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Sunday, October 25, 2009

White House Undermines Capitalism by Choosing Socialist Open-Source Software?

Expect the wingnuts to start spinning conspiracy theories about how the swine flu "national emergency" declaration is the first step toward suspension of the Constitution and hauling Bob Ellis to the death camps. Bob Ellis is taking a blog break—code to his followers to buy up ammo and retreat to the mountain militia hideaways. My cousin Aaron is already fretting on Facebook about HHS Secretary Sebelius getting extraordinary powers. [Funny: we descend into tyranny under similar emergency declarations to respond to Hurricane Katrina (2005), Hurricanes Ike and Gustav (2008), and North Dakota flooding (2009).]

If you wingnuts want real evidence that the White House is building Marxist tyranny, check out (hat tip to Deane at Gadgetopia!) the White House's latest software decision: the Obama Administration is abandoning proprietary content management software in favor of Drupal. Drupal is open-source software: it is built not by a single corporation or entrepreneur but by thousands of people around the world, collaborating online, working not for any direct monetary gain but for the general good of society. Individuals and teams of programmers build and improve the software and post their code online, where anyone can download it, use it, tinker with it, and make it better.

Cooperation, no profit, social good, open to everyone... aaahhh! Socialism!!!

Actually, open-source software can be viewed through a safely capitalist lens. The White House is working with plenty of for-profit firms to make this software switch. They can use this open-source software to provide better service for a cheaper price (every capitalist I know likes that formula).

The White House's move to open-source software is also a perfectly logical outgrowth of the Web philosophy and political philosophy the Obama campaign made manifest last year. Adopting Drupal for WhiteHoue.gov embodies in tech the same participatory values embodied in President Obama's approach to government:

...[B]y being open source, the White House is opening itself up to all the bright ideas, powerful plug-ins, and innovative tools that the considerable community of Drupal aficionados come up with. It's a community that the White House says it is eager to tap into. "Open source is a great form of civic participation," the White House's Phillips told me this afternoon. "We're looking forward to getting the benefit of their energy and innovation" [Nancy Scola, “WhiteHouse.gov Goes Drupal,” Personal Democracy Forum, 2009.10.24].

Drupal creator Dries Buytaert (whose company Acquia has helped the White House jump to Drupal) naturally says similar things about the civic sense and business case for Drupal in government:

First of all, I think Drupal is a perfect match for President Barack Obama's push for an open and transparent government -- Drupal provides a great mix of traditional web content management features and social features that enable open communication and participation. This combination is what we refer to as social publishing and is why so many people use Drupal. Furthermore, I think Drupal is a great fit in terms of President Barack Obama's desire to reduce cost and to act quickly. Drupal's flexibility and modularity enables organizations to build sites quickly at lower cost than most other systems. In other words, Drupal is a great match for the U.S. government.

Second, this is a clear sign that governments realize that Open Source does not pose additional risks compared to proprietary software, and furthermore, that by moving away from proprietary software, they are not being locked into a particular technology, and that they can benefit from the innovation that is the result of thousands of developers collaborating on Drupal. It takes time to understand these things and to bring this change, so I congratulate the Obama administration for taking such an important leadership role in considering Open Source solutions [Dries Buytaert, "WhiteHouse.gov Using Drupal," personal blog, 2009.10.25].

p.s.: I dig Drupal. I use it for RealMadison.org, the Lake Herman Sanitary District, and my online dissertation. If I like, it must be socialist, right?


  1. I wonder if our state will finally figure out open source is the way to go. Hello budget cuts! How about ending our contract with MS? It's wreaking havoc with our use of D2L courseware in the BOR system, and now the universities are telling us to use Mozilla instead of IE for our browsers. Let's take the next leap.

  2. I've used Mozilla, Firefox, and Google Chrome for some time. I like them all, especially Google Chrome. I use open-source anti-malware programs too (AVG Free and Spybot).

    In my experience, open-source or free programs have generally outperformed programs for which I have paid.

  3. FlyingTomato could also mention OpenSource Office. That would save students and state millions of dollars compared to continued reliance on Microsoft Office.

    Hospital chains are wasting millions on rebuilding a wheel with their expensive electronic records system. The federal government Veterans Administration has a free system that has worked well for years and continues to work well.

    Try to find a hospital official who can give you a good answer to that question.

    The answer may be that no salesman are providing free dinners and booze for administrators trying to convince them that a free profit-free program is what they should "buy".


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