A Telling Year Ahead For Free And Open Source Technologies18/03/2008 by Kaitlin Mara, Intellectual Property Watch Leave a CommentShare this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)IP-Watch is a non-profit independent news service, and depends on subscriptions. To access all of our content, please subscribe now. You may also offer additional support with your subscription, or donate.By Kaitlin Mara The year 2008 is one of consolidation and maturation for alternatives to traditional intellectual property rights made possible by the ease of information transfer via the Internet. The free and open source software community is growing more prominent, and the access to knowledge communities are expanding to include a broader range and deeper understanding of their issues.Free and Open Source SoftwareNo longer the domain solely of computer programmers and technology enthusiasts, free and open source software (FOSS) has entered the mainstream. As such, the year ahead likely will see further consolidation among distributors of free software and more attention paid to the specifics of licensing around open source projects, as the distributors of open source technologies compete with proprietary software owners, according to sources.Georg Greve, president of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE), predicted use of free software would expand from home computing into bigger corporations and into government offices. “The ecosystem is maturing,” he told Intellectual Property Watch. Technology writer Glyn Moody of www.opendotdotdot.blogspot.com agreed, telling Intellectual Property Watch that there was a “paradigm-shifting trend, already changing the software industry.”Greve predicted that 2008 will see more government interest in free software, and his colleague Shane Coughlin, FSFE’s “freedom task force coordinator,” predicted the industry sector would become further professionalised in the upcoming year. Suzy Struble of Sun Microsystems said to Intellectual Property Watch that governments would confront whether it was fair to use public funds to purchase products containing proprietary source code.Some members of the European Parliament have expressed support for a complaint filed at the governmental body saying that its current near-exclusive use of Microsoft’s software limits the ability of constituents who do not use that software to send and receive information from their members of parliament (see IPW, Internet and Communications Technology, 6 March 2008)FOSS and DevelopmentThe upcoming year also may see discussion of FOSS and open standards as an issue of international development policy. The Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA) is holding its third African conference on open source software from 16 to 20 March. Nnenna Nwakanma of FOSSFA told Intellectual Property Watch that this year is particularly significant as it showcases South Africa as “the first African country to go open,” meaning to make the commitment to using free and open source software and open standards. She added that this first step would be a way to commit other countries to ‘making the knowledge economy work for Africa.’The World Intellectual Property Organization secretariat mentions in its comments on the 45 agreed recommendations for a WIPO Development Agenda a possible study on “the impact on creativity of open access, open source and other emerging copyright licensing schemes” as a way of implementing the agenda. A Development Agenda recommendation refers to the public domain and another to open access models such as the Human Genome Project.New innovations in hardware might also boost the free software market share, said blogger Moody, citing the recent release of the Elonex One laptop, a new education-oriented laptop that credits the use of the free software kernel Linux in its operating system as a major reason it was able to achieve an asking price of £99 (approximately US$200). The Windows operating system, Moody added, is too expensive and too memory intensive to work on this kind of product. Windows XP has been released on a more expensive mini-laptop Asus Eee PC, though the Eee PC was originally optimized for GNU/Linux and the XO mini-laptop made for children in developing countries by the One Laptop Per Child Foundation runs only FOSS software on the idea that “transparency is empowering.”These cheaper prices, combined with programmes like One Laptop Per Child, are expected to make it easier for more of the developing world to access computers and the Internet.Industry and FOSSThe ready availability of an increasing number of free alternatives to proprietary software means young computer programmers are not required to purchase proprietary tools in order to learn. This is could spell bad news for major companies, and could be a reason behind software giant Microsoft’s new initiative DreamSpark, which provides university students with free access to its design and development software.IBM, a long-time user of open source software, is reaching into universities as well, announcing in early March a software Innovation and Collaboration Lab at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York that is aimed at involving students in collaborative development of Web 2.0/social networking compatible software.Sun Microsystems, one of the world’s largest open-source software distributors, has continued building up its portfolio of products, buying database software maker MySQL in January and agreeing to buy Innotek, developer of the open source product VirtualBox, in February.Access to KnowledgeThe broader access to knowledge (A2K) movement is “becoming unified,” according to Peter Suber, an open access policy strategist and philosophy professor at Earlham College (US). But he said this unification is complex and the term “access to knowledge” is not always used to describe communities that advocate for open access to academic research, educational resources and scientific knowledge.There are competing forces at work within communities addressing access to information, Suber said in an interview. The first is towards specification: where open access to information used to be a narrow enough topic to be handled by just one person, there is now so much happening in the field that researchers are further specifying the area they cover. Experts are increasingly picking a specific focus, such as open access to academic journals, or open access to courseware. But this coming to a greater detail among subtopics is not equivalent to fragmentation, he cautioned. Instead, he told Intellectual Property Watch, there is an increasing awareness of “common interest” and “over-arching themes.”Universities seem to be gaining greater interest in the free dissemination of their scholars’ work. For instance, Harvard University announced in February that it would make all of its Arts and Sciences faculty’s scholarly works available in an open access database. They are not the first university to do this, Suber said, adding that there is a growing trend for universities to require their faculty to make their work openly available. The 2008 Electronic Publications Conference, to be held 25-27 June, will focus on the topic of open scholarship in Web 2.0.There is also a growing sense that limits on access to knowledge are not solely about intellectual property. John Wilbanks, executive director of Science Commons, told Intellectual Property Watch that limits on access to scientific information are as much about finding out that the data exists as they are about there being proprietary ownership on the data.In another key event, the fourth global iSummit will be held in Sapporo, Japan from 29 July to 1 August. This is a meeting place for members of iCommons, an organisation dedicated to the development of an international commons movement unifying open education, open access to publishing, access to knowledge, and free software communities.Open standards tensionThe most debated 2008 issue for the FOSS community appears to be the International Standards Organization’s (ISO) decision on whether to approve a set of specifications originally authored by Microsoft, called Office Open XML (OOXML), as an international document standard (IPW, Access to Knowledge, 27 February 2008; IPW, Access to Knowledge, 29 February 2008). Opponents argue that OOXML is too complicated for third party innovators to create compatible software, and fear that its adoption as a standard could mean that small developers and free software distributors could be marginalised. Proponents disagree, and assert that OOXML’s fidelity to past versions of Microsoft’s document makes it a standard that ensures the future ability to access old documents.ISO is waiting for all of its voting members to weigh in – representatives have until 29 March to submit a final vote – but either way, the choice is predicted to have a profound effect on how word processing data is accessed.Licensing and Free SoftwareWith increased professionalism, noted Coughlin, comes more responsibility for successful projects to ensure that they use licences appropriate for free and open source projects.Open source company Red Hat, for example, announced in early March that it added two senior attorneys to its intellectual property team, to work on issues of open source software licensing, patents, and trademarks.Refining the way that free software projects protect their output is likely to become increasingly important in 2008 and the years that follow, as companies examine what precise rights are needed to guarantee the freedom of their software packages and what kinds of licences can guarantee those rights without weighing down the end user.One of the goals of the GNU and Creative Commons licences – widely used free software and free documentation licences – is to be “viral” so that “anything created from free content remains free,” said Mike Godwin, general counsel for the Wikimedia Foundation, which manages free encyclopaedia Wikipedia and several related projects.Already in 2008, Sun Microsystems has committed to moving its OpenOffice to a newer version of the Lesser General Public Licence, in order to “further protect the community from software patents.” According to OpenOffice, the new licence is “clearer” and offers “better patent protection.”Russ Nelson of the Open Source Initiative said that he was becoming convinced that contributor licences – which allow software distributors to “create a combined work and re-licence it to others using a copyright licence”- are more important than a copyright licence, which only allows for the creation and distribution of derivative works.The most watched licence migration in 2008 likely will be not for software but for the free, collaboratively developed encyclopaedia, Wikipedia. A big issue for Wikipedia in 2007, said Godwin, was the effort to harmonise a licence between the Free Software Movement’s Free Documentation License and a Creative Commons Share and Share Alike licence. The harmonisation will, he said, allow people to reuse “free content in a less onerous way.” An agreement was reached in November (Intellectual Property Watch Monthly Reporter, December 2007/January 2008). Godwin added that it would be “not unreasonable to believe that by the end of 2008 we’ll have this work done, or mostly [done].”Free or Open?Also likely to continue this year is an ongoing debate over what free and open source means. Though the terms are often used interchangeably, Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation and creator of the free software movement, argues that this is a mistake, and the term “open source” misses the point that it was only coined as a way to talk about free software “without alluding to [the] ideals” of the free software movement. Open source focuses on the business and practical side, whereas free software focuses on the ethical value of freedom to operate with one’s own data. Free software promises that users be able to run programmes for any purpose, to study, alter, and improve a programme’s source code, and to redistribute copies of both the original software and improved versions. The definition of open source software according to the Open Source Initiative is similar. However, Stallman said that “open source” implies the source code is the most important criteria, when what should be emphasised is freedom.Kaitlin Mara may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Share this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Related"A Telling Year Ahead For Free And Open Source Technologies" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.