Lockheed Martin goes open source, people freak out. | Opensource.com

Lockheed Martin goes open source, people freak out.

Posted 28 Jul 2010 by 

Gunnar Hellekson (Red Hat)
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I was really pleased to read the announcement that Lockheed Martin’s social networking platform, EurekaStreams, was released as an open source project today. Lockheed is a very conservative company, and while they’re happy to use open source internally and on projects for their customers, this is their first experiment with actually running a project themselves. I think it’s a big deal, not just for Lockheed Martin, but for large corporations who are considering a more open, more innovative approach to software development. And yet, Dana Blankenhorn hates it:

I don’t see anything in Eureka Streams I can’t do in Drupal, or a number of other high-quality open source projects that have existed for years. Lockheed has reinvented the wheel — why?

So here’s the nice thing about the open source community: competition. If I think I’ve come up with a better way to solve a problem, it can easily compete with the incumbents. Low barrier to entry, we say. Let the best ideas win. Unless, apparently, the best ideas come from a company I don’t like.

Then things start going sideways:

The author of Eureka Streams, who goes by the name Sterlecki at Github, has left no previous tracks there. Linkedin lists the same picture as belonging to Steve Terlecki, a Lockheed software developer.

The stuff’s legit, so we’re left again with the question of motive. Is the military-industrial complex reaching out to open source, is this just proof of press reports showing our spy efforts have more bloat in them than a Macy’s Thanksgiving float, are we being co-opted, or am I just too suspicious?

Wait, what? Open source advocates have, for years, been trying to encourage more code to come out from behind corporate skirts. Where companies can build business models around governing and supporting open source projects, we want them to take the plunge. If more code is open, that makes everyone smarter. And that, my friends, is exactly what Lockheed Martin did today. Someone who probably never contributed code in their lives just gave the community a project they’ve been working on for months, or even years. I think that’s amazing. In return, this brave developer gets painted as a nefarious secret agent out to steal our thoughts and bug our laptops. Or whatever.

So here’s the great thing about open source: we can prove Blankenhorn wrong. They use the Apache license, and it’s on github. We can go through the code and find backdoors, secret plans, and mind-control rays. This reminds me very much of the reaction to the release of SELinux. Conspiracy theories everywhere, but code is auditable and now it’s in the mainstream Linux kernel. Do we really want to throw out these contributions, when code doesn’t lie? When it’s so easy to ensure there’s nothing nefarious inside?

You can feel however you like about Lockheed Martin or the US Department of Defense. You can choose to contribute to the project, or not. You can choose to use the software, or not. But is it in the community’s interest to summarily dismiss contributions based on those preferences? Lockheed’s thousands of developers are sending up a trial balloon. If they fail, we lose access to those developers forever.

I think this kind of fearmongering is exactly what prevents large corporations and government agencies from releasing their code. These knee-jerk reactions harm the open source community at large. We pride ourselves on our meritocracy. A 14-year-old in his mom’s basement is the same as a 30-year-old Lockheed developer is the same as a UNIX graybeard. You are just as good as your contributions. We need to welcome Lockheed’s contributions, not throw them back in their face. Whether the project is useful or not, they’ve enriched the open source community. Let them succeed or fail on their own merits. If they do fail, we hope that they’ll do better next time. Maybe this is a Drupal-killer, maybe it's solving a problem we don't even understand yet. Who knows? Let’s give Lockheed a chance.

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9 Comments

Kit Plummer

The pseudo-hackish journalism in string Terlecki from Github to LinkedIn is a bit weird...like that proved that LMCO really did write the code for ES.

Actually, there's a really interesting point buried in that. The http://github.com/lmco account is an organization (cool Github feature) with 7 listed members. That's only the beginning. Nothing prevents devers under the Boeing organization (I checked it doesn't exist) from collaborating. Just stop for a second...and think about the number of software engineers employed between these two defense contractors. Now...imagine that they were all collaborating on software projects _through_ Github. Now...imagine that it is your (if you're a U.S. citizen) tax dollars that _aren't_ being wasted because all of those engineers _aren't_ reinventing the wheel, because the contracts they're working against _does_ allow them to actually collaborate.

I think Github has nicely proven that software is more about people than projects. Why should it be any different for software that helps defend our rights, and is funded by citizens? Obviously, I'm painting with a very broad stroke here, and there are certain wares that will never see the light of day...that's not what we're talking about here.

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jhibbets
Open Sourcerer

This sounds like it could be an article on opensource.com. Are you interested in tackling that? You've got a good start with your comments here :)

I think our readers would like to get more details about it, hear your viewpoint, and understand how it's applying the open source way to be successful and foster collaboration beyond corporate walls.

Contact the Government channel moderators at http://opensource.com/contact

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Brent

There is a big difference between government contracts and internal funds. I'm 99% sure this is an internal Lockheed effort and not a government initiative. If that is the case, Lockheed can spend as much man power and as much of their money as they want. That would mean no tax dollars spent. I'll admit this is a rarity, but don't discourage them. Lockheed has 10's of $millions in R&D that they spend every year per their SEC filings.

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paulbooker
Open Minded

Paul Booker
Mozilla Contributor & [Open Web / Federated Social Web] advocate
@paulbooker : http://mozilla.status.net/paulbooker
Social : http://sudosocial.me/u/paulbooker

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Aron Rubin

I am the lead for a few:
MSI
http://msi.sf.net
LookOut
https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/thunderbird/addon/4433/
GtkPieChart - (ok this is just weak but I figured I'd post any way)
There are others maintained by other LM groups.

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Richard Givis

This looks like an OpenSource version of LinkedIn, although it seems much more customizable, refined and interactive. This streaming technology could lead to a vast amount of personal/technical data. Let's hope that the open source community makes a serious effort to ensure that all that personal information remains secure.

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Ron

Nice for them to contribute but as a US citizen my only concerns are: A. That it contains no technology that would help those who wish to harm the US or it's citizens. B. That any Open Source project contributed by the the US Gov or a defense contractor not be funded by tax-payer dollars.

We do not get Open Source projects contributed by the governments (or even the people?) of China, N. Korea, Iran, Al-Qaeda, etc. It's enough that they get projects from the myriad of individual contributors. We don't need to help them further.

For those of you from other countries who disagree, get your government to give away an equal percentage per citizen of foreign welfare as the US and raise your taxes to match and then perhaps I'll give your argument some credibility.

For US citizens who disagree, you probably are one of the 51% of citizens in this country who pay no taxes and most certainly not one of the top 2% of wage earners who pay close to 90% of Federal taxes. If you pay more than 30% of your income to the US government I'll listen to you as well.

No nefarious enabling technology and not funded by US taxpayers then all is good and I applaud their efforts.

Ron

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Brent

Like I said, it most likely isn't government funded unless there is a specific contract to do so. FAR requirement prevent companies like Lockheed from spending government contract dollars without specific wording to do so. ITAR requirements restrict technologies that would otherwise be detrimental to the US. Remember the whole teraflop-Apple issue 10 years back; ITAR at work. Do you know why it is technically illegal to leave the country with MS Office on your laptop; ITAR specifically bans the export of >128bit encryption. In order to export something that would put the US in danger, the company would have to petition the State Department for an export license with a specific purpose. Open Source would not be a valid reason; Lockheed wouldn't put the effort out for something that would be denied. The only way this got out without an ITAR screen is if the person is posing as a Lockheed employee but isn't or he posted it without permission. If either of those is true, expect Lockheed to drop the legal hammer very soon.

Defense companies and the US government do give away technologies for the better good. Let me go through a truncated list of things that came out of the military/industrial complex: GPS, velcro, plywood, radar, satellite communications, weather forecasting, MRI, 3D Computer Aided Design, etc. NASA's mission is to make investments in technology for science, education, and commercial uses without profit. It's kind of ironic that we're having this conversation on a government funded (DARPA) initiative called the internet. If you really do need to know if this government funded, call your congressman. This obviously isn't a secret project, so there would be a public record of government funding.

PS: I pay more taxes than the average american makes. I'm in that 2%.

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Claudia Vandermilt

Nicely written. I like your angle here.
It's true, even if Lockheed Martin has "reinvented the wheel" we should ask, how have they done it? What can we learn from their developers? How can this be used/incorporated into other open source projects?

So Lockheed received some press on this release. Good for them. Even if that was the main focus of the release other developers can still poke around at the inner workings to reveal (or not) new, useful code.

If nothing beneficial is found, what have we lost? Lockheed and any other corp should be, at the very least, given a pat on the back for coming out of their corporate cave and sharing like a big kid. Bullying them back out of the scene won't get us anything better. Who knows? The next round may release something quite beneficial.

Claudia
Lockheed Martin Professional Development

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