European open source innovation ahead

Free Software Foundation forecasts growth in European open source start-ups

Europe can look forward to a surge in the number of fledgling Linux companies that will exert a strong influence in the open source software scene, predicts a representative of the Free Software Foundation.

Timothy E. Ney, an officer of the Free Software Foundation, who will address members of Britain's business community at the Linux@Work conference in London next month, reckons Europe could soon be a hotbed of start-up Linux activity.

The term 'open source' refers to software for which the original program code is available, allowing companies and users to modify the software according to their individual requirements. Of the various 'open source' licenses, the most widespread is the GNU Public license (GPL), under which the kernel of the Linux operating system is released. Under the GPL, code can be modified and distributed and even included in commercial products, under certain conditions.

Although there are a number of important Linux developers and open source companies in Europe, the free software industry has so far been largely led by US firms. Ney thinks, however, that this trend is about to change. "Up until now, most free software companies have been American but I think we're going to see a shift in that," he says. "The question is, will European venture capital follow American venture capital?

"I see innovation coming from start-ups. It's a young person's game," he adds. "A lot of the brilliant programming is coming from Colleges and even high-schools."

Ney believes that Europe's academic culture could be key to the increased growth of Linux in Europe. "I do think that there is something to be said for the European approach. There are a lot of developers in academic environments, which are subsidised. Each country also has a different viewpoint."

Dave Fisher, head of business development at GB Direct, a British e-commerce company specialising in open source solutions, also sees European open source growth ahead. "I would broadly concur," he says. "There will be different perspectives -- local and national contexts."

But amid all the optimism for a thriving open source future in Europe, IDC operating systems analyst, Kirsten Ludwigson, adds a note of caution. She believes "many Linux startups will flounder" as they battle the established US companies that have rushed to the Nasdaq in search of easy bucks. But as Fisher points out, "Europe has the advantage in mobile phones, where Linux is expected to grow, and satellite communications and this gives it the edge for technology in general, but for Linux especially."

Even Ludwigson, in the end, had to admit there "is a lot of open source innovation in Europe, particularly in Germany, Denmark, France and the Netherlands".

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