Predicting the future of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) over the next twelve years is not an easy task. However, drawing on a variety of expertise (analysts, think tanks, etc.) and looking at existing technologies, certain trends do seem to stand out as being relatively certain to arrive at maturity in a more or less definitive timescale. And we don’t need a crystal ball to anticipate that in the years to come, transformational technologies will emerge
– these are the technologies that will have an impact on how our society evolves, and include:
“Cloud Computing”: delivering computing power, storage and applications via Internet (Software as a Service – SaaS).
“Green IT”: optimum and sustainable usage of IT resources for organizations and their supply chains, for hardware, energy or applications.
“Ambient Computing” or “Internet of Things”: the capacity of simple objects to communicate between themselves and with other systems.
Virtual organizations: from ‘tele-working’ to the world of avatars, and the application of social networking practices to the enterprise or to teaching.
Heightened reality: the capacity to enrich human senses with additional information.
Mobile robots: from functional objects to autonomous behaviour profiles.
Looking at the various FLOSS components that exist already, and taking into account projects being formulated in relation to a range of technological developments, we can then forecast how FLOSS will be adopted against this backdrop (this first diagram - Fig. 1 - served as the outline structure informing our analyses on the subject of the 2020 FLOSS Roadmap).
The lower part of this diagram describes some emerging technologies and general trends in IT. The upper part of the diagram describes how we anticipate FLOSS will be adopted by a large number of end-users (companies, public sector bodies, individuals) over the next 12 years. All of the above trends go hand in hand with, and are made possible by, the availability of increasing Internet bandwidth.
All of the above appears quite logical given the current state of scientific and technological knowledge, assuming, that is, we don’t need to include other events that might affect the way human society evolves. However, in 2008, we are seeing a departure from this purely logical forecast.
In 2008, the future appears more uncertain than ever. We are living through a truly historic period in the sense that nothing will ever be as it was before. This break with the past can be seen to be the result of two factors converging: energy resources needed by economic development becoming scarcer and the impact of the recent crisis in the world’s financial system (amply confirming the ineffectiveness of its regulatory systems). The result of this convergence is a systemic crisis, on a global scale, that is destabilizing both the real economy (commerce, industry, transport, work, etc.) and the virtual one: in real terms, it is not just the speculative financial bubble that is at issue here, but also Web 2.0 and its energy requirements. For example, a virtual Second Life avatar would consume 1,752 kWh of real electrical power annually, or as much as one Brazilian person2; and according to certain calculations performed recently, Google would consume 2.1 tera-watt-hours in a year, which is equivalent to the energy consumption of two nuclear reactors3. Since Information and Communication Technology industries will in no way be spared the effects of this crisis, technology providers must now take ethical and environmental considerations on board when planning the development of their activities and products.
Though it may seem paradoxical, this period of transformation also has certain advantages: it is leading to reform, and bringing about change. The period of uncertainty that followed the events of 11 September 2001 forced companies to put in place restrictive measures, and notably to curtail staff mobility, but is it not the case that this in turn encouraged the creation and use of remote conferencing collaborative tools and networks? Today, lower budgets will force organizations to reassess their investments, and to try, as a result, to optimize their development projects. This should have the result of favoring “low cost” solutions and in particular, the development of FLOSS applications. When considering any prospective work, then, we must absolutely take this analysis into account. Fast developing countries in the South such as China, India, or Brazil have fully grasped the significance of this and are developing a strong industrial and public policy around FLOSS applications so as to reduce the digital divide that separates them from Northern countries.
Finally, 2008 also brings hope. The message for change radiating from the USA rings out as a strident and symbolic call for openness and equality. In the same way, we are seeing widespread acknowledgement of the urgent need to preserve our environmental heritage. So this is a turning point at which we can envisage a different kind of future, one built upon the basis of a new, more just social contract, with ecologically acceptable development programs, and more open international relationships.
2 Nicholas Carr (December 5, 2006) in "Avatars consume as much electricity as Brazilians
3Charlotte Houang (June 14, 2007) "Les fermes "cachées" de Google, grosses consommatrices d'énergie" in Le Monde.fr
FLOSS applications are already present in many of our new technologies. Digital and virtual objects are literally packed full of FLOSS applications, whether embedded in GPS navigators, ADSL connectors or sensors, or even infrastructure applications for enterprises in their servers or networks, or whether, again, it is a question of products destined for the wider public like smart phones, netbooks, or even virtual worlds, social networks or online encyclopedias. We can also now confirm that FLOSS applications are an integral part of the components used by the Industry (see Theme 2 as regards FLOSS and Innovation). These have certain intrinsic qualities – for example, their adaptability - when it comes to designing complex architectures and Information Systems. Meanwhile, to be fully effective in the service of Information Systems, new principles for information system governance are also required (see Theme 5 on this subject).
In the recent past, the “Linux adventure” set in motion by Linus Torvalds at the University of Helsinki in 1991 constructed on foundations set up by Richard Stallman in 1984 with the GNU project, and more particularly with the GPL license guaranteeing toll-free source code, and offering a legal framework for collaborative development, has had huge repercussions on the Industry. This has brought other FLOSS applications under the spotlight (from Apache Server to OpenOffice.org), and enabled other start-ups to hit the ground running (from Red Hat to MySQL), enterprises to prosper (from Internet access providers to IBM) and developers to add value to their experience, legal experts to expand their expertise, and researchers to communicate the results of their research or improve their tools, etc. Linux has literally been a catalyst in encouraging the appearance of veritable and fertile ecosystems. It really has been a momentous turning point, and has changed the way we do things in the industry (as much in the development models cited as in the corresponding business models) and has also helped new markets to flourish.
Now is the moment when we need to examine the question of sustainability for FLOSS, or again look at the influence they could have on tomorrow’s technologies. Will FLOSS always be part of the industrial landscape in 2020? What part will they play in the Information Society of the future?
At a time when history is challenging us, with market self-regulation under the microscope once more, and with our obligation to reinvent a more sustainable, cleaner economy in which we must plan for a future that is very different from expert predictions, the model developed by the FLOSS communities in the widest sense of the term (i.e. communities bringing together individuals, enterprises, researchers and users) in the course of these last 25 years, offers a remarkable example of the creation of wealth based on open collaborations and innovative projects. Mobilized in the quest to find innovative technological solutions, a large number of members of these FLOSS Communities adhere to ethical values such as citizenship, equality or again transparency. Eager to develop as many useful technologies as possible, they aim to contribute more actively to a more equitable, and more open, future.
It seems to us that taking industrial resources, market acceptance and technological progress together, conditions are conducive to launching initiatives that could lead to widespread economic development, and that this would in turn have a significant impact on a large number of activities, enterprises, and as a result, on employment. According to analysts4, FLOSS could represent from 26 to 32% of software and IT services investment by 2012, which is equivalent to 2% of GDP for a country like France. This would mean that FLOSS would become the driver for the information technologies industry, and the main growth vector (with green industries) for our economies. And with this is mind, should we take the (economical) step of affording closer scrutiny of this subject? This is our aim, and hopefully one we can share with others using this study as a vehicle to reach players likely to move things forward.
The contributors to this study have tried to identify how FLOSS applications will affect our society in the future. Together, we have studied different domains such as public policies, research and innovation, ecosystems, and employment to identify the resources to uphold this model that so closely mirrors our concerns today, in the hope that it could contribute to the “rebooting” of the economy. The following diagram (cf. Figure 2) summarizes our predictions: this, then, is the FLOSS Roadmap for the 12 years to come.
Looking ahead to the future, we have given infrastructures priority in our approach, given the strong power infrastructure investments have to bring with them significant development in numerous domains. And to build a solid Information Society, we need to start with firm foundations: FLOSS could play a fundamental role in the deployment of infrastructures for all players in this future society. This diagram subdivides into three successive layers. The first layer describes FLOSS R&D as we imagine it could be in the future. In the second layer, we can see the impact these developments will have on businesses and other usages. Finally, the third layer shows the repercussions that these developments and new usages will have on the future Information Society.
4 Rishab Ayeb Gosh, MERIT (2007) in Floss Impact www.flossimpact.eu , Bob Igou, GARTNER (20 March 2008) in “Open Source Software Impact on IT Services Purchasing Patterns, 2008”
Prediction #1: Global Digital Divide reduced thanks to FLOSS
FLOSS is considered as key to the sustainable development of a common asset.
The IT Industry is actively contributing to, and working towards, digital fairness vs. digital divide.
Global legal environments protecting collaborative developments now exist, based on common sense and common interests.
Prediction #2: FLOSS is now mainstream
FLOSS has become the de facto standard for IT Industry segments such as infrastructure, development tools, scientific computing and some embedded applications.
Investment and resources are shared by Industry players to facilitate lower R&D costs and energy savings.
FLOSS development models are adopted by both IT Industry and IT departments.
Most IT domains have their own FLOSS communities.
Most commercial Software Vendors have their own open source effort.
Industry makes significant use of global platforms based on FLOSS models to develop innovative technologies and implement Open Standards and Interoperable Open Services.
FLOSS Policies for the Enterprise are in place in most companies in order to define FLOSS governance within the Enterprise and capitalize on the value of their contributions to FLOSS.
Prediction #3 : FLOSS Communities are enablers of Business Ecosystems
These business ecosystems are based on a combination of FLOSS and proprietary models. Forges are now the developer's ERP, and FLOSS forges are FLOSS market places.
Specialized forges exist which are dedicated to specific themes, technologies and companies.
Prediction #4: Cloud Computing is ubiquitous
Social networks are the main way to interact and communicate, and fulfil governmental, commercial and individual requirements.
Enterprises are implementing Cloud Computing based on Open Clouds to support major sections of their Information Systems.
Mobile devices, ambient computing and smart objects rely on Open Cloud Services to provide a seamless digital existence.
Prediction #5: The IT industry is the champion of eco-responsibility
From Green Datacenters to ecological networks via optic fibers, IT is developing Green technologies and methods.
Green IT and Green Clouds are the next industrial revolution, giving rise to new Services and Business Models with low ecological impacts.
Prediction #6: FLOSS is a strategic tool for Enterprise IT 3.0, i.e. Open IT
A new generation of CIOs are highly conscious of the risks of vendor lock-in.
They are considering FLOSS as a vaccine against the risk of abusive behavior from a commercial vendor.
FLOSS enables a mix of Open Services and companies' business logic.
Prediction #7: 40% of jobs in IT are FLOSS related
Assuming 2% growth in IT employment annually, this translates directly into 1.5 million jobs in Europe i.e. the creation of 1.2 million completely new jobs.
In addition, thousands of jobs are created as a spin-off from other IT jobs and activities impacted by FLOSS usage.
FLOSS engineering is considered as a truly professional segment.
FLOSS engineers and contributors have become a highly skilled, open minded and flexible resource.
Educating new FLOSS engineers is seen as a priority by educational institutions all around the world, and corresponding curricula are supported by universities.
FLOSS means a cultural shift in Human Resources Management for Open IT.
These recommendations have been formulated in the hope that these predictions may come true.
Recommendation #1: Define a stable, clear and neutral legal context
From patents to public procurement and interoperability, this context is instrumental for FLOSS to enable creation of wealth, be it in public or private domains (most of these recommendations are detailed in Theme 1 focusing on public policies).
Under the influence of Cloud Computing and SaaS, the need for consolidation in the domain of FLOSS licenses is mandatory in order to clarify the stakes.
Due to the proliferation of new services, it is also highly recommended that Open Standards and Open Services are defined and regulated by Governments in order to avoid new service monopolies.
Finally, international regulating bodies are needed to oversee and enforce contractual commitments concerning safety, privacy and security according to corresponding Industry standards for these highly critical aspects.
Recommendation #2: Invest in FLOSS R&D for strategic technologies and services
In technological domains such as distributed computing, virtualization, autonomic computing and mobility, software sharing that facilitates technology transfer and a lower entry barriers will enable the development of new business areas capable of delivering global and large scale services. More precisely, in domains which are highly critical for public sector administrative bodies, companies and citizens, such as safety, security and privacy, the development of FLOSS resources should be considered as strategic.
Incentives in term of funding, facilities, open infrastructures, scientific foundations, etc. should be put in place to encourage academic R&D and private research establishments to collaborate and develop these critical technologies. Since the timeframe for technology transfer from academia to industry is quite lengthy, we highly recommend opening FLOSS-specific research centers as soon as possible.
Efforts must also be made to encourage, and make it simpler for Communities of FLOSS developers to participate in R&D programs. Furthermore we recommend the creation of Venture Funds specifically focusing on FLOSS to help entrepreneurs set up their FLOSS businesses.
Recommendation #3: Develop FLOSS education, skill and employment
To facilitate access to knowledge and reduce the digital divide, FLOSS awareness needs to be developed in universities and other educational centers. Specifically tailored Curricula for FLOSS in IT Higher Education should be developed to produce highly skilled professionals which are necessary for the future Knowledge Economy.
Companies consuming or producing FLOSS should also have a clear FLOSS policy concerning usage of FLOSS within their core Business or within their operations. In this perspective, voluntary work in FLOSS projects should be considered as a plus for employers.
Validation of FLOSS professional experience and FLOSS Professional certification are needed to establish a trustworthy relationship between employers and FLOSS professional developers.
Recommendation #4: Create Open Platforms based on Open Standards and Open Services
These open infrastructures will enable new networks and new markets to be developed thanks to new open interfaces supporting new services (public or private). Demonstrating a real opportunity for new business and facilitating innovative R&D, these platforms will reinforce competition and promote the need for interoperability of different platforms. These platforms will be instrumental in innovation by enabling a mix of different skills and knowledge sharing. Finally, by supporting social networks and social software, these platforms will promote usage of FLOSS in the mass consumer market.
Recommendation #5: Establish Openness as a standard for Innovation and Business
Openness when applied in high scale, has proved to be efficient in terms of innovation and creation of wealth (cf. Internet, Web, FLOSS, etc.). The massive adoption of Open Standards by Public Administrations and Large Organizations will facilitate market education about the value of Openness (Open Standards, Open Interfaces, Open Platforms, Open Services, Open Processes, etc.) as a lever for Innovation, not only for R&D but also for all kind of business and related processes.
Clarification of business models is also highly critical in order for markets to understand the value of Openness and FLOSS. Consequently we recommend that Companies going into business with FLOSS have a clear, replicable and readable business model. The same recommendation applies for FLOSS Communities.
Recommendation #6: Promote FLOSS adoption and usage
Clear and unambiguous messages are needed from governments for their administrations in their invitations to tender, from public sector bodies when they publish their best practices, and from large companies through the publication of reference test cases about usage in the field. All organizations reaping the advantages of using FLOSS should consider contributing to FLOSS sustainability, and this promotional effort should be considered as the very least that should be offered to compensate for the availability of FLOSS software.
Specific effort should be envisaged by Industry to encourage the usage of FLOSS tools in all engineering cycles.
On the other hand, we recommend that FLOSS developers themselves use all necessary tools to build a trustworthy relationship with users of their code e.g. life cycle management, quality assurance, IPR tracking, automatic certification of code, etc. in order to ensure quality according to Industry level standards.
Recommendation #7: Encourage FLOSS users to contribute to FLOSS
While some companies are still reluctant to transfer code they have developed to FLOSS projects, there is also a clear need to encourage contributions from FLOSS users (from Public Adminsitrations to Industry and Research). This is a key element in what we call the “Ecology of FLOSS”. FLOSS code bases are shared: we need to manage and maintain these code bases as rare and precious resources, because the future Information Society depends on them. Every means must be put in place to educate FLOSS users to contribute as well as consume. For instance, FLOSS developments should be considered as R&D effort. In this respect, incentives such as tax relief may help. Active collaborations and interactions between FLOSS Communities and all potential contributors must also be encouraged and facilitated.
This issue is critical, and has been explored during different debates concerning the way public sector administrations might contribute to FLOSS, the commitment of Researchers to FLOSS, or the sustainability of FLOSS ecosystems.
Recommendation #8: Develop inter-actions between FLOSS Communities
More cross fertilization between different FLOSS communities of developers should be encouraged. To facilitate code sharing and interoperability of infrastructures, making shared infrastructures available could be envisaged through national or international programs. All existing infrastructures such as SourceForge.net or code.google.com which have offered to host projects, are not focused enough in term of technologies or not “business neutral” enough to guarantee fairness and autonomy to hosted projects. Independent shared infrastructures are needed to facilitate open contributions and ease adoption from the user's point of view by simplifying the relationships between projects, communities and users and by guaranteeing that there is no hidden agenda. Shared infrastructures would also leverage the operating costs of communities and consequently would help their sustainability.
To encourage adoption of their code base, FLOSS Communities should also take care of interoperability within their projects. Furthermore, they should ensure interoperability with other code bases.
It would be naive to ignore the fact that there are significant risks which could prevent these opportunities from ever seeing the light of day.
Firstly, on the part of industry, the danger is that this vision is not shared.
Certain technological domains such as security, for example, are considered to be domains reserved exclusively for the proprietary approach, so these divergences from agendas can prevent the different parties from converging to arrive at a single viewpoint, or at the very least, they hinder such a convergence.
Next, the length of time authorities as organizations take to develop is quite different to that taken by enterprises, communities, or internet users.
From this, indeed, stems the difficulty of synchronizing large-scale projects and collaborative ventures that are both effective and iterative. Not including the market “ideology” and non-interventionist rules public policies can impose on economic activities (although these have been wielded wrongfully in recent times, these rules are still the order of the day in Europe, if nowhere else).
On the part of FLOSS Communities, the “Top Down” approach is not appropriate since contributors must above all be motivated.
In this way, the “organic” character so closely associated with the success of FLOSS projects is not automatic, and in fact depends on a large number of factors, among them the inherent interest the project has, and the capacity of its developers to attract participation.
Finally, as far as the marketplace is concerned, the effects of networks are already making themselves felt, and notably to do with Cloud Computing, for example.
The power this commands even now to attract users and developers also means that some platforms are in an extremely dominant position – and can even pose a threat to some players that in the past themselves dominated the market. Their dominance is amplified to the extent that their financial prowess can be huge, enabling them to make very diverse investments in R&D, or in mergers or acquisitions.
Taking as read the example of what FLOSS Communities’ have achieved in twenty years, and how they have transformed the industrial landscape of Information Technologies and the global Community, we are convinced that the goals and perspectives our researches have highlighted are achievable.
In the same way as numerous FLOSS have come into existence, only a handful of contributors are needed to undertake major projects on condition that they can collaborate effectively. Only a few pioneers are needed to make great discoveries on condition that they have a common aim. Any major voyage starts with a simple step forward, on condition that the step is taken in the right direction.