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2008-07-15

European Independence and Open-Source Development

Dana Blankenhorn shows a little national-identity sensitivity in his 2008-07-14 ZDnet article, Europe seeks to brand open source quality.

I noticed some time ago that there is a European movement that sees open-source development as a key to the emergence of a European software industry independent of U.S. domination.  This is indeed a focus of Commission-funded activity in the European Union.  It is also part of the Information Society vision of the European Commission.  For whose benefit would we expect to see EU funding for Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)?

It can be a bit startling, for those of us who are comfortably and carelessly American, to see Euro-centric homage given in reports of sponsored scientific and technical ventures, often involving government and industry partnerships (not unlike Japanese initiatives I have observed).  It is an useful lesson to have us notice how much US-centric posturing is spewed into the world and how that lands in Europe and elsewhere.  Look at our version of Olympic spirit, for one.  Look at the Mars Phoenix site and see how the contribution of scientific groups of other nations is in the shadow of the acknowledgment of US institutions.  (The Wikipedia coverage is superior in its featuring of all participants.)

Along with this, there have been occasional descriptions of EU computer and technology projects that featured open-source development and the GPL as if that was a sufficient condition for excellence in the result.  The oddest cases were announcements of open-source results for which the code, binary or source, was nowhere to be found.  Apparently, the code was locked up in the chambers of the commercial partners in the government-sponsored work. 

On other occasions where code was in a public place, I found it to be un-installable, fragile, and unsupported by useful documentation.  This might be typical of too-much academic-research work done on any continent, but it tended, for me, to tarnish the glitter of open-source magic.  It is a bit far from the European Commission goal of commercialized technology enabled by open-source development and licensing.

SQ-OSS Is Different

Yes, the focus on support for European technology capabilities is clear:

"SQO-OSS aims to assist European software developers in improving the quality of their code, and to remove one of the key barriers to entry for Open Source software by providing scientific proof of its quality.

"Open Source is already leading to a revival in the European SME software development sector, and advanced tools for quality assessment will underpin further enterprise adoption and assist European SMEs and projects in competing with large global corporations."

The difference is that the development of the quality-assessment tools is a genuine, well-conducted, and globally-visible open-source undertaking.  There is a level of development maturity here that matches the best open-source projects I have found.  Those of us in the US and Canada will be happy to see that the code, involving lots of Java plus JAR files from other open-source projects (with a tiny dusting of C++) is fully available with narratives in a widely-recognized dialect of English.  The project has a public Wiki and the on-line SVN repository is annotated with guidance to the contents starting at the top.  Even the MAKEFILE structure is annotated with descriptive narrative.  Considering that the Alitheia (Greek for "truth") deliverable from the project is at an alpha-level of release (0.8.1), I find a great deal to be comfortable with in how this deliverable is developed.  (If there is anything obviously lacking, it is test code used to confirm the builds and the units that go into it.  I may not have looked closely enough, and this is certainly something anyone could contribute as part of learning to build, use, and adapt the package.)  I find the project materials to be inviting and a contribution to open development.

Also surprising is the use of the Free BSD license for that code originated as part of the project.  The project is also careful to include the licenses for those incorporated elements that are under different licenses as well.

It would be nice if other open-source efforts were conducted so deliberately with attention to the usability of materials by others.

 
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