The French way to open source

What government can best provide to open source is education, encouragement and incentive. True broadband into every classroom, the best possible programmer training, a few contracts, a competitive market, and an attaboy are all I'd recommend.

French lips from Soapism,com blog
Roberto Galoppini of Funambol is a true Italian patriot, so I'm sure this headline was painful for him to write:

Open Source Government: France beats Italy 4-0!

He then goes on to describe a fairly typical French approach, applied to open source, with government coordination among key institutions, both public and private. (The picture is from the Soapism blog of Andrew Luft and Jeremy Berman.)

The idea is to build a "competitiveness cluster," that is to replicate (with government help) the kind of synergies which created Silicon Valley.

Roberto is plainly jealous:

Italy is still missing a clear strategy about how to foster the Italian open source ecosystem through training, education, research and outreach, while France apparently has found its own path for developing it.

Americans have a habit of dismissing these efforts as futile or socialist, yet the model is ours.

As all histories of the Valley make clear, military contracts had a huge hand in creating our tech industry, directed through universities and big companies. The Internet, also, is descended from ARPAnet, a military network designed to fight the Cold War.

But open source is, in some ways, a rejection of that model. Military and, to a lesser extent, government-run consortia offer trust only grudgingly. Open source projects give it as a matter of course.

There's also something sad about limiting your view of open source to your own country, to any one country.

In a global market, with global resources, your ambitions should be global leadership, albeit in specific niches. And you can share that niche globally as well -- you don't need a ton of mobile open source start-ups all clustered in one place to create a Funambol.

What government can best provide to open source is education, encouragement and incentive. True broadband into every classroom, the best possible programmer training, a few contracts, a competitive market, and an attaboy are all I'd recommend.

Feel free to disagree. That last is the other element government needs to provide for open source to grow.

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