Open Source and Open Standards at Home
I know some of the guys who are behind the. We use open source who are trying to track down as many companies that use open source in their work place in their day to day tasks, one person Declan has written to our government regarding this issue and I thought it would be good to share here.
Open Source and Open Standards at Home – Positioning Ireland as an International Innovation Hub
Recent years show that openness and collaboration is essential to the generation of innovation in the software sector. Technology increasingly means software. In Ireland, we can see that the production of hardware technology in many, but not all, cases is providing ever diminishing returns. Here we outline some key policy recommendations that are crucial to fulfilling the vision of making the Irish Smart Economy a reality for the software industry through the adoption and encouragement of Open Source technologies.
In the interests of brevity it is only necessary to read our key policy recommendations to get the most out of this document. The remainder of the document gives some context for those who are not familiar with Open Source and Open Standards.
Key policy recommendations
1) Foster a vibrant Open Source software development sector through public commitments to Open Source technology; so that large companies such as Nokia, Red Hat, Google, IBM, Novell, Oracle and Sun know that Ireland means business when it comes to cutting edge Open Source technologies
2) Have Ireland (and the Irish government in particular) project an Open Source friendly image internationally. Differentiate Ireland from other potential software development locations by highlighting its Open Source credentials when attracting international companies. Software companies know that a thriving Open Source scene means the availability of high quality passionate software developers
3) Deliver value for public sector by gradually adopting Open Source technologies where feasible – for example, the use of the freely available office suite OpenOffice as well as the Linux operating system. Liaise with other European cities that have already done this. Directly contract Open Source developers to create and improve software used in Ireland’s public sector to ‘get software done’ for the public sector
4) To create jobs at all levels of the value chain by:
– Creating jobs for Irish software developers by providing incentives to internationally recognised companies (such as in point 1) to carry out Open Source development in Ireland
– Creating jobs for Irish software developers through contracting of indigenous Open Source development teams to carry out work for the public sector
– Training people to support the adopted Open Source technologies (as mentioned in point 2); as a starting point, partner with existing Open Source training support providers in Ireland
– Running programs such as ‘Not working? Get working with Open Source today!’ where out of work software developers could contribute to society by creating useful software. This serves to restore confidence, dignity and skills to those affected by unemployment
5) Open Source software development languages (such as Python and Ruby) are extremely easy to learn yet powerful (Google extensively uses Python for its infrastructure). These languages integrate with other well known Open Source languages, such as Java, thus legacy infrastructure can be built upon and harnessed. Skills in these Open Source languages should be fostered in secondary schools as well as third-level institutions. Their ease of use makes them accessible to a wider audience which reduces the cost of retraining
6) Startup software companies have a high tendency to use Open Source tools due to the low cost of procuring them and the flexible nature of these tools. Training students in languages (those mentioned in point 5) as well as other Open Source technologies, such as the database software MySQL, should have a stronger focus in the educational system. Familiarity with these technologies would greatly benefit students going on to join startup companies. This means more startups are likely to be founded thus giving a boost to the indigenous software industry
7) Mandate Open Standards when exchanging electronic documents within government. Over time, this delivers greater value for the public sector as it means that more than one product is available that can interact with your documents. This increases competition between software vendors to deliver value to the government. Mandating open standards helps avoid vendor lock-in and ensures that software in need of change can be re-tendered to a larger field of potential providers. It also eases inter-operability with existing systems. Finally, online services rolled out by the government should make data available to all Irish citizens regardless of what specific product they are using by using Open Standards
8) When the budget permits, the government should appoint an Open Source Coordinator responsible for these policies, who would also be responsible for projecting Ireland’s ‘Open Source friendly’ image at an international level (outlined in points 1 and 2)
What does Open Source mean and how does it generate revenue growth?
Open Source software is software for which the source code is publicly available and is freely redistributable. This allows consumers to build upon, improve and redistribute the software. A formal definition can be found at http://www.opensource.org/docs/definition.php. It provides businesses with the flexibility to tailor a product to their specific needs. The availability of the code increases the pressure on those that develop the software to produce it to a higher standard. There is usually no cost associated with procuring an Open Source software product itself, rather the commercial exploitation is in the consultation, services and support around the product. Often there is a hybrid approach where part of the product is Open Source and another part is not, where the latter is the engine generating the revenue. Because a large body of high quality Open Source software is freely available, it can be used to deliver value and increase productivity for businesses and governments. At the same time it can empower citizens, with many people availing of Open Source tools to publish blogs, produce video and audio podcasts, as well as carrying out other day to day functions such as browsing the Internet safely and securely with an Open Source browser. Additionally, Open Source software development tools helps bootstrap the software development sector by providing a low cost suite to get software development teams working more quickly and efficiently. These teams can then go on to produce value higher up the chain.
Is there a leading example of an Open Source software company?
Red Hat is an example of one of the best known Open Source companies internationally. They commercially exploit Open Source technologies by providing support and services around a technology platform called Red Hat Linux. From a humble start in the 90’s, they were recently chosen for inclusion in the Standard and Poor’s 500 stock index (http://press.redhat.com/2009/07/27/red-hat-included-in-sampp-500-index). Matthew Szulik, Red Hat’s former CEO and current chairman, attributed their success to how they approach Open Source software, “Think about [open source] like mining. There’s all of these natural resources buried under the ground. But unless you have a large aggregator to pull it out of the ground; to take the gold or the coal or the copper and turn it into something usable, then it’s really not useful for mankind.” That’s exactly what Red Hat do. They take a variety of Open Source technologies and package it into a single commercial product. The revenue of different Open Source based companies is generated by a variety of business models. Google’s backend architecture, that powers their search engine technology, is built on top of Open Source technologies – with Google’s revenue coming mainly from the targeted advertising built around their search product. A side effect of their involvement in Open Source technologies is that it excites developers, enabling Google to hire enthusiastic bright engineers.
What Open Source Software developers are there currently in Ireland?
Currently, there are several different groups of software developers involved in the Open Source arena. These developers aggregate in groups depending on the technology they are particularly interested in. There is also an overlap and synergy between the groups. For example, Open Source interest groups include the Irish Linux Users Group, the Belfast Linux Group, the PHP Users Group, Python Ireland and Ruby Ireland. Each group meets up on a regular basis, usually monthly, as a social event and also to discuss technological developments in their area. This social aspect to Open Source software development is important. It leads to the sharing of new ideas and technologies and gives people an interest in software that can go far beyond their day job. This enthusiasm leads to great ideas. With more government support – those ideas could lead to new startups and opportunities.
It is natural for some existing software vendors to feel threatened by policy shifts towards increased Open Source usage. However, we envision working in conjunction with all vendors in a mixed Open Source and non-Open Source ecosystem. Co-optition is key in this ecosystem, with parties competing in some areas yet co-operating where there is a common interest. (When we talk of co-optition we mean co-operative competition – the practice of competitors working together where they believe there is a net benefit to both parties.) Finally, we would like to say that the adoption of Open Source should be gradual and targeted in order to deliver value at each step along the way. As with any new technology, it is crucial that the experiences from each step are fed into next so as to minimise any potential risks arising from the change and to ensure all stakeholders experience the benefits of the shift to the Open Source model.
Full paper with author information can be found here