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Hourtin Summer University

A round table on Free Software was organized by the annual summer university at Hourtin, France. This event is the traditional meeting where government officials meet with companies and non profit organizations on the general subject of information society. Frédéric Couchet managed for us to be invited at the round table to speak in the name of the Free Software movement.

The discussions were bound to be controversial, given the fact that Olivier Ezratty from Microsoft is among the speakers. Pierre Breese is also present and is a well known advocate in favor of software patents.

In the following people said Linux when meaning GNU/Linux, except Frédéric Couchet, of course. I fixed this to avoid confusion. I found remarkable that only Logiciel Libre was used during the round table. The conference was in french but I wrote my notes in English to avoid the translation effort. I apologize to french people who cannot read english easily, I feel it is important that non french speaking people in Europe can read this protocol and had not the courage to do the french version.

H. Le Guyader (Moderator): The title on the program is 'advantage and usages' but on my notes it was 'peculiarity and drawbacks' which is quite representative of the confusion that exists on the subject. I'm happy to have Mr. Ezratty who will show how Free Software can be integrated on an apparently closed platform. (he introduced all the people, only adding a word on Mr. Ezratty). In my professional activity I face the Free Software alternative. My goal is to end this debate knowing what to do with Free Software.

M. Joly (IBM): We have a focus on GNU/Linux. We have servers (45% of the turnover) infrastructure software and services. We need OS and GNU/Linux is a good one. We saw a trend that influences the market and we felt compelled to provide this to our customers and at the same time contribute to the evolution of GNU/Linux.

IBM goes to Free Software and specifically GNU/Linux to provide usable hardware.

H. Le Guyader: A software is not only running on a PC. Embedded software in various devices also. This grows and companies are eager to conquer this market. Could F. Couchet explain what a Free Software is ?

F. Couchet: The FSF was created in 85 to offer an alternative to proprietary software. You can use free software, study how it works in its source form, redistribute them as you do with recipes, modify it match your needs. This creates an economical activity that is independant and lively. The GNU project is a philosophical project. MandrakeSoft is a french company that combines the philosophical aspect and the economical activity.

Free Software is based on copyright law to establish a best match between the will of authors and the interest of the public. Software patents threaten this but this will be the subject of tomorrow's speech.

H. Le Guyader: Some ministery create portals to help people understand how and why we should switch to Free Software. I question myself. Update of licenses cost my money. But the stability of Free Software is problematic. And the freedom to modify is something we don't really need, do we ?

B. Jelowicki (Education): I'm not sure I can answer this. I came here because the title was 'advantage of free software' and I asked you to introduce Free Software advocates because only proprietary software advocates were invited. I don't understand the problematic of this debate and I still do not understand where this is going.

For education the advantage of gratis is pushed but is not the most important. Teachers produce software and use them in creative ways. We face a philosophical and independance problematic, not an accounting problem. For companies the network installation of schools is a big market and there are not many alternatives. Our resources are limited.

The advantage of Free Software is that it can be studied where proprietary software cannot. Most software produced by education are not very wide spread and it would make a lot of sense to make them Free Software. Some of them could become the base of an economical activity.

We currently teach to students the Microsoft tools and not Free Software tools. Why is it so ?

Introducing Free Software in education is nowadays only powered by volunteers and it would be very beneficial if teachers were given some time and background on their paid time to educate themselves.

H. Le Guyader: I'd like to say that the original panel of speaker included IBM and Bull who have an implication in Free Software.

B. Pinna (Bull): If Bull was to make business on OS, we would be in trouble. This is not the goal. We want to be with our customers and we acknowledge that Free Software is an alternative because it represents a market. We say to our clients that in some cases Free Software is an alternative. What Free Software will be used for in governement and companies ? We recommend it for infrastructure.

H. Le Guyader: Microsoft will not speak last. We do not deliver the chritian to the lions at the end. Proprietary software and Free Software can be co-exist, can you tell us more about this ?

O. Ezratty (Microsoft): Free Software is a phenomenon that is visible since five years. This is a peculiar competition. There are juridical and ethical components. There are also economical considerations.

In education Free Software is an advantage. Microsoft must change its behaviour to adapt to this.

When evaluating software we count the gain of time they bring and their use value, this is our scale of values.

Co-exist ? How ? We have a negative image. We adopt standards and we contribute to standards. We face a fast evolving Internet. All we do around XML is to open Internet. Why ? Because we want to grow the market. In this respect we have a common ground with Free Software.

H. Le Guyader: What about intellectual property law ?

P. Breese: I use Free Software because it's a good software. Not because it's Free Software. I also share the definition given by F. Couchet. Patents are not contradictory with this definition, it allows modification with the software with the agreement of the author.

L. Dachary (interrupt): This is non-sense, this is contradictory with the Free Software definition.

P. Breese: What about software patents ? This is an ancient reality. 40 years ago a patent was registered (P. Breese gave an example I did not have time to write down). Bull sold software patent usage for millions. In 70' software was excluded from patentable inventions.

P. Breese was interrupted a few times, my notes are not complete

L. Dachary (talking to B. Pinna): How do you handle the fact that chosing between Free Software and proprietary software involves an ethical choice ? Do you direct your client to organizations that are competent in ethical matters ? If not how do you handle the ethical aspect related to these choice when speaking to government and education departements ?

B. Pinna: We do not impose our offer. Our motivation is not to make money on software. We also develop Free Software, we are not against it. We cannot be accused to be partial. For instance we have people using Jonas and they were really happy.

F. Couchet (talking to P. Breese): the technology academy made a study on patentability without interviewing Eurolinux, only Microsoft, IBM and others. This is outrageous.

F. Pelegrini (ABUL): our theories are not patentable and software patents are a way to patent them. I do not want that.

Anonymous (talking to O. Ezratty): I'd like to say that in foreign countries the role of Free Software is of major importance. A Microsoft subsidiary installed itself in oceania and chased the pirates and bankrupted companies. The Free Software is an advantage, it excludes piracy.

H. Le Guyader: What Free Software do you use ?

Anonymous: Apache mainly.

O. Ezratty: intellectual property must be protected. There can be accidents when doing so. A non material object has a cost in the same way as a material object, this must not be forgotten.

Anonymous: I'd like to know if at IBM and Bull you use Free Software internally. You also provide services, what is the share of services ?

M. Joly: There is no offer for end user applications, we only use infrastructure Free Software. Free Software is not the answer to all needs.

B. Pinna: We do not use Free Software for applications because there are no software available. What is our share of service on Free Software ? I don't know.

F. Couchet: There do exist applications for end users, it's not only for infrastructure.

Anonymous (proprietary software CEO): How do you earn money with Free Software ?

F. Couchet: The economy switches from selling licenses to selling services. The company contribute to the software and people time is sold.

O. Ezratty: Microsoft is 12% of the development in the world. RedHat earn money but does not escape the concentration phenomenon since they represent 50% of the GNU/Linux boxes sold in the world.

J. Peyratout (ABULEDU): I use Free Software only, in a primary school. We have no money and we know nothing about computing. We face a problem. I joined ABUL and AFUL, two organizations who offered me to solve this problem. It was two years ago. A tool was developped for our need, on our spare time. And we saw that it would take a lot more time. Therefore we searched for finances and we searched for professionals. I already paid the people because I needed this, now what harm does it do if people copy and use it ?

We kept Microsoft products and they are slowly disapearing. Mainly because children have troubles using Microsoft products, because of closed standards.

P. Jarillon (ABUL): I tried to get the RTF and saw that the standard was later modified unexpectedly. Do you plan to modify other standards in this way ?

O. Ezratty: Standards are evolving, this is a natural thing. I cannot really answer. But XML will not be modified in this way, this is the interoperability language.

Loïc Dachary

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Updated: $Date: 2003-02-28 16:16:22 +0100 (Fri, 28 Feb 2003) $ $Author: loic $