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From the Editor

Software as a Public Trust

Don Marti

Issue #122, June 2004

Jefferson said, “The government is best which governs least.” By committing itself to free software, government keeps citizens' options open.

As I write this, the Linux Users Group of Iraq is forming an organization called the Iraqi Open Source Organization (IOSO) to help get the new Iraqi government on the path of open-source software and open standards. They're joining a worldwide movement to put open source into government IT that's strong enough that proprietary software vendors have founded a lobbying group called the “Initiative for Software Choice” (ISC) to oppose it. The ISC doesn't merely oppose open-source code; it also tracks and opposes measures that would simply require specs to be openly published for interoperability.

Telling a government it should accept proprietary software licenses is like telling it that it needs to visit a shady rent-to-own store for furniture instead of using competitive bidding. Governments are big enough to get a better deal. And “software choice” for a government purchasing department could mean software lock-in for citizens. Until late last year, the US Federal Communications Commission's Web-based Universal Licensing System, mandatory for radio licensees, required a non-Linux OS.

On page 58, Jim Beard shows how open standards can make a government process work. Find out how courts, lawyers and organizations are keeping the new flood of paperless communication together with new standards anyone can use.

Our Senior Editor Doc Searls spent early 2004 in the storm of the presidential primaries, with special attention to Howard Dean frenzy. Our contributor Tony Steidler-Dennison went to work for the Wesley Clark campaign. Neither Dean nor Clark got very far, but Doc learned some valuable lessons that might help you in your next political campaign. Find out how you can join the political process on page 52.

Remember the little USB lamp on the cover of the April 2004 issue? Greg Kroah-Hartman told me that he got more responses to his article on a driver for it than to anything else he's written. Congratulations, new kernel hackers. Now, if you'd rather write user-space programs instead, Greg explains how to control a USB device that way on page 40. Now there's no excuse not to support whatever USB device follows you home from the electronics store. Be sure to let us know how it goes.

Dave Phillips is back with another software roundup—this time covering soundfile editors on page 84. And, if you're ready to have your mind expanded with a giant leap in communications design, flip to page 76 and get the facts on software radio from Eric Blossom.

Finally, as you might be able to tell from the cover, we're proud to bring you the latest from Douglas Maxwell on a new simulation for training firefighters (page 48). The project may be kind of esoteric, but it depends on the same Linux and free software we all use every day. If you're writing, documenting or testing free software, you're helping vital, even lifesaving projects without even knowing it. Stay free, and enjoy the issue.

Don Marti is editor in chief of Linux Journal.

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