May 31, 2005 3:13 PM PDT

IT giants accused of exploiting open source

A senior figure at the European Commission launched an outspoken attack on several major American IT firms on Monday, accusing them of exerting too much influence on the progress of the open-source community.

Jesus Villasante, the head of software technologies at the EC's Information Society and Media Directorate General, said that big companies such as IBM, HP and Sun are just using the open-source community as subcontractors rather than encouraging the community to develop independent commercial products.

"IBM says to a customer, 'Do you want proprietary or open software?' Then (if they want open source) they say, 'OK, you want IBM open source.' It is (always) IBM or Sun or HP open source," asserted Villasante, speaking at a debate on open-source innovation at the Holland Open Software Conference in Amsterdam.

"Companies are using the potential of communities as subcontractors--the open-source community today (is a) subcontractor of American multinationals," added Villasante, who called on the open-source community to develop more independence from these large companies.

"Open-source communities need to take themselves seriously and realize they have made a contribution to themselves and society. From the moment they realize they are part of the evolution of society and try to influence it, we will be moving in the right direction," Villasante said.

Villasante's comments appeared to startle his fellow panelists, including James Baty, chief architect of Sun ONE Consulting. Experts have previously argued that major corporations such as IBM have made a valuable contribution by supporting open-source software, as they have helped to persuade businesses and IT professionals that open-source software is a credible alternative to proprietary options.

Baty did not respond directly to Villasante's comments, but said that companies such as his have a responsibility to contribute to the open-source community. Sun contributes to a number of open-source projects, including the open-source productivity application OpenOffice.org.

"There are companies that are takers from the open-source community, other companies are taking the attitude that they have to contribute," Baty said. "(Open source) should be seen as an opportunity, not as something to capture and abuse."

Villasante used his keynote speech earlier in the day to express concerns about the European software industry.

"What I think is that Europe doesn't have a software industry today--the only one we have today is in America. In the future we may have China or India. We should decide if we will have a European software industry in the future," he said.

Villasante argued that open source is vital to the development of the European software industry, but that its progress has been inhibited by pressure from intellectual-property lobbyists and the traditional software industry, and by the fragmentation of the open-source community.

"Open source is a complete mess--many people do lots of different things. There's total confusion today," Villasante said.

A member of the audience pointed out that the European Commission was partly responsible for pushing through the software patent directive, which many believe will damage open source. Villasante responded that not everyone at the EC automatically supports this directive.

"Firstly, I'm not responsible for software patents--the software-patent directive is managed by the director general of Internal (Market). The opinion of the director general of Information Society (the division where Villasante works) is not necessarily the same as the director general of Internal."

Ingrid Marson of ZDNet UK reported from Amsterdam.

22 comments

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He doesn't get it.
If Villasante thinks that Open Source organizations can produce *commercial* products, then he has no idea what is going on or how Open Source works. He should stop talking about what Open Source orgs should do, and instead go and learn what they are all about.

Most Open Source organizations are quite happy to have commercial vendors use our code to build products. It can be a very symbiotic relationship.

Cheers,
-g
Posted by gstein67 (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
An ISO Model!
Since it appears that the EU does not now know where it will stand in terms of establishing its own "software" industry and in the light of the possible fragmentation within the open source community then perhaps a very good starting point will be for the EU to support the establishment an International Standards Organization (ISO) style agency (perhaps the United Nations or the World Bank funded and regulated) that will be responsible for setting the standards (Version #'s) of given software programs that can then be used in any part of the world. For all intent and purposes - how do one perceive a vibrant software industry emerging out of impoverished regions such as those in Latin America and Africa? With the establishment of such an international organization software application can then be easily sourced to the underdeveloped countries in the regions mentioned. In this case there will no likelihood of any one country such as China or India dominating the global software industry in the forseeable future!
Posted by (187 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not (entirely) a bad idea...
While I don't agree that Europe is bereft of a
software industry (they have quite a bit of
industry, it just isn't consolidated into
behemoths like has happened in the US), I do
agree, to a certain extent with the
establishement of a European ISO for software
standards.

This is happening to a certain extent in various
scientific and engineering fields, but it might
be nice to see it happen elsewhere.

I think we ought to implement a meta-standard
for software standards that requires any
software or data format standard: to have a
freely distributable open source reference
implementation, to have a process of phasing in
API modifications, to have documentation
indicating what portion of the implementation
constitutes the public API, and that it be
unencumbered by patents (the EU could either do
the research to find out, or modify patent rules
to grant exclusions for standard
implementations).

It has always bothered me that so many standards
are tossed out there that have no reference
implementation against which to test
compatibility or to design interoperability.
Posted by Gleeplewinky (289 comments )
Link Flag
Alternative to America?
Interesting quote..."What I think is that Europe doesn't have a software industry today--the only one we have today is in America. In the future we may have China or India...."

This is exactly the thought that is making the Yanks paranoid?!

- MB
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.garamchai.com/mohan" target="_newWindow">http://www.garamchai.com/mohan</a>
Posted by b2bhandshake (83 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yesterday's alternative to America?
What India China et al provide is yesterdays skillset. If you want cheap (quality?) coding done, you can get it in Asia.

If you want (b)leading edge the USA still rocks (P.S. these words brought to you by an EX cobol mainframer - now a Middleware engineer in an SOA world).
Posted by (409 comments )
Link Flag
Sheesh
Sounds like classic run-of-the-mill anti-corporate rhethoric to me. Don't get me wrong I do think M$ somtimes over steps its bounds. If open source has a better solution use it. If there is better solution by using proprietary software then use it. Simple as that. You use what works best for you.
Posted by mrhex (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
FU EU
Here's a good place to stsrt, maybe try working more than 35 hours a week,then maybe you might be able to develope a "european software industry"!Oh wait, then it might not be free!Those evil corporation are always trying to make money.
Posted by (17 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How about this...
I work in Belgium, I work 39.5 hours a week officially and + 5to10 additionally.

Is that long enough for you?

Don't give me your BS. US employees are not working harder than EU employees (at least not those from Belgium). They just boast more about it than us.
Posted by Steven N (487 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Therein lies the differences between the US and the EU
US policy makers need to be listening to this. While the claims being made against the US corporations are entirely without merit and are literally nothing more than whining borne of inferiority (nothing personal, Europe, we do it, too), it's worth noting how the governments act in the interest of their local industries. If the US stopped favoring overseas enterprises and started defending their own home-grown industries, we'd be in a very different boat today.
Posted by Christopher Hall (1205 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Villasante Gets it Just right
The EU commission member Villasante is right on target. Open source as a community is a near total HOAX, because for a community to have any real influence &#38; power it needs to have leadership and leadership can only have power with access to Capital. I can prove this point in many ways, but will illustrate by the following fact only:

one of the so called leaders of Open Source was/is Linus Torvlads of Linux. This guy up to a year go to make a living, to pay his bills, to put food on the table for his family, etc. worked at a Chip manufacturing company in Silicon Valley. A company so secretive that beside the CIA was the only other company in the valley that had an incinator to burn their trash every day. (that is a lil side point, I mean trash burning, but still interesting fact for someone that is about open ideas). The main point being that he could not make a living of Linux, to the point that he had to work for a Hardware manufacturer. If Linux Open Source was such a viable offering, why could he not make any money from it? And if he was working full time for Linux, how much better would Linux have been?
And now Linus Torvlads works for an Open source organization which in Oregon which is funded by big hardware manufactures IBM, HP, etc.
Just like a lil kid that needs to be taken care off by Adults, rather than like a real business person who makes something and sells it.
Bottom line, Open Source as a business model is entirely flawed, again best evidence is that one of its pioneers/leaders Linus Torvlads cannot make money from it and needs to be taken care off by others who make money from selling Hardware. Are there exceptions, yes, but they are on fringes. But fundamentally it is a flawed model, one that really benefits big hardware manufacturers and big software makers, since no one can now easily get into the software business unless they have big Wallstreet (VC) funding since it is very difficult to sell software unless you have Millions from VCs to carry yourself for years, otherwise forget it. Again the best example is Linus Torvlads himself working 1st for a Hardware manufacturer, and now for a consortium that lives due to largess of its IBM, HP sager daddys.
Posted by Info_Max (52 comments )
Reply Link Flag
OpenSource isn't a business model...
I don't know why this simple statement is so overlooked: Open Source is NOT a business model!!!

"Open Source" is two things:

First, it's a legal definition (driven primarily by the General Public License and the Limited General Public License) that dictate how software is shared among other Open Source peers. It's free software -- free as in Freedom. Open Source is free of the constricting copyrights and intellectual property rights of a software company, and forbid any one interest from claiming ownership of open source.

Second: Open Source is a model of Software Development. It's a way of designing/building/maintaining software. Companies don't often practice good programming techniques, nor do they care about the quality of their product. There are programmers in this world who genuinely care about creating good software, and can't do that working for a software company. (Ironic isn't it?)

Any of this sinking in?

Open Source is NOT A BUSINESS MODEL! Open Source is for people who know how to write software and would like to contribute to a community of other programmers who also like to write software. It's a legal system to allow programmers the freedom to write software and share it with the open source communitee. It's also a design system that facilitates how numerous programmers can work together to build software.

Making money is not what open source is about. It's purely about the legal and organizational concerns of writting software. It is NOT about the business of software.

That being said, there's nothing explicitely stoping an open source programmer from trying to make money off this software. It's perfectly legal to try to sell open source software. It's pointless though, because you have to provide the source code for free to everyone.
Posted by Richard G. (137 comments )
Link Flag
Jesus doesn't want us to share?
I'm not sure that Villasante's reasoning is well
thought out. Open Source software is precisely
what people make of it, no more, no less.
There's no exploitation unless someone takes but
doesn't give something in return. It would be
very hard to argue that IBM, HP, and Sun have
not given anything in return; and companies that
get caught distributing GPL'd software without
heeding the license are ultimately called out.

It's true that companies (like MS) do take
open-source software (like the Win2K TCP/IP
stack) and give little back. But the original
authors explicitly permit this (BSD license),
knowing that may happen.

He's off-base when he calls OSS contributors
subcontractors of American business. Certainly,
some fall into that category. Some OSS
contributors are directly employed by those same
corporations (who employ MANY people). However,
each contributor contributes according to their
own interest, desire, and ability. If you are
working on a project with the desire to have it
used in commercial products, perhaps you want
the involvement of someone from a large company
as a patron of your project. But a quick review
of the contents of freshmeat.net, or
sourceforge.net would seem to indicate that most
projects are small teams working completely
independent of the influence of large companies,
and answering only to the niche that they
themselves decide to service.

Incidentally, I regularly use a digital video
editing application for Linux written by a
German company. I believe it's part of the
non-existant European software industry, and
though I paid money for it, I'm sure that the
Linux developers who they work with to implement
the DV I/O are exploited open-source
subcontractors of a major US corporation posing
as a small German firm. Yeah, that must be it.
Microsoft illictly making video product software
for Linux to undermine open-source innovation
and thwart development of a European software
industry -- how could I have missed that?
Posted by Gleeplewinky (289 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The EU and Jesus Villasante Just Don't Get It!
It is simply bizarre for Jesus Villasante to want to label a US company such as IBM that has contributed hundreds of millions of its corporate dollars and in computer code costs to the open-source community projects - the "Linux" and the "Eclipse" projects to name two of these. What the EU needs to do in order to establish their own "footprint" in the global software industry is to come up with value-added programs and services (well structured ones and not fragmented ones) and present these to the global economy. It appears that the EU and Jesus Villasante just do not get it at this time - the world is now living in a global economy! Had the Anglo/French Concorde program been "outsourced" to countries where the manufacturing and maintenance (don't worry I "qualified" up to Level 2 NDT (Non-Destructive Testing)) costs would have been less expensive perhaps the "Concorde" would still be flying today!

;-)
Posted by (187 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yeah, yeah...
Hail IBM, which has made so much for open source software...

IBM makes more money from licensing its intellectual property portfolio than I can even beign to tell you.

In terms of costs, what IBM gets for not selling other companies proprietary software through its consultancy services (read, they keep almost the same tag price for their services, but they don't have to pay software licenses to third parties) goes mainly to its own pockets (and a fraction of that is shared with their customers in the form of lower prices, I hope).

And, compared to whatever it has ever contributed to the entire open source community till now (in the form of intellectual property, source code, paid development or simply cash) is peanuts compared to their gains in this process, period.

Happy now?
Posted by Mario Nogueira (22 comments )
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