Ten challenges and priorities for free and open source in 2008

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Last week I started a series of blog entries about my personal view of challenges and priorities for this year. That first entry was about open standards and today I’m going to look at free and open source (FOSS). Incidentally, the first item on this list was on the previous list as well.

Needless to say, this is a big topic and one that encompasses a broad range of opinions. My list will be different from someone who runs a FOSS project, someone whose primary and perhaps sole business is FOSS, someone in academia, and someone who is strictly a user of software. I look forward to reading other peoples’ lists, either here or via links in the comments.

In 2008, I think that we collectively should …

  1. Evolve open standards intellectual property licenses and development processes to be more friendly to free and open source. In the same way, increase the involvement of FOSS developers in open standards development.
  2. Develop common models of FOSS use and governance for corporations and other organizations to adopt. My sense is that there are good consulting opportunities here.
  3. Create more industry-specific free and open source application software, perhaps following the examples of Sakai and Moodle in the education area.
  4. Help governments adopt free and open source-friendly IT policies that permit maximal apples-to-apples comparisons of FOSS and proprietary software with regard to relative value for total cost of ownership, local business generation, and innovation of technology for the social good.
  5. Convert more technology late adopters to be users of free and open source software like GNU/Linux, Eclipse, and OpenOffice.org.
  6. Convert more free and open source technology early adopters to be new FOSS project leaders and developers.
  7. Use more free and open source software in schools for students of all ages.
  8. Educate more computer science majors about the free and open source development models, and educate more business students about the variety of FOSS economic models.
  9. Cease the production and use of new vanity free and open source licenses unless they represent some form of legal intellectual breakthrough.
  10. Develop more mainstream consumer-focused software such as graphical games and virtual worlds that run on multiple client platforms, including GNU/Linux.

Last Time: “Ten challenges and priorities for open standards in 2008”

Next Time: “Seven Challenges and Priorities for Virtual Worlds in 2008”


  1. I wouldn’t call #3 a “hot-button” issue, but it does prompt a thought that’s been percolating in my mind for a few weeks after reading yet another essay on open-source development that had more self-congratulation than sense. I’m sorry if the comparison is unflattering, but here goes:

    Open-source development has made its greatest strides, found the most developers willing to help, and has as its greatest successes those applications in widest use: word processing (Open Office/Symphony) and Internet (Firefox etc.). Applications with a smaller market have suffered from lack of time, creativity, and resources. (Ahem.) Kind of like the pharmaceutical industry.

    This is not a bad thing, mind you, and I sort of apologize for the comparison. However, I have to disagree with the rosy-cheeked enthusiasts who deem any open-source software better than its proprietary competitors (or who eschew the ethic of competition entirely).

    What prompts this the major reason I don’t use Linux as my primary operating system: the music notation program Sibelius. There are simply no open-source alternatives with the combination of ease of use and quality of output (Bob, if you haven’t looked at either Sibelius or its guitar equivalent, G7, check them out – as a programmer, I would seriously use Sibelius in teaching a class on UI design). Yes, I’ve looked at Rosegarden and NoteEdit and the under-development Canorus. Fine programs all, but not up to the level of Sibelius, either on Windows or Mac.

    So in the final analysis, I want to encourage open-source development in the lesser-used application domains, but I think proprietary software is a much stronger competitor (and often a much better choice) in those areas.

  2. So what resources shall we deploy to achieve this ?

    I expect that at some stage this year, the team I work with will give the software which ran this simulation http://www.research.ibm.com/jam/rhod10.wmv to “Open Source”. It could be viewed as an installation verification test; something which might enable a pharmaceutical company which had bought in to the IBM supercomputing story, to get started faster deploying it in their business of designing new pharmaceuticals. And if hardware sales depended on it, we’d accelerate the process.
    And assuredly we won’t invent a new licence. http://www.opensource.org/licenses/cpl1.0.php will do just fine.

    FOSS for “Education at all levels” is more problematic. There is this thing http://knosciences.tuxfamily.org/doku.php?id=knosciences:welcome ; in principle IBM’s Global Business Services personnel could deploy that into a school, it is a standard service offering http://www-03.ibm.com/linux/prod_svc.html#gts ; but the school’s procurement organisation would need to sign an appropriate contract with their IBM salesman before we could go ahead. The process is a little heavy.

    I think OS/2 and SmartSuite are history, though. Amazon will sell you a Linux, and you can download http://symphony.lotus.com/ at no charge from IBM to rescue your old SmartSuite documents. If you want to buy software from IBM nowadays, the popular sellers are Lotus Notes and Websphere.

  3. Items 3 and 4 are where our project, The OpenISES (Open Information Systems for Emergency Services) Project is focusing (http://openises.sourceforge.net). We are creating software and training materials for all areas of emergency services. This area has been largely overlooked by the open source community in the past. Currently, if you are an emergency service agency (Police, Fire, or EMS) you have to run Microsoft Windows. Most all Computer Aided Dispatch systems are Windows based. Every Fire, Police and EMS reporting program is Windows based. Every database to track members, training, equipment, etc is Windows based. If everything in your agency is Windows based, the chances of running another operating system are slim.

    Our goal is to provide the speciality programs that emergency service agencies need, in a format that is non-OS specific. Our software is web based, and our training programs utilize the open document standard. We plan to work with small, primarily volunteer agencies who cannot afford the high cost of most emergency service software. By working with the overwhelming number of small agencies, we hope to make open source programs much more pervasive than their Windows counterparts.

  4. FLOSS doesn’t have priorities, it doesn’t want priorities. It expands in every direction while trimming off cruft via darwinian natural selection.

    Although if you think those 10 are important, you don’t need anyone’s permission to get started :)

  5. @Someone: That’s exactly the kind of utopian (dystopian?) attitude that generates the frustration that leads to people making lists like this in the first place.

    FLOSS is a force multiplier. It is NOT an Infinite Candy Store that can “expand in all directions at once”. Resources are finite; people’s time and energy is finite; people who don’t see things moving in what to them are useful directions, o, worse, see their ideas for development actively pissed upon, tend to fall back into the “tender mercies” of the proprietary-software companies.

    Case in point: several Asian governments, notably Malaysia, put in several years of effort trying to generate interest in and promote use of open source software for their internal use. This was AFTER the well-known success in Brazil. They eventually gave up and re-standardized on Microsoft in very large part because they could not get reliable, trustable direction from the various open source projects they were trying to deal with. When Singapore started shopping around for their Standard ICT Office Environment – after deploying OpenOffice on thousands of systems – they focused on vendors such as IBM and HP who were proposing Windows-based systems.

    I have been active in open-source development for over 15 years. I have been a professional software developer for 30. I have my brother-in-law’s brand-new HP laptop sitting next to me right now, trying to get Ubuntu and Vista to coexist on it. He “sees the light” but has several applications that there is simply NO obviously equivalent FOSS solution for – on any platform. (And no, I have neither the domain expertise nor resources to go in and recreate what took a large corporation man-decades and no doubt millions of dollars to produce.) As anybody who’s dealt with “high-end” HP kit is probably painfully aware, there are numerous hardware-support issues involved (*cough*Broadcom*cough*). And, of course, once you get Linux installed and happy, once you restart Vista, HP’s automatic-recovery software kicks in before Windows even finishes loading and helpfully offers to restore the factory image for what has obviously become a corrupted disk — with no way to say ‘I know it’s different; deal with it.’) These are the kinds of systems that are being handed out as freebies to people who sign up for broadband Internet – and the kind of systems that the Singapore SOE, among others, is likely to wind up with. (If anybody has experience getting an HP Pavilion tx1209AU to play nice with dual-boot, please contact me!)

    If we don’t get some reasonable prioritization and coherent leadership (what the Apple folk call “adult supervision”), FLOSS is going to footnote itself in the history of computing. And that’s really too bad. I’ve already put in my time working for large megacorps; it would be nice to have viable alternatives.

  6. Bob I know you’re a lot into the open standards debate, but honestly I think that both IBM and Microsoft are still missing the real point. While I agree that a clear IP policy and open access to the standard development process are a must, I see a bigger issue: the lack of a certification organization. Either if we got two, three or four different document format “standards” approved, how could a buyer know if a product is or not compliant with them?

  7. “Sim City” is now free-and-open-source [link] . The FLOSS version is to be known as “Micropolis”. Even comes with a prebuilt version for ‘laptop’ http://www.laptop.org/ .

    It’s interesting. Up until yesterday, if you’d distributed copies of the thing without being an Electronic Arts licensee, Electronic Arts could have had you Hung, Drawn, and Quartered or whatever the prescribed remedy is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DMCA . From today and ever after, they say “You’re welcome” , “Do not blame us if it all goes wrong” , “Fix it yourself”, and “We have other things to sell.”

    So why ? Have they sold all of that game they want to sell, and now they put it in the recycling tray for the next generation of engineers and scientists to take to pieces and learn from ? Is it EA’s corporate contribution to the One Laptop Per Child project ?

    Has the “Commercial Home Entertainment” business moved on enough, that freeing the old game is no threat to their revenue ?

  8. I think that we should also try to help our governments in writing down specific norms for adoption of open standard in order to insure at least interoperability among public administrations.

    …my 2 cents

    Italian Social Network on Free software http://finalmentelibero.ning.com/profile/Flavia
    My blog (in italian) http://undo.ilcannocchiale.it

  9. See http://vwinterop.wikidot.com/forum:recent-posts

    The IP discussions don’t seem to be converging on the goals set forth. I’m not sure they will.

    In the early days of the web, the openness benefitted it’s growth. Now investors who lost in the dot.bomb are swinging just as far in the opposite direction. With VW and 3D being the hot topics of last year (cooling a bit this year), they are determined to capture as much IP as possible to ensure long term returns. This is where consortium participation agreements become the real topic of interest as the enabler for the ethics of free and open source.

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