Open Source: What You Can Learn From the French

A decade ago, European countries leapt out of the gate to take the lead in the radical open source movement -- none more so than France -- and left U.S. developers in the proverbial dust. Through policies and high-profile projects, the French Republic for years has been advocating for all open source all the time, in government and education.

And France is not stopping: This summer, an economic commission set up by French President Nicolas Sarkozy recommended tax benefits to stimulate even more open source development.

Today, France is arguably the most fertile ground for open source development in the world. The well-known and respected OW2 Consortium for open source middleware has its roots there. Giant corporations, such as France Télécom, have embraced open source whole-heartedly.

The fruits of this labor reveal a lesson that U.S. developers would do well to take note: Everyone prospers when working together under a single, shared technology vision.

Benefit 1: A Focus from the Outset

France's future grip on open source looks particularly strong, as it courts the next generation of open source developers. French authorities, for instance, handed out 175,000 open-source-software-equipped memory sticks to high school students last year. Technical universities have made open source their top priority, and some offer advanced degrees.

"All students in France use open source," says Bertrand Diard, CEO and co-founder of Talend, a French pioneer of open source data integration software. "A lot of universities in the U.S., except probably MIT, use traditional tools like Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP." As a result, open source talent is more prevalent in France, Diard says; development is faster, and software quality is higher because French developers aren't distracted by proprietary and competing technology. "The culture of open source is more advanced here."

So what should U.S. developers, IT managers, and business execs learn from France's open source experience? "Change your vision," says Marc Sallieres, CEO at Altic, a French open source integrator.

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.

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