Making predictions is hard - especially about the future, as the saying goes. Against this background, I had low expectations of the “2020 FLOSS Roadmap”, which came out of the recent Open World Forum in Paris:
2020 FLOSS Roadmap is the Open World Forum’s main manifesto, and is designed to support discussions taking place during the different OWF seminars and forums. This is a prospective Roadmap, and a projection of the influences that will affect FLOSS between now (2008) and 2020, with descriptions of all FLOSS-related trends as anticipated by OWF contributors over this period of time. It also highlights all sectors that will, potentially, be impacted by FLOSS, from the economy to the Information Society.
My pessimism proved unfounded, for the “manifesto” is at once an excellent summary of where free software is now and may well go tomorrow, as well as a source of eminently sensible suggestions of ways to help it achieve the possibilities sketched out, and to avoid some of the pitfalls that are also noted.
The Roadmap's breadth of range and seriousness of tone is clear from the following introductory paragraphs:
In 2008, the future appears more uncertain than ever. We are living through a truly historic period in the sense that nothing will ever be as it was before. This break with the past can be seen to be the result of two factors converging: energy resources needed by economic development becoming scarcer and the impact of the recent crisis in the world’s financial system (amply confirming the ineffectiveness of its regulatory systems).
The result of this convergence is a systemic crisis, on a global scale, that is destabilizing both the real economy (commerce, industry, transport, work, etc.) and the virtual one: in real terms, it is not just the speculative financial bubble that is at issue here, but also Web 2.0 and its energy requirements. For example, a virtual Second Life avatar would consume 1,752 kWh of real electrical power annually, or as much as one Brazilian person; and according to certain calculations performed recently, Google would consume 2.1 tera-watt-hours in a year, which is equivalent to the energy consumption of two nuclear reactors.
Since Information and Communication Technology industries will in no way be spared the effects of this crisis, technology providers must now take ethical and environmental considerations on board when planning the development of their activities and products.
Finally, 2008 also brings hope. The message for change radiating from the USA rings out as a strident and symbolic call for openness and equality. In the same way, we are seeing widespread acknowledgement of the urgent need to preserve our environmental heritage.
So this is a turning point at which we can envisage a different kind of future, one built upon the basis of a new, more just social contract, with ecologically acceptable development programs, and more open international relationships.
The striking invocation of environmental sustainability is picked up in a statement of the central questions the Roadmap seeks to begin to address:
In the recent past, the “Linux adventure” set in motion by Linus Torvalds at the University of Helsinki in 1991 constructed on foundations set up by Richard Stallman in 1984 with the GNUproject, and more particularly with the GPL license guaranteeing toll-free source code, and offering a legal framework for collaborative development, has had huge repercussions on the Industry.
This has brought other FLOSS applications under the spotlight (from Apache Server to OpenOffice.org), and enabled other start-ups to hit the ground running (from Red Hat to MySQL), enterprises to prosper (from Internet access providers to IBM) and developers to add value to their experience, legal experts to expand their expertise, and researchers to communicate the results of their research or improve their tools, etc. Linux has literally been a catalyst in encouraging the appearance of veritable and fertile ecosystems.
It really has been a momentous turning point, and has changed the way we do things in the industry (as much in the development models cited as in the corresponding business models) and has also helped new markets to flourish.
Now is the moment when we need to examine the question of sustainability for FLOSS, or again look at the influence they could have on tomorrow’s technologies. Will FLOSS always be part of the industrial landscape in 2020? What part will they play in the Information Society of the future?
That same concern lies at the heart of the Roadmap's main fear about what lies ahead: