As open-source software gains more traction in business computing, it's time for the community to better protect its interests in the halls of Congress and the US government with a dedicated Political Action Committee to lobby officials.
That's the conclusion of open-source evangelist, businessman and developer Bruce Perens, who Wednesday presented his sixth bi-annual "Open Source State of the Union" address in Boston at the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo.
"We don't have a real open-source PAC to handle legislative issues," he said. One industry lobbying group, the Washington-based Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) has its own Open Source and Industry Alliance (OSAIA), but the group "hasn't been terribly effective so far" and has been unwilling to take on topical issues such as recent software patent fights, he said.
"Politics can totally stop us, can totally turn off new development or even the use of existing software," Perens said in an interview after his presentation. "The laws are on the books that would allow it to happen. We have to fix them.
"We are very lucky that the problems haven't manifested themselves so far," he said. "I don't trust that they never will."
While supportive groups such as the Open Source Development Labs in Beaverton, Oregon, already exist, they often have boards of directors largely made up of people from companies that offer proprietary commercial software with different agendas and goals, Perens said. A dedicated PAC, by contrast, could help steer issues and discussions in government that are helpful to the open-source movement, he said.
"It's got to be brought about by open-source developers or the Free Software Foundation [open-source advocacy group]," he said. "We need people who can sincerely sing the tune of the developers and users."
Such a PAC would be important as local, state and national governments and leaders continue to discuss technology issues, from open standards to document file formats to software patent law, he said.
"All of the problems that open-source faces are also the problems of all software companies" with less than 1,000 employees, he said. "Open-source shares the problems of these folks if they're in the software business.
"Look at what we've achieved so far," Perens said. "We've just done such amazing things and not so long ago people told us it was impossible, but we've pulled it off."