2009: Year of the GNU/Linux Government

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The past couple of months have been an inspiring time for free software. We've witnessed the governments of Vietnam and Russia each make pushes toward free software while the United States, under Barack Obama, is also examining free software options.

At the end of December, Vietnam's Ministry of Information and Communications mandated that free software applications such as Firefox, OpenOffice.org, and Thunderbird be installed on government agency computers by July. In addition, a free software application particularly useful for typing in Vietnamese called UniKey is also on the list. This is a direct example of how free software can be applied to problems such as internationalization that are difficult for foreign software vendors to support.

Russia has even more recently announced plans to deploy its own free software operating system in its schools. The operating system will reportedly be based on GNU/Linux and will help cut costs as well as prepare the next generation for a world of free software.

Finally Barack Obama, in his first week in the Oval Office, has asked for Sun's Scott McNealy to provide advice on free software that can be used by the government. Sun has a strong free software presence with recent acquisitions of MySQL AB and VirtualBox, long time support of OpenOffice.org, and their move to free the Solaris operating system as OpenSolaris.

It's been a long time since we've seen real leadership from the world's governments and it's great to see it with free software. Government funding of free software projects can have an unprecedented effect in terms of cost savings, sovereignty, and adaptability. Free software adoption will increase elsewhere when governments start to provide and require communications be in free file formats such as Open Document Format.

Have you considered getting involved in local government to help inform free software adoption? Who is the technology lead for your town or city? It's an exciting time for free software and you can help get it adopted. If it's done right, everyone will benefit whether they know about free software or not.