A Peek At Open Source In 10 Years - InformationWeek

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12/3/2008
10:39 AM
Serdar Yegulalp
Serdar Yegulalp
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A Peek At Open Source In 10 Years

The folks at the Open World Forum are looking ahead to the year 2020 to see what the world of FLOSS (free, "libre" and open source software) holds. The future they see is rosy, but requires hard work to reach.

The folks at the Open World Forum are looking ahead to the year 2020 to see what the world of FLOSS (free, "libre" and open source software) holds. The future they see is rosy, but requires hard work to reach.

Their glimpse into the future comes in the form of a report that takes existing trends in FLOSS, extrapolates them 10 years, and talks about what needs to be done between then and now. They also forecast how FLOSS will affect not just the IT industry but society as a whole, through "open education" and "digital fairness".

A fair chunk of this does come off as utopian fluff, like the minutes from a TED conference as jotted down breathlessly by the likes of Wired circa 10 years back. Still, there's also a great deal of it that consists of genuinely useful directives and recommendations -- how to organize the FLOSS marketplace; how to make FLOSS welcome in the public sector; and -- this one I find particularly important -- how to make sure FLOSS development communities emerge and stay healthy.

Another big challenge seen in the report: a shortage of people who "get" FLOSS and can work with it and in it without stumbling. The recommendations for getting around this include fomenting broader usage of FLOSS in universities (including teaching curricula about FLOSS specifically), and more immersion in other settings as well.

My biggest caveat about reports like this -- especially where open source is concerned -- is twofold. One is the realm of future predictions: if I had a dime for every time someone predicted technology X would be the wave of the future, only to have it fizzle and become a curiosity, I'd probably have enough to pay for my next plane ticket. Speculating about what we are going to be doing and using even 10 years down the road is a complete crapshoot, FLOSS or not.

The other is the nature of the recommendations, and the nature of the audience receiving them. The open source community, no matter where it incarnates, hates being lectured to; it wants to discover its own way of doing things right. That's both one of its biggest assets and most telling deficiencies. I wouldn't say they need to listen to reports like this to get an idea of how to continue, but it might be useful to see one of the other major FLOSS organizations -- the Linux Foundation, for instance -- look at this paper and produce a point-by-point response from their own POV. And then, of course, go and get things done.


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