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Open Source: the quiet revolution at the heart of the digital recovery
Jean-Pierre Barbéris, General Manager, Bull France and Bull Services and Solutions

EXECUTIVE OPINION

JP Barbéris

Since the beginning of the current economic crisis, we’ve often heard it said that we have to reinvent the world. That globalization, combined with the dual revolution – environmental and digital – calls for a new set of rules, new tools and new ways of doing things. That the salvation of businesses and nation states alike can be found in knowledge and innovation.

These analyses may often be absolutely right and highly relevant, the words may be vivid and full of hope, but in general they miss the essential point: what will be the driving force behind this change?

There is a very serious software candidate for the title. A movement that is omnipresent and yet largely unnoticed; a movement that is both technological and cultural that is hidden in our telephones, our emails and even our cars... and that can change the world, because in many respects it has already done so: Open Source.

It’s estimated that Open Source now accounts for around 30% of the computing code that we use, including in applications produced by software publishers. It is directly or indirectly used for almost all the innovations that are turning our everyday lives upside-down: embedded in our cellphones; providing the foundation for social and business networking and e-commerce; and at the heart of the supercomputers running in our R&D labs and research offices. A recent study carried out by Bull and industry analysts Forrester shows that the vast majority of European businesses are already actively making use of it. But Open Source is not just about the technologies that are winning us over with their robustness, their modularity, their durability and, of course, their low cost. It’s also a way of developing new products, of organizing our work and sharing our know-how which is constantly proving its effectiveness and which, through mass collaboration and Web 2.0, is increasingly extending beyond its original domain in the IT world.

Everything is pointing towards the fact that Open Source will once again be one of the essential driving forces of future growth, because it delivers such huge and complementary benefits. First and foremost it actively encourages innovation: by opening up the design process much more widely to users, it enables people to combine their skills, consolidate their know-how and explore different ideas. Open innovation is, above all, born out of capitalization and of optimization: basic components are constantly being enriched, improved and extended to new uses, such as Linux that is used both in the simplest of Notebooks and the most sophisticated of supercomputers. Open Source also helps to drive competitiveness. The lack of license costs, as well as standardization that minimizes the need to develop interfaces, or robustness, which eases the maintenance workload, all deliver significant savings. For example, the European Union has estimated that the use of Open Source can save up to 36% of the cost of software development. Open Source promotes excellence: it creates the conditions for a kind of 'Darwined' software, where only the very best contributions are retained. As a result, Open Source enables extremely sophisticated, high-end applications to be developed. According to the Bull/Forrester research, almost half the organizations who use Open Source are already relying on it in business-critical applications, at the heart of tomorrow’s ultra high-technology solutions. It provides 80% of the code for the world’s biggest supercomputers, which are designing tomorrow’s aircraft, modeling future medicines, studying the origins of the universe, analyzing the consequences of climate change or developing next-generation green technologies... is based on open software.

And last but not least, Open Source is driving forward an extraordinary new kind of social momentum. It’s stimulating exchanges and emulation at every level. Within organizations it is freeing people up to take the initiative, to form multi-disciplinary teams which mix together people with different backgrounds and profiles, and to break free from the limits of traditional pyramidal structures that are less and less adapted to the changing demands of the market. Around the enterprise itself, Open Source encourages the creation of ‘Virtual Shore’ type ecosystems, which bring together customers, suppliers and partners. And going even further, as a result of technology transfer it represents a formidable means of accelerating the development of emerging economies and reducing the digital divide, while at the same time guaranteeing their digital sovereignty. So it is not surprising that the BRICs economies, most notably Brazil and China, are now making massive investments in Open Source. A shift in the flows and technology transfer in which France, the world leader in Open Source technologies, figures prominently in strategic cooperations, with the recent agreement between France and Brazil in this area being the latest manifestation of this. As for Europe, the number two region for digital technology worldwide– already the biggest overall contributor to Open Source – this may well be the way to catch up and achieve its desired position as the leading ‘knowledge economy’.

Open Source is a quiet revolution, which is turning our ways of working, thinking and creating upside-down. It will be a foundation stone of the great digital projects of the future: ‘Cloud computing’, computer simulation, tele-medicine... At a time when our countries are asking themselves fundamental questions about their strategic direction and investments for the future, it has established itself as one of the key issues that we need to consider. Because if the economic crisis is calling on us to ‘change the world’s software’, then Open Source will be at the very core of the methods used to develop it.