Tim O’Reilly has some interesting comments on the news that the Obama team has gone for the Open Source CMS to run the White House site. Excerpts:
Yesterday, the new media team at the White House announced via the Associated Press that whitehouse.gov is now running on Drupal, the open source content management system. That Drupal implementation is in turn running on a Red Hat Linux system with Apache, MySQL and the rest of the LAMP stack. Apache Solr is the new White House search engine.
This move is obviously a big win for open source. As John Scott of Open Source for America (a group advocating open source adoption by government, to which I am an advisor) noted in an email to me: “This is great news not only for the use of open source software, but the validation of the open source development model. The White House’s adoption of community-based software provides a great example for the rest of the government to follow.”
John is right. While open source is already widespread throughout the government, its adoption by the White House will almost certainly give permission for much wider uptake.
Particularly telling are the reasons that the White House made the switch. According to the AP article:
White House officials described the change as similar to rebuilding the foundation of a building without changing the street-level appearance of the facade. It was expected to make the White House site more secure – and the same could be true for other administration sites in the future….
Having the public write code may seem like a security risk, but it’s just the opposite, experts inside and outside the government argued. Because programmers collaborate to find errors or opportunities to exploit Web code, the final product is therefore more secure.
More than just security, though, the White House saw the opportunity to increase their flexibility. Drupal has a huge library of user-contributed modules that will provide functionality the White House can use to expand its social media capabilities, with everything from super-scalable live chats to multi-lingual support.
Particularly interesting is the fact that the team cites greater security as one of the reasons for moving. this suggests a pretty sophisticated — for policymakers, anyway — understanding of the argument that proprietary software is, paradoxically, likely to be less secure than open software.
Somehow, I can’t see the UK government getting that. Brown & Co still think Microsoft is cutting edge.