A group of open-source software advocates set out a road map for the software industry through 2020 at the Open World Forum conference in Paris on Tuesday.
The authors of the report, "2020 FLOSS Roadmap", made a number of predictions about the role of free, libre and open-source software (FLOSS) in 2020, and 80 recommendations for the industry.
Their use of the French word "libre" (free as in 'unfettered') clears up the ambiguity inherent in the English word "free," which can also mean without cost.
They painted a rosy vision of 2020 in which FLOSS will have entered the mainstream of the software industry and contributed to reducing the digital divide between rich and poor. Social networks will rely on ubiquitous, open cloud-computing services and will allow people to interact not just with friends, but also with governments and businesses, they said.
CIOs wary of vendor lock-in will champion the use of FLOSS, and such software will be at the heart of green data centres and other business models with low ecological impacts, they said.
Reaching this computing nirvana, however, will require action - and not just by bearded geeks. Investors, legislators, educators, electors and even consumers also have a role to play, according to the report's authors.
Governments must favor open standards and open services, they said. This is not just a matter of ideology, but also of necessity if data is to be exchanged between different services and systems.
This requires a stable and neutral legal context in which a clear definition of open standards and services can be made and imposed, they said. Clear legal frameworks could also help avoid the proliferation of software licenses, they said.
Investors, whether state or private, should fund research leading to the development of strategic FLOSS technologies, and governments and businesses should set up academic and professional training programs to educate a new generation of software developers about FLOSS.
There are some risks ahead, said the authors, including experts from Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Germany, India, Spain and the US, although the majority of them are French.
Among those risks, the use of cloud-computing capacity on the scale required by some government systems will result in an over-reliance on a small group of powerful suppliers. That could signal a return to the era of monopolies in some markets, with the risk that entire countries could be held ransom by their service providers, the authors warned.
In addition, organisations unable to pay the price for these elite services could be left running on unreliable, or unsecure, second-class systems.
Cloud computing and web services pose other risks, too, said the authors, among them employees of networking vendor Alcatel-Lucent, cloud-computing user (and supplier) Google, and server and software vendor Sun.
By hiding away the software and presenting only the interface, they will limit our ability to see the source code for the applications we run. That could make some FLOSS licenses irrelevant, or their enforcement meaningless.
It could also stifle innovation, if the individual programmers who code open-source applications today are reduced to mashing up future web services through limited APIs (application programming interfaces), said the report's authors.
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