Coders urged to take up open source in downturn

The president of the Free Software Foundation Europe has called on companies and out-of-work IT professionals to use the recession as an opportunity to turn away from proprietary strategies
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

The recession is a good opportunity for out-of-work developers to turn their hand to open-source software, a leader of a free software group suggested on Tuesday.

In fact, all companies, programmers and other IT professionals would do well to look into free software, Georg Greve, president of the Free Software Foundation Europe, said in a speech at the CeBIT technology conference in Hanover, Germany. Predicting that the recession would probably end "sometime this year", he said the downturn would serve as a "breather" and as an opportunity for companies and individuals to rethink their software strategies.

Greve said that those who currently find themselves out of work should respond to the "fast-growing" demand for those with expertise in open-source software. "The competencies for free software are in high demand," he said. "Look how to build your competency. You could consider joining a project that lies within your field of interest. Build contacts and make a reputation for yourself — in free software, the job very often finds you."

In addition, companies should use 2009 to consider moving away from proprietary systems, Greve said. He recommended that those businesses in a position to hire staff right now could benefit from the fact that there are "more, better and cheaper people on the market". However, he also pleaded with those considering IT department redundancies to "consider reassignment rather than firing people".

"Train [your staff] to prepare for the move to free software," Greve said, citing greater interoperability, lower exit costs and flexible upgrade cycles as several reasons for doing so. "Times will pick up again."

The FSF Europe president cited the UK government's recent endorsement of open source and free software as evidence for sentiment shifting against proprietary alternatives.

Asked by ZDNet UK whether a prolonged economic crisis might be to the benefit of free software, due to companies' financial constraints, Greve said the movement did not need a recession to thrive.

"Free software has been gaining before [the crisis] and will be gaining after the crisis," Greve said, "It's not necessarily crisis-driven, although the crisis provides a good opportunity for people to reconsider [their strategies]. Frankly we see businesses that are doing well moving to free software and then doing better — it's the preferred migration path for anyone. Reconsider strategic IT now: that is the major message for the crisis."

Free Software Foundation Europe's Georg Greve

Speaking at CeBIT, Free Software Foundation Europe chief Georg Greve said the recession could be a useful "breather".
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