Driving forces of FOSS adoption and development

Matt Asay of Alfresco recently observed differences in the adoption of FOSS. He sees a lot of adoption in Europe by governments who support the ideals of FOSS whereas he claims that adoption in North America is mainly driven by enterprises "seeking to lower costs and maximize innovation". His comments remind me of a discussion I once had with someone a few years ago. We didn't talk so much about adoption, but rather about development of FOSS. Our conclusion was that the main driving forces behind FOSS are not the same in different parts of the world. Specifically, it seemed that FOSS development in North America was heavily driven by corporations, whereas FOSS development in Europe was mostly community driven. Finally, governments in Asia and other emerging markets, like Brazil, saw FOSS as a great opportunity to establish a healthy software development industry in their own countries and as a way to become more independent from the US.

Today, this picture may be different and clearly there are multiple driving forces in a region. The EU in particular has been pushing FOSS in recent times for public administration and they are funding a number of research projects related to FOSS, such as FLOSSMETRICS, SQO-OSS and QualiPSo (more on these later). This may explain why Matt Asay is seeing so much adoption of FOSS by governments in Europe. Nevertheless, in terms of development I'd still say that the community is the driving force in Europe. I find the differences between the FOSS community in Europe and in the US quite amazing. It seems to me that the FOSS community is much more tightly connected in Europe than in the US. In Europe, we have a lot of community events for FOSS (both for users and developers). FOSDEM is one of the largest FOSS events in Europe, but almost every country in Europe has their own event (or even several) related to Linux and FOSS. Many of them are organized by the community and entrance is often free of charge. Contrast this to the US, which has much fewer events and the most prominent one, OSCON, sets you back around $1000. I'm aware of OLS and SCALE, and have heard many good things about the LinuxFest Northwest and Ohio LinuxFest, but it's still not comparable to what you can find in Europe.

Some countries in Asia are very keen on participating in the FOSS community but I don't see many individual contributions from there (with the major exception of Japan, which has a very strong FOSS community). However, governments are providing incentives for companies to get involved. Unfortunately, there are many obstacles. For example, the open way in which most FOSS projects are performed may be in conflict to how some Asian cultures work. Also, FOSS development is often quite hostile (with heated discussions and arguments), which may be a problem to some. Finally, proficiency of English and access to broadband Internet connections are a problem in some Asian countries. Nevertheless, it's important to engage with developers in Asia and to help them contribute to and join our world-wide community.

In summary, I think there are important differences with regards to the adoption of FOSS and the way development communities work in different parts of the world. These differences will have an important impact on the governance of FOSS. Since FOSS is a world-wide phenomenon, we need to develop a better understanding of issues that various people face. I think that FOSSBazaar will be a great venue to hear from people all around the world and to learn what the obstacles are to wide adoption of FOSS in their countries.

(Originally published on FOSSBazaar)