[Fsf-friends] INTERVIEW: Europe (and a desi) takes a deeper look at FLOSS

Frederick Noronha fred@bytesforall.org
Thu, 10 Oct 2002 02:54:41 +0530 (IST)


It is being viewed as a "major research project" coming out of Europe, that
takes a detailed look at the reasons behind the growing use of Free and Open
Source software. One of the key persons behind this study is Rishab Aiyer
Ghosh, who moved from the Indian capital of New Delhi to Europe just a
couple of years ago.

Does Aiyer Ghosh see this report changing the way Free and Open Source
software is seen? "Not necessarily," says he modestly. But then adds, almost
as an after-thought: "But hopefully the study will increase the depth and
clarity with which the phenomenon is understood."

Commentators have already called this study perhaps the "first large-scale
rigorous study concerning any aspect of free software". It included
interviewers with thousands of developers and hundreds of businesses.

Till a couple of years back, the 27-year-old Indian-born author of the study
was based in Delhi, and closely involved in the Indian internet/telecom
scene. He wrote for technical and mainstream publications too.

Ghosh had his own newsletter, 'Indian Techonomist', which went out to people
like Reed Hundt and Vint Cerf, and he wrote various consultation papers on
the opening up Internet policy (especially to small providers) on the
request of senior Indian government officials.

Extracts from an exclusive interview Aiyer Ghosh <rishab at dxm dot org> had
with Frederick Noronha <fred at bytesforall dot org>:
FN: What was your contribution in preparing the report?

I wrote the original proposal and workplan for the FLOSS study, and after
approval from the EC (European Commission), was coordinator of the project
consortium (University of Maastricht and Berlecon Research). I was lead
author of the parts written at the university.

FN: How much time was put into it in all?

FLOSS was a 13 month project. there were three people at the university and
three at Berlecon Research working on it. But I off-hand can't give you a
person-hours breakdown!

FN: What was the most surprising finding/s?

That's a hard question to answer. We weren't really surprised by our own
findings, but from the user survey (Berlecon; final report part 1) the level
of F/OSS use among organisations was higher than one might have expected
(e.g. 6% of all companies use some F/OSS on the desktop). 

An important, though expected, finding was that licence fees were #3 on the
list of reasons for user organisations choosing F/OSS -- stability and
security were more important. 

In the developer survey (part 4) one interesting result was that despite the
adoption of the term Open Source among most of the media and support
structure (e.g. O'Reilly, Slashdot, Sourceforge) developers themselves
identify themselves with the term free software by a huge margin.

FN: What are the aspects that are still to be researched on FLOSS, in your

Much more work needs to be done on measuring organisation and production of
the software itself (started in part 5 of the report); lots of analysis
remains to be done on the data from the developer survey. 

On the user side, due to a limited budget, FLOSS didn't ask organisations
who said they don't use any F/OSS why they don't do so, which would have
been interesting.

FN: This dilemma of explaianing why affluent Europe is increasing turning to
FLOSS, how would you look at it?

I don't see that as a dilemma.

I can imagine that licence fee savings are an attraction in developing
countries, but arguably the total cost of ownership isn't necessarily much
lower for f/oss than for proprietary solutions. 

Certainly, most advocacy in Europe emphasises other advantages rather than
cost, which is a dubious advantage if it is one at all and easier to attack
("cheap" software must be bad...)

As the user survey showed, F/OSS is being adopted more for stability and
security than price.

FN: Besides this study, what have you been busy with since moving out of

i moved to Maastricht in October 2000, and the FLOSS proposal was submitted
that month. I've been working mostly full-time with this study and related
research, and speak frequently on the topic of free software and the
"cooking-pot market" model I developed to explain non-monetary economic
activity on the Internet. (Ghosh explains the 'cooking pot model' at
http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue3_3/ghosh/ )

I also continue my involvement as a founding editor of First Monday, the now
very successful peer-reviewed Internet journal, and organised the first
First Monday conference in Maastricht last year

FN: Do you see this report as changing the way FLOSS is seen?

Not necessarily. But hopefully the study will increase the depth and clarity
with which the phenomenon is understood.

FN: Could you tell us something about how you chose the word -- rather apt
in my view -- FLOSS, to describe both Free Software and Open Source in one
neat twist of phrase?

European Commission projects often have long-winded titles and the official
project acronym is therefore quite important. 

Early drafts of the project proposal were entitled Free/Open Source User and
Developer Study. FOSUDS sounded rather less catchy than FLOSS, which also
had the additional advantage of incorporating "Libre Software", a term that
is hardly in use outside the french-speaking members of the EC bureaucracy,
which is a pity.

FN: If you had a chance to do this study all over again, what would you have
done differently?

I don't know, really, still digesting what we've just finished. But
certainly we would have asked user organisations for reasons _not_ to use

See the report at

For a photo of Aiyer Ghosh, please see