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The US Navy's research and development and acquisition policy site at acquisition.navy.mil uses eZ Systems' open source content management system to help civilian and military users access the Navy's myriad policy documents. Before the switch to eZ Publish in November 2003, the site was an unorganized collection of hard-to-navigate static HTML pages. Today, IT project manager Tina Minor, who manages the system for DOD contractor Automation Technologies, says she really likes the customizability and low price of open source software.
When the Navy wanted to transition its acquisition policy site to a content management system, budget cuts because of the war in Iraq eliminated the option of an expensive commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) product. "There was 13 years worth of data they needed to maintain," Minor says. "They wanted a commercial product, but we had to go for a solution that was more reasonably priced. The Navy client was very visionary, and very open, and he suggested we look at open source products and see, based on a security analysis, if it would be a good fit for the Navy."
Minor hadn't used open source software extensively, so she commissioned a research project. "We did a full-fledged market research study on open source CMS products. We called out a list of 28, and did a complete analysis based on our requirements and the Navy's needs.
"We looked at more than just support and whether or not the product matched our requirement, though," Minor says. "We looked to see how well grounded the company was, how long they'd been around, and how many people used the product -- how many people outside of commercial companies and academia, how many state or federal government facilities. Our top three picks were eZ, Plone, and Drupal."
Minor says that while price was the driving mechanism behind the selection of open source, now that she's been using it for four years, it's the customizability that has her hooked. "From my perspective, that's number one. With a COTS product, if it doesn't function you can go back to the company, but you'll pay an enormous amount of money. With open source, one person can customize it and share that with everyone." Minor likes the community-driven atmosphere of open source projects like eZ. "It's very open. My developers have shared code with other [developers], but we haven't actually created any code that would be included in a new release of eZ Publish."
Using open source software for a military agency hasn't been completely challenge-free. Minor says there's still a lot of fear regarding open source. "Mostly it's just misunderstood. People hear open source and they automatically assume it's got vulnerabilities and security issues. They think that if it's Microsoft, it's much more secure, and that if the code is open it's easier to hack into. For me, all I can do is educate people a little bit better than that. You've got reputable institutions like NASA and MIT using [open source], and so when you tell people that, they know and recognize those organizations and entities. Then they have to sit back and go, you know, maybe it's not as bad as I thought."
Tina Gasperson writes about business and technology from an open source perspective.