Now this is how open source is meant to work.
In January 2007, the French defence ministry's Direction Générale de l'Armement began work (in association with BT) on a project called Milimail, to enhance Firefox's open-source cousin, the Thunderbird email client for military purposes. It's now known as Trustedbird - and lists among its additional features:
- Deletion receipts (MDN);
- Delivery receipts (DSN);
- Encryption/Signing with triple wrapping;
- RFC 2634 Security Labels and Signed Receipts;
- Address autocompletion with several LDAP directories;
- CRL download from LDAP directories;
- Manage Out of Office settings on a Sieve server
...only some of which I even begin to understand. But apparently, the key enhancement is the fact that you can 'know for sure when messages have been read, which is critical in a command-and-control organization' - according to Mozilla executive David Ascher, quoted by Reuters. And that's good enough for it to hook into NATO systems.
What's more, code from the French project found its way into Thunderbird's v3 public release last December - making the product better for everybody.
The recently revised UK government policy on open source seemed to focus solely on the procurement angle. But as Trustedbird demonstrates, there's potential for the benefits of open source to go much, much wider.
And if a particular open source product doesn't quite meet your exacting specification, that shouldn't mean you simply dismiss it. Ask not what open source can do for you, you might say; ask what you can do for open source.