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More Open Source War – Software

August 12, 2010

Following on from the post I’d written about the novel New Model Army, which envisions an open-source warfare future, I was interested to come around this article pushing for the open-source release of defence software code:

“The Department of Defense spends tens of billions of dollars annually creating software that is rarely reused and difficult to adapt to new threats. Instead, much of this software is allowed to become the property of defense companies, resulting in DoD repeatedly funding the same solutions or, worse, repaying to use previously created software,” writes John M. Scott, a freelance defense consultant and a chief evangelist in the military open source movement. “Imagine if only the manufacturer of a rifle were allowed to clean, fix, modify or upgrade that rifle. This is where the military finds itself: one contractor with a monopoly on the knowledge of a military software system.”

Take Future Combat Systems, the Army’s behemoth program to make itself faster, smarter, and better-networked. One of the many reasons it collapsed: the code at the heart of the system was controlled by a single company, and not even the sub-contractors building gear that was supposed to rely on that code could have access to it.

“For years,” Scott adds, “the U.S. military has been losing an asymmetric battle that involves not improvised explosive devices, bullets or al-Qaida, but instead swarms of defense industry contractors seizing control of taxpayer-funded ideas because government policy and regulations were engineered to buy iron and steel, not to deploy a software-based military.”

As a small software development studio, this was a shock to find that the government agencies commissioning software were not insisting on a complete copy of the source code they they are paying for.  This is the norm in the games industry and unless the company in question is using other software-tech along side this that they had developed previously – it’s hard to see why you would pay for something you don’t own at the end of development (unless it’s a service).

That said it does mean that once open, anyone can use it – including forces not sympathetic to the nation state that paid for it.  But that is always the balance of open source – you get community innovation at the cost of complete control.

At FluffyLogic we’ve only done a couple of projects that were funded by public money – but we’ve always had the policy of putting the code developed from this funding into the community as open source – after all, the tax-payer paid for it – why should they not have access to the end result if they wish?

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