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February 2007
Interview

Open Source is an assurance of innovation and sovereignty

D Lamouche


By way of introduction, I’d like to recap some facts and figures, just as I did during the World e-Gov forum mid October. In the first place, it seems to me absolutely essential to remind ourselves of the astounding speed at which people are adopting technology on a personal level. While a hundred years had to elapse between the invention of the fixed telephone line and its becoming a common household commodity, it only took a fifth of that time for personal computers to become an essential item, and only a tenth for the mobile phone.

In the same way, 700 million people in the world – that’s 14% of the world population – now use the Internet, and the proportion represented by American ’Net surfers’ has fallen from two thirds of the total to just a quarter in less than ten years: a figure that underlines the explosion of this mode of communication worldwide.

Putting enough value on computer power

Against this backdrop, three fundamental trends are clearly emerging. First, we are witnessing exponential development in communications networks of all kinds, both fixed and wireless. Secondly, access points are becoming standardized with a proliferation of ‘active’ objects being used on these networks. Geo-location, intelligent objects, the second generation Web, are among the many new applications that will contribute to the development of this interconnected world. And finally there is the third trend – certainly one that is less visible, but just as fundamental – the explosion in processing power and computer storage that has enabled the information society to develop. In this vein, let’s not forget that the company Google is not – as is all too often believed – just a search engine, but first and foremost a gigantic computer processing force, of which the most visible application is currently the search engine. Today, through the Quaero project, Europe is seeking to launch into the domain of search engines. We can only encourage this initiative, but it seems to us that what is currently lacking in this ambitious collaboration is the presence of IT makers, at the top of the list of which should be the company I have the honor of leading. In the same way, it seems to me that the computing dimension of the Quaero project has been underestimated, given the project’s wide range of possible applications.

In general, we underestimate on the one hand the importance of processing power in the future development of the society, and on the other, our technological capacity to fulfill its growing needs. When it comes to the first point, in France we have seen first hand the problems experienced in introducing on-line tax returns. These were certainly not due to lack of ability on the part of Internet users, but really to insufficient computer processing resources being made available to enable the system to operate correctly. Since this inauspicious start, the necessary processing power has been implemented, and the on-line tax return system is one of the beacon applications of e-government in this country. But in the meantime, we mustn’t forget that not only the requirement for computing capacity, but also the processing and storage needs will be multiplied by 100 over the next ten years!

Affirming our ambitions

The second point is the crucial importance of free software and open standards, both when it comes to hardware and research. In the case of the TERA-10 supercomputer we delivered to the CEA, the software that operates includes one million lines of code: 80% of this code originated from Open Source, and this meant we could develop the product in one fifth of the time that would have been required using traditional techniques. In other respects (and this aspect is sometimes ignored) the use of blocks of Open Source code guarantees independence for applications vis-à-vis any supplier: always a more strategic approach. Also, I believe that the deployment of Open Source is a significant factor in accelerating technological developments, as well as being a virtual guarantee of innovation and sovereignty.

To sum up, it seems to me vital that all of our elected leaders become aware that IT is becoming an indispensable component in every household, and a resource for which certain applications will be able to be delivered or managed by local authorities in the same way as water or electricity. Indeed, we have just set up a contractual arrangement of just this kind in the UK. Finally, let’s not forget the key role of some applications in generating employment. For example, the on-line auction site eBay has contributed to the creation of an ecosystem of some 750,000 people worldwide who gain a major source of their revenue from transactions on this platform. We are now able to build active and collaborative relationships through the medium of networks. We need structuring policies to support the development of these technologies and put more of an accent on our R&D efforts, which are a long way behind those in Japan or the United States.

Didier Lamouche
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Interview made by Cités Numériques


 

 

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