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EU research promoting the ‘libre’ software model

A key project in the EU IST (Information Society Technologies) programme is helping software designers and developers promote the ‘libre’ software model for software development. The term ‘Libre software’ is a development of the open source software model, and harks back to the early days of Linux as a free operating system available to all.

The CALIBRE project’s aim is to galvanise the European open source software industry, both to strengthen Europe's global position in open source development and to enable European enterprises to benefit from it. The project finished in June 2006.

"In the 80s, software like Linux was called free software – free as in freedom, not price,” says Joseph Feller, a senior lecturer at University College Cork. “The term libre software recaptures that original meaning. While it’s true that open source software can be acquired for free, it is really in the freedom to modify it, redistribute it, and so on, that the true value is created.”

Open source software is a key strength in the EU software industry. European developers, researchers and companies are extremely active on the world stage and many are among the leaders in the field. As a result the global heavyweights in the software sector are now competing directly against open source applications built by global communities of collaborating developers. Sun’s OpenOffice suite and Mozilla’s hugely successful Firefox browser are classic examples of the genre.

The primary software sector tends to grab the most headlines – word-processing applications for example can become industry drivers in themselves. However it is the secondary sector, where manufacturers like Nokia and Daimler Chrysler create applications specific to their own products, that will produce the greatest growth over the next ten years.

Frank van der Linden of Philips Medical Systems argues that for global companies, it doesn’t make sense to invest resources in software that doesn’t create any differentiating value for the company. “The global demand for software development is so high that it simply can’t be addressed without including collaboration with open source communities," he says.

Accessing open source markets is a problem, however. Links between business and open source communities remain fractured, and many companies are unsure of how to approach an open source initiative or develop a grassroots community. There are few validated business models for open source products, and many businesses are simply unaware of the potential opportunities that exist.

CALIBRE focused on three main areas: developing an industry forum, plotting a roadmap for future open source software research, and fostering knowledge transfer. "The industry forum, called CALIBRATION, is up and running and it’s got legs. It will endure as an industry-led group beyond the end of the project," says Dr Feller.

CALIBRE has identified as a promising business model the approach used by ZEA Partners, a CALIBRATION forum member, and its network of companies across Europe that shares customers, contacts and expertise to deliver software-related services. "It's a network that allows small companies to deliver a whole product in a way that they can’t do on their own - by allying together they can compete with big companies," he says.

Dr Feller also points to the success of standalone companies like MySQL AB, a database server developer which has built a business on the back of open source software.

"Early attempts to build business models around open source focused only on identifying revenue models," he says. "But revenue is just a small slice of the business; companies need to find ways to manage customers, manage knowledge, innovate and compete effectively – not just generate income."

CALIBRE's efforts at fostering the transfer of Libre software have probably had the biggest short-term impact on the major software producers themselves. The project has helped empower ‘champions’ in sceptical companies, helping them to assess open-source applications more accurately via in-company workshops.

"The first in-company workshop we carried out was with Eurocontrol, and it was a phenomenal success, demonstrating the potential for open source in a critical area, air traffic management," says Dr Feller. "It helped them understand the potential and has pushed research knowledge out into the business community."

Source: Based on information from CALIBRE

Jernett Karensen | alfa
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