Like Technology? Your Best Bet Is FLOSS

Monday, 2007-January-29 at 12:48

A European Union study released last year looked at Free / Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) and its economic impact on innovation and competitiveness[PDF]. The PDF is 287 pages, but the executive summary makes the point well. Some excerpts:

Almost two-thirds of FLOSS software is still written by individuals; firms contributeabout 15% and other institutions another 20%.
(Page 9)

The existing base of quality FLOSS applications with reasonable quality control and distribution would cost firms almost Euro 12 billion to reproduce internally. This code base has been doubling every 18-24 months over the past eight years, and this growth is projected to continue for several more years.
(Page 10)

Proprietary packaged software firms account for well below 10% of employment of software developers in the U.S., and “IT user” firms account for over 70% of software developers employed with a similar salary (and thus skill) level. This suggests a relatively low potential for cannibalisation of proprietary software jobs by FLOSS, and suggests a relatively high potential for software developer jobs to become increasingly FLOSSrelated. FLOSS and proprietary software show a ratio of 30:70 (overlapping) in recent job postings indicating significant demand for FLOSS-related skills.
(Page 10)

FLOSS provides opportunities in Europe for new businesses, a greater role in the wider information society and a business model that suits European SMEs; FLOSS in Europe is threatened by increasing moves in some policy circles to support regulation entrenching previous business models for creative industries at the cost of allowing for new businesses and new business models.
(Page 11)

Europe faces three scenarios: CLOSED, where existing business models are entrenchedthrough legal and technical regulation, favouring a passive consumer model over newbusinesses supporting active participation in an information society of “prosumers”;GENERIC, where current mixed policies lead to a gradual growth of FLOSS while manyof the opportunities it presents are missed; VOLUNTARY, where policies and the marketdevelop to recognise and utilise the potential of FLOSS and similar collaborative modelsof creativity to harness the full power of active citizens in the information society.
(Page 11)

This shows that Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) is an essential part of the technology industry. Companies depend on FOSS for, among other things, components of their in-house solutions. This would not be possible without a sizable financial cost using proprietary software. Indeed, many enterprises (especially smaller ones) choose instead to steal proprietary software, believing that they have no other affordable option for in-house solutions that they need in order to compete. When the BSA comes calling, they are penalized (along with other businesses that may unintentionally be unable to verify compliance with proprietary licensing). Other businesses may decide to follow software theft with other forms of theft (such as stealing music to play over a retail sound system) and suffer when the Robbers In Adamantium Armor (RIAA) catch them.

Like the United States, Europe must choose its future path carefully:

Europe faces three scenarios: CLOSED, where existing business models are entrenchedthrough legal and technical regulation, favouring a passive consumer model over newbusinesses supporting active participation in an information society of “prosumers”;GENERIC, where current mixed policies lead to a gradual growth of FLOSS while manyof the opportunities it presents are missed; VOLUNTARY, where policies and the marketdevelop to recognise and utilise the potential of FLOSS and similar collaborative modelsof creativity to harness the full power of active citizens in the information society.
(Page 11)

Here’s hoping that Europe and the United State both choose the “VOLUNTARY” path.

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