OW2 Consortium: Building Beyond Europe

This year marks the 10th anniversary of OW2, and the organization is celebrating during its annual conference, on June 26-27, in Paris, France. OSI GM Patrick Masson sat down with Cedric Thomas, CEO of OW2 to learn more about the foundation, it’s accomplishments over the past 10 years, and what’s in store for the anniversary celebration.

The Open Source Initiative (OSI) Affiliate Membership Program is an international who’s who of open source projects, advocates, and communities: Creative Commons, Drupal Association, Linux Foundation, Mozilla Foundation, Open Source Matters (the foundation supporting Joomla), Python Software Foundation, Wikimedia Foundation, Wordpress Foundation and many more. Open source enthusiasts outside Europe may not be as familiar with another OSI Affiliate Member, OW2, however its impact on open source development and adoption across the EU has been significant.

“...open source is not only a great way to develop great software collaboratively,
but also a new way of doing business in the software industry.”

Patrick Masson: Can you tell me a little bit about OW2 for those who may not be familiar with the organization?

Cedric Thomas: OW2 is a non-profit, founded in 2007, dedicated to the development of enterprise-level open source software. We are very proud to be celebrating our tenth anniversary this year. OW2 inherited a repository of open source middleware solutions called ObjectWeb, that was supported by Inria], the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation, and Bull ATOS Technologies. We launched OW2 with the vision that open source is not only a great way to develop great software collaboratively, but also a way of doing business in the software industry.

OW2's technical focus is on software that is more related to back-end technical excellence than to customer-facing competitive advantage. It's the kind of software that can be developed collaboratively by different companies even if they are competitors. We focus on infrastructure software for distributed business processes. Our scope encompasses middleware and application platforms for the management of business processes (BPM), business intelligence (BI), big data, content (CMS), identity and access, collaboration (wiki, chat) and cloud computing. We also welcome projects that help develop and manage these distributed systems. Our code base also has tools and frameworks for development, testing and workload simulation.

Masson: Is it fair to say OW2 is primarily working with organizations in Europe? What are some of the benefits you've found working across the EU?

Thomas: OW2 was founded by members from all over the world: the US, Brazil, China and Europe— we are a global organization. We have no physical offices, we live on the web, so to speak, and our team has been global from the beginning. We have strong ties with open source communities in Brazil and China for example. But you are right, after ten years it is fair to say that, although our strategy is global, we have the most traction in Europe, with almost 2/3 of our new individual members last year (in 2016) coming from Europe. It is a big market with a keen interest in open source. OW2 is easily accessible for SMEs and collaborative projects, and we are regularly invited to take part in publicly financed R&D projects with which we have real experience. For many, we have become the de facto EU-driven open source organization.

“...we live on the web, so to speak, and our team has been global from the onset...
we have become the de facto EU-driven open source organization.”

Masson: What about challenges?

Thomas: There are lots of very good open source developers in Europe, but there are very few software industry leaders. That's clearly our main challenge. It's a geography of good open source contributors and clever consumers, but the software industry leadership is not in Europe. That has an influence on both software vendors and users. Many European vendors may develop world-class technologies while being, in fact, followers from a business point of view. On the user side, many decision makers are conservative, they seek some sort of protection in proprietary software. Another challenge is that Europe remains a fragmented market, as most open source SMEs concentrate on their home market, deriving perhaps only 20% of their revenue from other countries. It's a question of culture, of professional networks and, of course, language. And because of that fragmentation, these SMEs find it difficult to reach a critical mass that could make them industry leaders.

Masson: What types of activities is OW2 working on that expand beyond Europe?

Thomas: As of today, “Beyond Europe” for OW2 really means Brazil where we support a fledgling local chapter, and China where our members run a local chapter and organize an annual programming contest for students. I know there is significant potential for OW2 in Africa, the Middle-East and Russia, but we currently do not yet have the bandwidth to properly look after these markets. We have a significant number of visitors and downloads from the US, and this is the reason why we think it is important for OW2 to take part in events that are both local and global such a OSCON and the OpenStack Summit.

Masson: In the 10 years of OW2's work, what do you think have been the greatest challenges for open source software and communities, not just OW2, but the open source movement?

Thomas: Well, I think the past ten years have been rather good for open source. It’s now recognized as the primary mechanism for collaborative innovation. In addition, the proliferation of non-profit organizations, or foundations, dedicated to projects or technologies, is an excellent illustration of the fantastic momentum open source has seen in recent years. It doesn't mean there haven’t been challenges. As I said, we see open source as a way to do business, but that doesn't mean you can do whatever you want. From that perspective I see two principal challenges. On one hand, there is the issue of defending the integrity of the open source model against all sorts of opportunists who take advantage of it with business strategies based on open core licensing and user lock-in tactics. On the other hand, there is making open source more professional and economically sustainable in a context characterized by a flurry of open source projects, many of which are amateurish and short-lived.

"the Technology Council is also careful not to accept what we call 'crippleware'
...software that is useless unless complemented by additional proprietary software."

Masson: How has OW2 worked to address those challenges?

Thomas: We have addressed these issues through our governance, first by how we accept projects in our code base, and second, how we help them improve quality. Firstly, our Technology Council has always been very careful with the projects accepted in the OW2 code base. Right from the beginning we have ruled out purpose-made or vanity licenses. Our projects must publish their software under a license endorsed by the Open Source Initiative. Period. But the Technology Council is also careful not to accept what we call “crippleware” i.e. software that is useless unless complemented by additional proprietary software. Secondly, five years ago we launched a quality program aimed at helping project leaders better manage their projects and building trust among users for software in the OW2 code base. Last year we launched the second generation of our quality program: the Open Source Capability Assessment Radar (OSCAR).

"OSS has to prove its worth to conventional business managers
who are far from free software advocates."

Masson: What do you think are the most exciting opportunities for the future of open source software, and how will OW2 play a part.

Thomas: Open source software is going mainstream, and this brings a whole range of new challenges to the open source ecosystem. Even OW2's market sweet spot may be shifting. As I said, OW2 was born out of enterprise information system infrastructure where software is not dependent on a company's vertical sector – a CMS or an ESB works practically the same way whether it be a bank or a hospital – and where sharing and re-use across all sectors brings critical mass and maximizes economies of scale. But, as it becomes increasingly mainstream, OSS expands into new territories where its advantages are not quite so obvious. For example, in going mainstream OSS has to prove its worth to conventional business managers who are far from free software advocates. We are currently leveraging the experience gained through our quality program by developing a transposition of NASA's Technology Readiness Levels in the business world of open source. We will introduce the OW2's Market Readiness Index at OW2con, our annual conference, in June. It will bring value to our projects and stability and predictability for open source decision makers. I see another opportunity in the IoT world: it is still pretty much structured in silos, where software is dependent on usage specific hardware and standards and where developments across different usage are not easily shared. As it matures, I expect the IoT world to become a market for horizontal platforms. This will open tremendous opportunities for an experienced organization such as OW2.