Linux group hatches plans for the public sector

OTTAWA — After giving Linux the cold shoulder for years, there are signs from the federal government that it might be slowly flocking to the free operating system and open source software.

In fact, an Ottawa open source advocate says a small pro-Linux organization is already operating

quietly within Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC).

The Getting Open Source and Linux Into Governments group (GOSLINGS) formed in May following a federal conference in Gatineau, Que. Goslings, incidentally, are young geese, and the group is riffing off the penguin and bird motif of Linux’s trademark.

The new organization, which is probably the first internal group of its type, hopes to host an official Web site through PWGSC early next year. If that happens, it’ll be a small coup for the government open source movement, its organizers say. PWGSC sets the IT standards for every other federal department through its Government Telecommunications and Informatics Services (GTIS) branch.

Russell McOrmond, a volunteer member of GOSLINGS, says departments like

Canadian Heritage, Industry Canada and National Defense are quietly experimenting with Linux. These departments haven’t publicly supported the operating system yet, but he hopes that will change with the creation of the group.

“Pretty much everything that’s going on is happening under the hood,” says McOrmond, an Internet consultant and long-time free software supporter. He notes that any ongoing research into using Linux is being done by a few people within different government departments and organizations.

“GOSLINGS is seen as a stepping stone to get certain ideas (about open source software) visible to government,” he adds. “There are a lot of things happening (internally), but they just aren’t yet being talked about.”

He adds about 10 members of GOSLINGS hold weekly meetings after work at pubs around Ottawa to discuss strategy and ideas. Members refer to these meetings as joining a ‘gaggle’, or a flock of geese.

If GOSLINGS takes off, the group hopes to eventually set up a Government Official Open Source Engagement (GOOSE) which would oversee the creation of a new IT help desk.

“GOOSE would provide further support for open source software to be put on desktops,” says McOrmond. “One of the things we’re working on is getting certified for use in government. So if the official office software suite being used in your department is made by Corel, Microsoft, or Lotus/IBM, you will also have the alternative of being able to use”

This news comes at a time when Linux grassroots organizations are regrouping, hoping to woo Canadian governments away from sometimes-pricey software made by major companies with the golden egg of free software.

For instance, the Canadian Linux Users’ Exchange (CLUE) is now undergoing a structural reorganization. It plans to grow from being a venue for open source fans to exchange ideas to a full-out advocacy group targeting different levels of government.

This mirrors a similar movement happening in the States. Two organizations — the Open Source Software Institute (OSSI) and the Linux Professional Institute (LPI) — joined forces in early August to lobby the U.S. government about open source programs.

Evan Leibovitch, CLUE’s co-founder and co-director, plans to address the Ontario government’s Management Board Secretariat in September on setting new open source standards. He points out that sharing code is already a government philosophy up here because, for instance, it allows departments to share and reuse database software. That way, departments don’t have to spend more money building new database programs from scratch every time.

“Obviously, I don’t know what kind of reception I’m going to get” from the Ontario government, he says. “But the fact that they want me there indicates that they’re interested”” in learning more about open source products.

Ottawa correspondent Zachary Houle is a frequent contributor to

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