

    Of course, you want to make sure the software you choose is well supported as well as used. If there are a lot of users, it's more likely that the software will be a lot less buggy and will have more options.

    I've enjoyed using open source based software for my websites for the past few years. And I run several open source programs on my computer. It's amazing how many people out there don't know about Open Office and the fact you can make PDFs from it.

    There's a huge community of open source developers in the Portland area, and it would be great to see that grow and thrive.

  • Chuck Neeson (unverified)

    I am disabled and spend as much time as possible doing community service. I am the VP of an AARP Chapter, Alternate to the 1st CD Chair of the Democratic Party, I also work with the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups, and Alliance of Retired Americans. I have a database of close to 2000 names on ACT 5.0 software. I have a dual operating system windows/linux. I want to switch my datbase to a linux program that will allow me to take notes with a keyboard PDA/Phone and transfer the information to the linus software. So far the only alternate to ACT available to suit my needs and price range is Prophet 2004 that works with Outlook. I would like Bill Gates out of my life unless he will provide me everything I need for free and I can get understandable and free support.
    This Bush has cost me $40, savings and lost income. Gas prices and heating bills this winter will eat up the balance of my savings. Linux can be my salvation otherwise I will have to cut out my civic work. Can anyone advise and help me? We need to set up a site like yours in Wisconsin. I will forward your URL to a friend on the Governors staff. Next year we have a Democratic Governor and Senator up for reelection. My CD has no good Democrat running as we are represented by a Tom Delay yes man Paul Ryan.

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