Cost savings often motivate open source deployments, but Newport News hasn't yet saved money from the project. Since 2007, they city has spent around $300,000 -- roughly the cost of one high-end, off-the-shelf software license -- to make its open source CMS software usable government, Stein said.
Other governments can take advantage of the city's investment, tweaking it to meet their needs for comparatively little cost. Stein hopes those governments will invest their own resources to enhance the software further, benefiting Newport News and others.
"The different contributors can start by going to our Web site and downloading our software," Stein said. "The larger the community, the more everybody benefits because there will be more contributors and more organizations paying the bill and sharing the costs."
Off-the-shelf software gives IT staff an assured process along with an established vendor for debugging it if problems arise. With open source, IT staffers rely on their programmers or the open source community for fixes.
"The team is enthusiastic now and very comfortable receiving support and technical questions and answers from people on the Internet. They're people whom our team may never meet. We simply know them by e-mail address," Stein explained. "It's a different model."
Stein acknowledged that open source applications won't answer all of the public sector's software requirements. But they can be a viable option for many tasks, especially when money is tight.