Open source: What you should learn from the French

With open source embraced at all levels, the real benefits of a passionate community arrive

Benefit 2: Uniting technology for the good of many

The capability to pull together various open source parts to create a single, unified platform may be France's most important open source benefit. It's what led to the amazing feat of government, education, and industry coming together to foster an environment for leading-edge open source development.

Miguel Valdes, co-founder of the Bonita Project, which has developed an open source workflow system, believes French open source developers have a better understanding than their US counterparts about reusing code and integrating with other systems. "France is definitely the good place to be when working around open source," says Valdes, a Spaniard living in France. "The French social model was appropriate for innovators and entrepreneurs to start working on alternative solutions [to proprietary software], fostering the creation of new projects in which a good mix of experienced professionals and skilled computer science students work together."

Put another way, French open source developers have played a major role in laying the groundwork on how to aggregate six, seven, or more open source projects into a comprehensive platform, says Massimo Pezzini, a Gartner analyst.

Benefit 3: Liberation leads to creativity

It's not surprising that open source aggregation and integration skills have developed rapidly in France and spread elsewhere in Europe. "In the US, open source projects tend to be narrow and only for leading-edge organizations, whereas in Europe they're mainstream," Pezzini says, adding that France leads the way, followed by the Nordic countries. "European organizations have a business opportunity to combine multiple [open source] point projects into solutions for virtual private networks, SOA enablement, business intelligence," and so on, he says.

Consider the French word for open source, logiciellibre, meaning "free software" in the sense of "free as in speech, not free as in beer." Logiciellibre could easily be the rallying cry of the global open source community. Freed from the shackles of narrow point products, secretive software components and forced workarounds, French open source developers are encouraged to experiment creatively and liberally.

Recognizing the advantage of such effective creativity when applied across the entire IT spectrum, French universities are in the forefront of teaching open source to the new generation of developers and IT managers. "The key [for the US] is to introduce more support for open source in universities and colleges," Pezzini says.

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