EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

FOSS vs. the Winged Monkeys: Q&A With Open Source for America’s Chris Lundberg

Chris Lundberg has worked for years to drive the availability oftechnology to the masses. He has managed teams developing software forthe Library of Congress, worked with the U.S. Navy todevelop satellite communications software and consulted for Accenture indeveloping telecom Internet solutions.

Prior to that, Lundberg produced Internet solutions for the financialand entertainment sectors as director of applications at Opion. He isan open source user and advocate. Lundberg is pretty surethat access to organizing technology is the only thing keeping the”winged monkeys” at bay.

“I’ve got this mental image of technological progress being aband marching down a yellow brick road, beset by authoritariangovernments, secrecy, poor information distribution and deceit atevery turn — the winged monkeys, as it were. Open source, and moregenerally open access, gives us some arrows to fire back with,”Lundberg, cofounder and CTO of DemocracyInAction.org and partner forWiredForChange, told LinuxInsider.

Information Peddler

Lundberg worked toget Open Source for America launchedthis summer and is on its board of advisors. This group is a coalitionof more than 60 organizations joining together to advocate open sourcein the U.S. federal government arena. Its membership includes industryleaders such as Red Hat, Sun Microsystems, Google, Novell and Oracle,along with academic institutions, associations, communities, thinktanks and related open source groups.

Lundberg is looking to the new administration in Washington tomove forward with technological reform. So far, he said, the newpresident is making the right moves, but he expects to see moregovernmental cooperation.

The Obama administration has expressed its desire to create anunprecedented level of openness in government and establish a systemof transparency, public participation and collaboration. These goalscoincide with those of open source, noted Lundberg.

Open Source for America provides a unified voice to help bring aboutchange in U.S. federal government policies and practices to allow it to better utilize open source software for costefficiency, security and enhanced performance.

Taking a Stand

LinuxInsider recently spoke with Chris Lundberg to discuss theissues surrounding efforts to advance the use of technology for themasses.

LinuxInsider: How is open source contributing to your image of theWinged Monkey — or changing it?

Chris Lundberg:

Open source and open access represent the idea thatsolutions are often better found via many, than via few. It’s as mucha philosophy as a method of software development.

LI: Why doesn’t proprietary stuff fit this mold?

Lundberg:

In some cases, proprietary models can help open up access totechnologies and drive innovation. But the temptations often drivewell-meaning proprietary developers down paths that areunsustainable. It also doesn’t make for good governance, as it becomesdifficult for constituents to have an influence on their governments.

LI: What role is Open Source for America playing in the push for technology?

Lundberg:

The last 10 years have seen a growing set of individuals andorganizations who have been working with the government to learn aboutand use open source technologies. This year, there have beeninitiatives at the federal level around openness, transparency andcollaboration. Not long after President Obama signed his transparencymemorandum, some of the members discussed that the new administrationseemed interested in technologies that could improve access totechnology.

LI: Since it was part of his platform, how effective has the Obamaadministration been in creating unprecedented levels of openness ingovernment?

Lundberg:

He faces a tough battle, particularly with the breadth of thefederal government. But they’re making good strides withWhitehouse.gov and a few other federal sites. I worked at the Libraryof Congress for a little while, and I know the many, many hoops thatremain. We hope that this movement toward open communication iscontinued and is also reflected in the technologies the administrationchooses to deploy.

LI: What factors led to the formation of the Open Source for Americaorganization?

Lundberg:

Open Source for America’s goal is to promote the benefits of opensource software. The campaign seeks to educate Americans andgovernment leaders about the incredible power of open source softwareand its reliance on a broad community of review and testing. Webelieve open source software is more secure, more reliable, lowerscosts, enables better choice and will provide improved governmentperformance and service.

LI: What goals have you laid out for the organization to accomplish all of this?

Lundberg:

Some of our goals are to affect change in the U.S. federalgovernment policies and practices so that the federal government maymore fully benefit from and utilize open source software. We want tocoordinate an open source community to collaborate with the federalgovernment on technology requirements. We also want to raise awarenessand create understanding among federal government leaders about thevalues and implications of open source software. We hope that OpenSource for America may also participate in standards development andother activities that may support its open source mission.

LI: That is quite a goal set. Is the growing trend toward opensource software changing the emphasis on giving technology to themasses?

Lundberg:

Open source has always been about distributing technology as farand wide as possible, both for altruistic purposes and tangiblepurposes such as security, etc. While the masses may not always beable to install their own operating system or database, it allowsservice providers such as ours to reduce overhead, minimizemaintenance and ensure that problems can be identified and resolvedbefore they become major issues. This combination of open sourcesoftware and service models can get organizing technology to themasses more effectively than ever before.

LI: And this is the added push, then, that your organization is providing?

Lundberg:

Yup!

LI: What are the road blocks in the drive to make technologymore available to the masses?

Lundberg:

Well, of course it differs by country and region, but we try andcategorize it as: A) Access — is a computer, cellphone, or Internetconnection even available?; B) Price — is the technology priced outof a reasonable range?; C) Complexity — is it prohibitively hard touse?; D) Effectiveness — Does it make a difference? Our day-to-dayaim is trying to move the ball down the road on each of these.

LI: Have any of these roadblocks been solved?

Lundberg:

Well, sheesh, of course everyone has 100MBit access now, right?They’re all moving targets, of course, but we’ve seen and helped driveprogress in the last five years on reducing price and complexity andincreasing effectiveness. Access is moving slowly.

LI: What kind of differences are you seeing regionally?

Lundberg:

In the U.S., I hope that some of the new broadband legislation willdrive up access in remote regions and some cities. Internationally indeveloping countries, we’re going to have to be creative in creatingeffective technologies over cellphone connections. Lots of challengesremain.

LI: Is open source making any inroads in the U.S. government as it isin governments in Europe, Asia and Africa?

Lundberg:

In 2004 the U.S. Office of Management and Budget issued amemorandum, M-04-16, which called on all federal agencies in thenation to exercise the same procurement procedures for open sourcesoftware as they would for commercial software. A pretty astoundingstep. … Since then, open source software adoption has grown with agenciesfrom the U.S. Navy, Federal Aviation Administration and Census Bureauto the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and many more.

LI: Can you offer some examples of this progress?

Lundberg:

Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah, migratedto an open source operating system at just two percent of the cost ofits previous operating system, realizing tremendous savings in costand time while maintaining user satisfaction and continuing to meetstrict security standards. Another example is the U.S. Department ofHealth and Human Services.

LI: What do you look forward to happening in the immediate futureregarding open technology?

Lundberg:

I hope primarily for open access to government information. Rightnow there are very few standard ways to communicate with government,but that’s moving along.

LI: Is this a level playing field in each country, or are some nationsmore cooperative than others?

Lundberg:

Frankly, most administrators and governments are trying to feeltheir way around technology, and so we’re seeing this back and forthbetween open source and proprietary technologies.

LI: Do you see this as your group’s biggest challenge?

Lundberg:

We see the biggest challenge being connectivity, both in the U.S.and internationally. We see access to cheap, simple organizing toolsis a surprisingly difficult step but one that we feel can change howwe govern and are governed.

LI: Is this because of the struggling third-world nations orgovernment resistance to open communication?

Lundberg:

I think it’s because there’s very little incentive for good geeksto work in government, thus making technology decisions more about thesales process than the technology.

LI: Any final observations?

Lundberg:

Wrangle the geeks, and the rest will come through.

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Study Reveals Open-Source Community’s Diversity Pain Points, Progress

Image Credit: The Linux Foundation

The Linux Foundation (LF) has little concern from within the open-source community over diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), according to the first open-source DEI study in at least four years.

LF, the nonprofit organization enabling mass innovation through open source, on Dec. 14 announced the release of its latest LF Research study, “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Open Source.” The study includes the results of qualitative interviews and a worldwide survey with more than 7,000 initial responses from the open-source community.

The foundation conducted the study to increase the industry’s collective understanding of the state of diversity, equity, and inclusion in open source, and to report important DEI practices. The sponsors of this research include Amazon Web Services (AWS), CHAOSS Community, Comcast, Fujitsu, GitHub, GitLab, Hitachi, Huawei, Intel, NEC, Panasonic, Red Hat, Renesas, and VMware.

The open-source community continues to grow at an unprecedented pace, and it is imperative that we understand that growth in the context of diversity, equity, and inclusion to collectively implement best practices that result in inclusive communities, said Hilary Carter, vice president of research at the Linux Foundation.

“The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Open Source study gives us valuable insights that can lead to a more diverse global open-source community,” she noted.

Key Findings Revealed

The study disclosed five major attitudes about the state of DEI within the open-source community.

1. Eighty-two percent of respondents feel welcome in open source, but different groups had different perspectives overall.

The 18 percent of those that do not feel welcome are from disproportionately underrepresented groups: people with disabilities, transgender people, and racial and ethnic minorities in North America.

2. Increasing open-source diversity reflects growing global adoption, but there is still much room to improve.

As the global adoption of open-source technologies grows rapidly, so, too, is diversity within open source communities. But there remains a lot of room for growth: 82 percent of respondents identify as male, 74 percent identify as heterosexual, and 71 percent are between the ages of 25-54.

3. Time is a top determinant for open-source participation.

Time-related barriers to access and exposure in open source include discretionary and unpaid time, time for onboarding, networking, and professional development, as well as time zones.

4. Exclusionary behaviors can have a cascading effect on contributors’ experiences and retention.

Exclusionary behavior has cascading effects on feelings of belonging, opportunities to participate, achieve leadership, and retention. While toxic experiences are generally infrequent, rejection of contributions, interpersonal tensions, stereotyping, and aggressive language are far more frequently experienced by certain groups (two-to-three times higher frequency than the study average).

5. People’s backgrounds can impact equitable access to open-source participation early in their careers, compounding representation in leadership later on.

Only 16 percent of students’ universities offer open source as part of their curricula. This, along with unreliable connectivity, geographic, economic, and professional disparities narrow an individual’s opportunity to contribute.

“Understanding the state of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the open-source community is critical for business strategy and nurturing an inclusive culture,” said Demetris Cheatham, senior director, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy at GitHub.

Focus on Pain Points

This newest data encompasses both qualitative and quantitative research from the Linux Foundation. It helps direct attention on the things that matter most to our employees and the great community and industry, added Cheatham.

Study after study reveals that diversity among technology builders leads to better, more robust technologies. But the industry continues to struggle with increasing diversity.

The open-source software community is no exception. Building and sustaining inclusive communities can attract a more diverse talent pool, prioritizing the next generation of open-source technologies, according to LF officials.

LF’s study identifies the state of DEI in open-source communities. It also highlights the challenges and opportunities within them and draws conclusions around creating improvements in much-needed areas.

Understanding data behind diversity, equity, and inclusion in the open-source community allows focusing on identifying areas for focus and improvement, noted Nithya Ruff, Comcast Fellow, Head of Comcast Cable Open Source Program Office, and Linux Foundation board chair.

“The open-source community will greatly benefit from the actions we take to grow engagement and make it a welcoming place for everyone,” she said.

More information on the Linux Foundation’s DEI initiatives are available here.

LF Doubles Down

The Linux Foundation took several steps to improve diversity in open-source communities by supporting new projects, noted Jim Zemlin, executive director of The Linux Foundation, in the report’s Forward section.

These projects include the Inclusive Naming Initiative, which seeks to remove non-inclusive language from project repositories, and the LFX Mentorship Program to help developers from diverse backgrounds gain the necessary skills to effectively contribute to open-source communities.

LF grants almost $1 million per year in travel funding and registration scholarships to those from diverse backgrounds to join events and nurture relationship building and learning through face-to-face collaboration via the Linux Foundation Travel Fund, Zemlin added.

In addition, DEI programs and outreach are part of LF events designed to create open and welcoming spaces that reflect the diversity the foundation wants to see across the ecosystem.

LF also helped advocates in the community launch the Software Developer Diversity and Inclusion Project (SDDI) to explore, evaluate, and promote best practices from research and industry to increase diversity across all dimensions. These include race and ethnicity, gender identity, age, and cognitive ability to ensure an environment and culture of inclusion in software engineering.

“While these are important steps to creating inclusive communities, it is incumbent upon us all to do more. And through new DEI research, we have an opportunity to double down or redirect our efforts to improve open-source environments with quantifiable data,” he wrote.

Shifted Priorities Needed

The free and open philosophy at the heart of open source brought about revolutionary advancements in technology, software, and standards. But as open source permeates global industries, markets, power structures, and beyond, code is no longer enough, according to the report.

Shifting from systemic (if passive) exclusion of non-coders toward a more proactive and inclusive open-source ecosystem manifests the very ethos on which open source was founded. Many perspectives lead to better technologies, better products, and more inclusive digital economies, the LF report concludes.

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

1 Comment

  • Equity, the new buzzword for equality is an unattainable goal. The only way things can be totally equitable is for everyone to have had the same experience in life, and that will never happen.

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