I don't know how I overlooked this article in InfoWorld last month about open source in France but it is an interesting read. My only qualm was that the article should have taken regional realities into account, i.e. North American. Instead it focused solely on the U.S. when bringing Canada into the picture might have shed additional light on the points made. Nonetheless, facts are facts and France headlines a Europe that as of today, is light years ahead of the U.S. in terms of a general openness to open source adoption at a national level. Why is this? In my experience interacting with a number players (vendors, third party integrators, customers) on both sides of the Atlantic, there are several factors at play:
- More comfort closer to the cutting edge. Initial success with open source leads to more mission-critical investments faster in Europe. For example, from an operations perspective, I've noted less apprehension related to making major migrations to open source platforms like Linux. While the use of leading open source development tools such as Eclipse and Subversion, is roughly the same, adoption of open source testing tools such as Selenium, FIT/FitNesse, and soapUI is higher and closer to leading edge in [Western] Europe.
- More interest in making strategic investments. In the US, widespread momentum to continue to push further exploitation of the opportunities afforded by the open source movement has yet to take hold across the board. As an example, I see the current level of interest in using open source technologies in the infrastructure layer for application services and data services, e.g. business intelligence (BI) and enterprise service bus (ESB) capabilities, as being dwarfed by the quality of options available.
- Progress is prized similarly to "readiness." I was able to contact one enterprise architect from a fairly large IT shop in France who described an enterprise-wide initiative at his company to bring a full stack of open source software to user desktops. He was adamant that the program's progress has been slow and rife with challenges associated with migrating users and installations from existing Microsoft productivity tools to open source alternatives. And no, the company doesn't think that Microsoft is going anywhere anytime soon. They are just aware of the benefits (and savings) to be realized by taking a long term approach to opening their desktops.
Still, any subject related to cultural and political differences is never so easily transcribed that a single article or blog post can do it justice. So while there is a certain comfort in the fact that source code and application binaries transcend national boundaries and cultures with relative ease, the reality is far less objective. There are few absolutes with regards to even technology adoption. And the following should be considered:
- Regions prove more diverse than general trends. For those who've noticed, [North] American decision-makers tend to remain more concerned about the potential downsides of open source than their European counterparts, but this doesn't qualify as grounds to fully quantify adoption.
- Open source adoption remains a nebulous term. Quantifying use of a fully open source project is still more art than science. As a result, we've yet to reach a point where fully reliable usage rates can be produced...especially for entire regions.
- Worldwide consumption still exceeds participation. Organizations worldwide have yet to realize the benefits to be gained by contributing to vibrant open source ecosystems. This consumer-focused stance is typical of most large IT organizations. In short companies, across the world are still focused primarily on consuming open source and maybe establishing dedicated internal support teams. I eagerly await the day this changes.
What can be taken from the article is that the French, from a national level down, have demonstrated very high levels of open source acceptance. That doesn't mean that the French sell the most open source products or can boast the most open source companies. Neither does it mean that France is suddenly the pre-eminent hotspot for open source activity across the globe. It simply means that the country has set an example for others to follow in its footsteps.