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Meeting with Technopole Logiciel Libre

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:
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 Software.

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 company managers.

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.

We then introduced the FSF Europe and its two main goals.
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 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 be missed.

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 fragile:
  • Use for any purpose
  • Study from the source code
  • Modify
  • Redistribute

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 Software.

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.

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

Loïc Dachary

Upstream University
GCC farm
Erasure Code Patent StreamScale
Copyright (C) 2003-2011, FSF France, 12 boulevard Magenta, 75010 Paris, France
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Updated: $Date: 2003-02-28 16:16:22 +0100 (Fri, 28 Feb 2003) $ $Author: loic $