Ozone Widget Framework required to be open source under congressional law

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The Ozone Widget Framework went open source recently.

Ozone is:

A customizable open-source web application that assembles the tools you need to accomplish any task and enables those tools to communicate with each other.

As any well-behaved open source project, its code is available in a public repository. What is quite interesting, when one takes a look at the repository, is the following note in its README file:

The Ozone Widget Framework is released to the public as Open Source Software, because it's the Right Thing To Do. Also, it was required by Section 924 of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act.

There are two pieces to this statement

  • Open source is the "Right Thing to Do"
  • A law passed by Congress mandated that the project be made open source

It is rare to find legislation that includes language about software, and more specifically about software development models, much less about requiring open source development.

The text of the Act is quite interesting in Sec. 924, page 243:

(a) MECHANISM FOR INTERNET PUBLICATION OF INFORMATION FOR DEVELOPMENT OF ANALYSIS TOOLS AND APPLICATIONS.

—The Chief Information Officer of the Department of Defense, acting through the Director of the Defense Information Systems Agency, shall implement a mechanism to publish and maintain on the public Internet the application programming interface specifications, a developer’s toolkit, source code, and such other information on, and resources for, the Ozone Widget Framework (OWF) as the Chief Information Officer considers necessary to permit individuals and companies to develop, integrate, and test analysis tools and applications for use by the Department of Defense and the elements of the intelligence community.

Yes, one must read this twice, to realize that this is the U.S. Congress requiring the CIO of the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to post a specific software project openly on the web. Note that the language of Section 924 doesn't actually use the words "open source," but it would be nearly impossible to comply otherwise.

In some ways, it's no surprise to see the Department of Defense spearheading this effort. After all, the DOD was one of the early adopters of open source within the U.S. Federal government, releasing guidance in 2009 that paved the way for open source software procurement within that agency and eventually others.  With the Ozone Widget Framework, U.S. Congress and the Department of Defense recognize that open source is not just valuable commerical software to use, but is also an effective methodology to develop and maintain software used to support mission-critical applications.

Following in the footsteps of Whitehouse.gov, Congress' mandate to release OWF code to the community demonstrates this deeper understanding and appreciation by the U.S. government for an open development environment for software:

(b) PROCESS FOR VOLUNTARY CONTRIBUTION OF IMPROVEMENTS BY PRIVATE SECTOR.

—In addition to the requirement under sub-section (a), the Chief Information Officer shall also establish a process by which private individuals and companies may voluntarily contribute the following:

(1) Improvements to the source code and documentation for the Ozone Widget Framework.

(2) Alternative or compatible implementations of the published application programming interface specifications for the Framework.

Clear proof that the drafters of the Act understood that open source is much more that just posting software publicly online. In particular, that open development and community involvement are essential ingredients of the open source recipe.

Finally, the Act also calls for active outreach and promotion of the software:

(c) ENCOURAGEMENT OF USE AND DEVELOPMENT.

—The Chief Information Officer shall, whenever practicable, encourage and foster the use, support, development, and enhancement of the Ozone Widget Framework by the computer industry and commercial information technology vendors, including the development of tools that are compatible with the Framework.

Congress is actually reminding us of a good lesson, that is unfortunately needed for many open source projects:

  • We shall go out there and promote our projects.
  • We shall put effort on bringing new contributors to our communities.
  • We shall play nice with other projects and pursue interoperability.

With over 1 million lines of code and an Apache 2.0 License, Ozone already has 29 forks in Github. It is becoming a great example on how government agencies can finally take advantage of the many benefits that open source has to offer, to better serve the public.

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2 Comments

Brian Beck's picture

Amazing! How fitting you post this today as well. I'm at SXSWEdu in Austin, Texas one of the largest Educational Conferences in the world. Sponsored by of course Microsoft, Pearson, McGraw Hill, Blackboard and a number of others. However there are a number of up and coming Open Educational Resources(OER's) contributes and coordinators. They might not have Open Sourced their platform but at least are trying to help the collective betterment of the public.

I'd say there are 25% of the attendees who are for-profit and are only trying to capitalize on the innovations and taxpayers money. The things "We the People" are trying to improve the USofA's Educational System, only to have these guys (with their huge pocketbooks" swoop in and lock us into their close control. A 50% group who are the norm, they don't know any better. They are educators who have only been taught that those closed sytems are the only things that exist. They follow any shiny sales pitch.Many of their School Administrators and IT CIO's don't even know there are better Open Source Software packages out there that truly foster an Educational Mindset of sharing, collaborating and Giving back!

So twice in 2 days I heard others ask about the fight now of the public sector who is trying to build things for the greater good vs. the private corporations. So this would be the last 25% who are questioning the motives of all corporations and their real motives for "buying" into education. Who are they really doing it for?

The only thing that has given me hope thus far is hearing those few that are finally questioning this in our public governments and education! Thanks for the post!

Luis Ibanez's picture
Open Source Sensei

Brian,

Thanks for your comments.

It is very interesting to hear your observations about the tensions between open source and closed source in the space of educational tools.

I have been using Moodle for three years now in our Open Source Software Practices class at RPI. Your comments certainly resonate with my experience.

One good way to consolidate those tensions is by letting the software be a service delivery platform, and be open source, while generating revenue through business models based on hosting and delivery of services.

This is the Power Grid model, where the power grid is a service delivery platform, over which Electric Power producers deliver energy to the final consumers. The Power Plants do not need to own, nor control the power grid. They just needed it to be there, to be healthy and to be available. In this metaphor, open source software is like the power grid, while the services that are delivered through the software are equivalent the the electric energy that flows through the grid. Customers do not pay for licenses to the grid, they pay for the delivery of energy. In the process, a fraction of revenues generated through services is used to maintain an improve the power grid.

In the case of the course management systems, such as Moddle (open source) and Blackboard (closed source), the final interest of the educational institution is to have a deployed working system. Having service providers offer the hosting, configuration and maintenance of a deployment is a viable business model that is compatible with open source software development models.

There is a need for educating MBAs on this, and other viable business models, to enable companies to craft revenue streams that are compatible with the nature of open source and benefit from low cost and high quality aspects of well-developed open source software.

Please share your further observations from the conference...or.. even better, it looks like you have great material to write a blog here. I will be very interested in hearing more about it.