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By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2003-01-06 Print this article Print

: Road to Open Source"> But the fact that open source has even a toe in government waters is a big deal, experts say, and could lead to larger projects if this modest foray proves stable—which, so far, it has.

"We have been consistently impressed with MySQLs stability and performance," Willis said. "The file server has had 100 percent uptime since it was launched."

The initial resistance does not surprise Andrew Binstock, an analyst for Pacific Data Works LLC, who said governments are conservative when it comes to new technology. "Especially for portals, failures are highly visible," said Binstock, in San Carlos, Calif. "Nobody wants to take the risk of choosing software when they might have the prospect of having some problem" thats experienced by any citizen visiting the portal, he said.

But its visibility makes the Rhode Island installation more potent a demonstration of what open source can accomplish when used by state governments, Binstock said. "This particular project probably is going to usher in other governments exploring these types of open-source solutions," he said.

Indeed, database administrators for other state governments have been contacting Willis. The state of Hawaii, for example, is working on an intranet that will serve state government employees and that uses open-source components such as Apache, Linux, MySQL, PHP and Python.

Cost savings played a large part in Willis decision to use open source for the database. Before he got involved in computer consulting, Willis was involved in social activism and had done volunteer work to set up community technology access centers so that people with mental illness could get off the street and learn how to use computers. Such work made it clear to Willis that nonprofits had Spartan budgets—something, it turns out, they have in common with governments.

"There can be a lot of idealism in government to do the right thing, but sometimes, theres not the budget to bring the right thing to fruition," Willis said.

Willis has more open-source schemes cooking but was hesitant to give details. For now, hell steer the state into building on what it has, including a MySQL database listing the members of state boards and commissions thats designed to help throw a spotlight on conflict of interest and separation of powers, he said. Also high on his priority list is to become the point person for other states delving into open source.

"We proved it can work," Willis said. "Now we dont have that battle anymore. We can just do the cool things we want to do."

Lisa Vaas is News Editor/Operations for and also serves as editor of the Database topic center. Since 1995, she has also been a Webcast news show anchorperson and a reporter covering the IT industry. She has focused on customer relationship management technology, IT salaries and careers, effects of the H1-B visa on the technology workforce, wireless technology, security, and, most recently, databases and the technologies that touch upon them. Her articles have appeared in eWEEK's print edition, on, and in the startup IT magazine PC Connection. Prior to becoming a journalist, Vaas experienced an array of eye-opening careers, including driving a cab in Boston, photographing cranky babies in shopping malls, selling cameras, typography and computer training. She stopped a hair short of finishing an M.A. in English at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. She earned a B.S. in Communications from Emerson College. She runs two open-mic reading series in Boston and currently keeps bees in her home in Mashpee, Mass.

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