Open Source: A Northern Way

Opensource_2Last week, OpenGRC‘s Jason Woodruff convened the inaugural meeting of the Northern Open Source Interest Group. The discussion brought together the UK’s three Northern regional development agencies, Leeds Met University and some interested industry people; including me 🙂

The group sought to understand the state of open source across the North of England as well as formulate some strategies to help promote the philosophy. The discussion focussed on the business case for open source, where public funding can help promote usage and vendors, open source in education, regional projects and the creation of an Open Source Network, backed by the Northern Way.

Surprisingly, there were no dissenting voices on the principles of open source – however, many of the vendors present felt that without public support, they were likely to lose out to larger players, particularly US open source vendors. Yorkshire Forward’s Robert Ling suggested that vendors needed to better organise themselves into an industry consortium that RDAs and Business Link can present open source options as part of their tendering services.

Though I met some interesting people, such as MDDA’s Dave Carter, the National Computing Centre’s Ed Downs and NTI’s Linda Broughton – I found the discussion a little behind the curve as people asked questions on how money could be made from open source, how vendors could compete with vendors like Microsoft and Oracle…from my perspective, this is moot…

  • Dell’s launch of Ubuntu-enabled PCs will provide IT departments with the support they need; more large vendors will follow suit.
  • We’re in the midst of a generational shift in the technologies of choice for software developers. Almost all the students I met at Leeds Met’s Innovation North Undergraduate Showcase were using Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP for software development; as these graduates enter the market place, they’ll shape their employer’s open source stance.

I believe that if the region wants to drive open source adoption – the best use of public assistance is in the development of thought leadership, providing support to those wishing to push the bleeding edge of open source..

  • The development of an Open Data movement to define, demand and utilise open data principles.
  • Drive the adoption of open source philosophies beyond software production – educate others in the Rules for Remix.
  • Popularise the teaching and usage of open IP models such as Creative Commons and GNU.
  • Assist the region’s successful electronics industry in moving to open source hardware like the OLPC. The region is a leader in set-top box technology…imagine what open source could do for TV 🙂

The pragmatism asserted in last week’s meeting is necessary and useful, but part of a much wider opportunity to shape the region’s place in the global open source ecosphere. RDAs, universities and industry can make big things happen here, but they have to have big ideas.

UPDATE: Jason’s formed a Google Group to keep the discussions alive electronically…also I wonder if we could leverage some of O’Reilly’s OSCON community to help the group. I’m thinking about you Mr. Torkington.


  1. I agree that open source software is only one part of a much larger interest in things being “open” . To my mind this bigger picture is stressing the gains that can be made through co-operation, collaboration, “bottom up”, “community focussed” initiatives and include open publishing especially for academic knowldedge, and on towards “open society”. This is not so new. These things have always been present alongside and essential to hieracrchical structures. What I feel is happenning now is shift in emphasis, a re-balancing.
    Pragmatically, if the tide is going towards more openess, then there are opportunities of all sorts. The meeting last week was, for me, trying to see what might be done in the relatively small area of software and economic development. If this can become wider and still achieve some results, or be one of several similar initiatives, so much the better.

  2. Imran
    it’s great to see bodies such as the RDAs engaging here, and I agree that a significant requirement is for the nurturing of some incisive thought leadership.
    As you suggest, open source has arrived. The wider issues around open data, around necessary licensing of those data, and around the creative thinking required to show businesses that there are *other* ways to generate revenue atop an accessible data ecosystem are where the attention needs to turn, and it’s something we’re trying to push from Talis…

  3. Thanks Ed, perhaps its useful to divide the group into two tracks – one on pragmatism, the other on thought leadership.
    Paul, I agree – the fact that RDAs and education are involved is a huge and positive step. Shall we take more about Open Data?


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