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Date: Wed, 15 Sep 1999 11:17:10 -0700
From: "Kevin S. Ford" <email@example.com>
To: Guylhem Aznar <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Important Article For Linux Development/Documentation Leaders
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I ran across an interesting and important article recently and thought
I'd make sure that someone in the linux community was aware of it.
I am a very satisfied and happy linux user and have been for more than
4 years. I'm also a submarine officer in the US Navy, and have been
for more than 10 years. This gives me a very good perspective on the
US Government's "plan" (if one could call it that), on information
systems, and in short, it is dismally poor quality. Our networks
break very frequently, (because they use anything from Novell networks
to Windows NT networks and of course, for other reasons, too). Not to
mention the fact that we truly are becoming dependent solely upon
Microsoft products. I've worked at probably 10 different DOD
organizations in the 10 years I've been a naval officer, and every
single one of them has always been using Microsoft products. This is
bad for all the reasons that the article mentions.
I've been trying to encourage various organizations in DOD to switch
over to something much more reliable for a long time, and it looks
like (from this article) somebody is starting to come around.
Just thought you might be interested and know best who to pass this
article on to.
Plan ahead. Promote swift colonization of the solar system... *First*
____________Kevin S Ford__________
Top Officials Seek Alternatives to Microsoft
By Stephen Trimble
FEDERAL TIMES STAFF WRITER
Concerned about security and an excessive reliance on Microsoft
software, senior administration officials plan to diversify the types
of operating systems software purchased by the government.
The National Security Council soon will create a new office to
assess the ways federal agencies could make greater use of
open-source, or nonproprietary, software that is freely available to
anyone and has codes that are not secret.
"One of the areas we are very interested in looking at is
open-source code," a senior White House official told Federal Times.
The effort ultimately could affect the types of software the
government purchases for network servers and desktop applications.
The government will buy $2 billion worth of software in 2000,
according to Federal Sources Inc., of Fairfax, Va., a market research
The initial purpose of the new software assessment office will be
to identify agencies and programs that will be candidates for trials
of open source software, said
the White House official, who asked not to be identified.
The General Services Administration and the National Institute of
Standards and Technology also are involved in creating the office. Its
location still is to be decided.
The new office will assess the costs and benefits of using
open-source software to operate many government computers. Also to be
determined are the cost and technical obstacles to communication
between systems using open-source and the proprietary software now in
The White House official declined to say how extensive is the
administration's plan to diversify its reliance on operating systems
software. A chief reason for the effort, according to advocates, is to
address concerns that Microsoft operating systems are vulnerable to
malicious computer viruses and hacker attacks. This is partly because
the Microsoft software is proprietary and security vulnerabilities are
more difficult to find and correct, said Przemek Klosowski, a NIST
physicist and leader of the Washington, D.C., Linux User's Group.
"Government should be vendor-neutral, and the government should
not formulate IT requirements that say only a single vendor is
applicable," Klosowski said.
Klosowski said Linux is used on a limited basis for computer
research applications at Energy Department laboratories, NASA, NIST
and the Defense Department.
"I don't know of any large government Linux contracts," he added.
Another purpose of adopting different types of software is to
diversify the government's inventory of operating systems, so not all
are vulnerable to the same viruses and attacks, the White House
Linux, an open-source operating system similar in functionality to
Microsoft Windows, is being given serious consideration as an
alternative for government computer users, the official said.
Access to the Linux source code "gives us some confidence," the
White House official said, adding that it simplifies patching security
breeches and correcting routine errors.
Created by a Finnish graduate student named Linus Torvalls in
1991, Linux's open code is relentlessly scrutinized and tested by tens
of thousands of systems analysts worldwide, who constantly recommend
improvements, Klosowski said.
As a result, Linux boasts a robust code that rarely malfunctions
and is extremely difficult for hackers to crack, Klosowski said.
Microsoft, on the other hand, keeps its code secret and makes
upgrades to its products on a yearly basis, he said.
Microsoft software products have been the target of numerous
One of the best known was the Melissa virus that struck thousands
of government and nongovernment computers in March by exploiting
vulnerabilities in Microsoft Word 97 and Microsoft Word 2000. In June,
another virus called ExploreZip targeted vulnerabilities in Microsoft
Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows NT.
Microsoft officials argue their software products meet federal
Microsoft's main server software, Microsoft Windows NT 3.5, for
instance, is certified under the federal security standard known as
Federal Information Processing Standard 140-1, said Quazi Zaman,
advanced technology manager for Microsoft Federal Systems of
Washington, D.C. The newest version of Microsoft's server operating
system, called Microsoft Windows NT 4.0, is undergoing certification
and is expected to be certified "in the next three months," Zaman
Zaman added that Microsoft has been considering making some of its
software products open source for two years.
"Open source is a very innovative way to develop software," Zaman
said. "The issue is how much of our own code we should put out in the
open source environment."
Zaman added that Microsoft likely would be willing to provide the
National Security Council with its code for security inspections if it
is for national security purposes. So far, he said, the NSC has not
asked for access to any of Microsoft's software code.
Zaman argued that government agencies are not excessively reliant
on Microsoft products, adding that other software suppliers, namely,
database software suppliers, have larger shares of the federal
The project to increase the government's use of open-source
operating systems likely will present formidable challenges.
The government already relies extensively on Microsoft products
for desktop and, increasingly, server applications. Thus, there are
sure to be communications problems between systems that use different
software, said John Gilligan, the Energy Department's chief
The concept also appears to run counter to the government's
3-year-old effort to concentrate on buying commercial, easy-to-use
software, said Payton Smith of Federal Sources Inc.
Regardless of security concerns, Smith added, a multitude of
software systems within an agency often can lead to interoperability
"The more variations you have in the software, the more problems
and the more costs you're going to have," Smith said.
The White House official acknowledged that concerns over costs and
interoperability issues must be settled for the project to succeed.
"That's exactly the issues we're looking at," the official
said. "Both costs and interoperability are critical issues."
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