English | French
One hundred kilometers from Paris a technopole unlike
any other is created: it is dedicated to Free
Software. Supported by the French government and closely
linked to the Soissons university, the Technopole Logiciel
Libre will nurse companies developing a commercial activity
based on Free Software. By giving courses to initiate managers
to the business models created by Free Software, the
technopole will revive the economy devastated by the failure of
the most important regional industries.
Frédéric Couchet and Loïc Dachary went to
Soissons to establish a first contact between the technopole
and the Free Software Foundation Europe. Philippe Carpentier and
Jean-Marc Loire described the main lines of the project as follows:
We then introduced the FSF Europe and its two main goals.
New born companies are integrated in the incubator who
provides them with all they need for a very low cost but
during a short period (6 month). Afterwards they can enter
the next stage and have the benefit of a complete infrastructure
at low cost during the first two years. The area where the
technopole installs its offices is large enough to host
new companies under regular conditions when the nursing
process completed successfully.
Some courses were already modified
at the Soissons university in order to integrate Free Software
and its usage to the teaching.
Moreover, the École
Ouverte de l'Internet (Open School of the Internet)
already provides courses to the teachers on the subject of
Free Software related technologies. During our visit
we had a chance to see a basic system administration
course given by Yves Potin under GNU/Linux. The server
is an original mecano-like making that will have its place
in a museum.
This activity will continue and develop when the
technopole becomes active in order to raise the
interest of the industry for the qualities of Free
- Companies network and legal help
To give better chances to the new born companies of the
incubator, the technopole establishes
contacts with companies already in the field of Free Software
(Mandrake, Alcove etc.). By identifying the skills
of each current player and by keeping a contact with them,
the technopole will provide accurate advises to the
Free Software licenses are unusual for most entrepreneurs
and the technopole will also provide legal help to identify
possible problems and pitfalls.
- Promotion and communication
The help provided to the companies by the technopole for
advertising and communication will give a better image to
the soissonais (the name of the region around
Soissons). Both companies and region will benefit
from this effort. The technopole will be careful to bind
the triple Soissons/Free Software/Companies so that the
success of each one is beneficial to the two others.
The FSF Europe plays a federal role in each country,
gathering actors of the Free Software movement so that they
can communicate. Thanks to our presence in Sweden, France,
Germany, Italy and soon in Switzerland, Portugal, Belgium and
Austria, we can act at the European level. In each country we
are establishing relationships with non-profit organizations
that fight for Free Software since many years to give a
European dimension to their action. APRIL in France can, for
example, coordinate its efforts with German lawyers to
translate the GNU GPL.
It would be interesting to find out how the technopole
and the FSF Europe can put in common their resources to build
a network (companies and non-profit organizations).
At the end of the meeting, Jean-Marc Loire showed us the
way back to Paris. We all have the feeling that an important
meeting took place. On the way back we are already planning
actions. By the time I finish this article a few are
engaged. They will probably be the first of a long list.
A few pictures
- Complete the Free Software universe
Nowadays there does not exist Free Software for every
possible need. The FSF, like the FSF Europe, works to fill
the Free Software universe so that it becomes possible to use
Free Software in every field of activity. For instance, it is now
hard if not impossible to use Free Software to efficiently
broadcast sound and image on networks. During the
last FSF Awards at the beginning of year 2001, after
a fruitful and intense dialog, the École Centrale Paris
(Central School of Paris aka ECP)
published under the GNU GPL license the software components of
VideoLAN, adding an
important contribution to the Free Software universe.
The role of the FSF and the FSF Europe is to encourage
companies and individuals to identify the wastelands of
Free Software and populate them. It is often enough to
establish a dialog so that the author realizes that he
can fulfill a need or complete an existing work in the
Free Software universe.
In that sense, productive relationships could be
established between the Technopole Logiciel Libre and
FSF Europe. A practical example would be to suggest to
a company to work with videolan.org to improve the state
of the art instead of doing massive investments in
non-free technologies. And if this solution cannot be
sustained financially, help them to identify another
field (in which there exists more mature Free Software) where
their talents could be used to improve Free Software
on a solid economic basis.
Since the the Free Software universe we know today
originated from the FSF, companies could easily integrate
it with its help. Companies and individuals are hardly
aware that establishing relationships within the Free
Software community is an easy process. A company that
develops its business around MySQL, GNU/Linux and Perl could
easily make contact with the groups of individuals and
companies that are actively building and maintaining these
tools. They need none to establish this contact but the
experience showed us that a natural resistance prevents
this to happen. The role of the FSF Europe in this matter
is merely to show how to establish this contact and how to
maintain it. Physical distances, e-mail communication, the
sociology of the development groups make this exercise
unusual enough to require a bit of help.
In short, establishing relationships with the Free
Software community is a mandatory step that should be
provided in addition to the national network provided by
the technopole. The companies growing in the technopole
should be able to integrate the Free Software movement and
not only use it. By doing this they will reinforce their
foundations. As mighty as it seems, the Free Software
movement is small enough and a few companies may very well
play a major role. This is an opportunity that should not
- Fight the threats to Free Software
The laws that rule software are moving fast because it is
a new science. Because they do not have enough information,
people that make the laws will possibly write them
in such a way that Free Software cannot exist anymore.
The four fundamental freedoms of Free Software are still
For instance the SIAE law
in Italy imposes that every software being sold has to
be registered. This registration costs money. Therefore,
selling a GNU/Linux distribution (Debian for instance)
requires the registration of the thousands of pieces of software
contained in this package. This new law is a serious threat to the
freedom of redistribution and therefore is a direct
threat to the existence of Free Software.
Software patents are another kind of threat.
Each software is potentially attacked by a software patent.
There is no way to find out if a software crosses a patent
or not. Should software patents become legal in Europe,
it would be potentially illegal to use, modify or redistribute
all existing Free Software.
We wish the situation to be less problematic. Since
it's not the case, the FSF Europe has to fight to give a
strong legal basis to Free Software. The task is also
very important because the FSF is the author of the GNU
GPL license that covers around 70% of the existing Free
The technopole and all the companies it will host
will be precious allies. The FSF Europe can provide a
precise information on specific legal points and they will
be able to act with us to build a solid legal ground for
Free Software. The FSF Europe is engaged in the adaptation
of the GNU GPL to the French legal system. We could work
together on this.
- Use for any purpose
- Study from the source code