[OSGeo-Discuss] Propietary vs. FOSS4GIS round-table in Spain

P Kishor punk.kish at gmail.com
Wed Dec 26 07:22:51 PST 2007

On 12/26/07, Miguel Montesinos <mmontesinos at prodevelop.es> wrote:
> Hi to everybody,
> A round-table with subject "free software, propietary software and GIS" was held at Madrid, Spain, last december, the 18th of 2007, with people talking from the propietary side (top managers from ESRI and Intergraph in Spain), people from FOSSGIS side (gvSIG and regional Spanish governments) as well as academics and National Public Administration, under the chair of IGN (Spanish National Geographic Institute).
> A good thing about this event it's that it's been published in YouTube [1] (with written acceptance by talkers).
> It's a pitty that it's only in Spanish, maybe from the OSGeo Spanish Chapter we could translate something. Anyway I'll translate some funny things that have been said there.
> - Alfonso Rubio (Top Manager at ESRI Spain): [2] "from an intellectual point of view, I wonder that if free software is a software with freedom to be modified at any time, that is just the opposite of guaranteeing that we are able to work with standards, because any user, or even any implementation, can modify it"
> - A. Rubio (ESRI) in a 2nd talk: [3] "it seems that standard support is less guaranteed with free software from an intellectual point of view"
> and finally: "a standard -in the end- is a boring thing"
> - Rubén Andreani (Top Manager at Intergraph Spain): [4] "How much does it cost to make a software and to maintain it? There's a gossip which says that a version of a GIS software costs around 100-200 million $ ... so, obviously the software cannot be free (for *gratis*) because money has to come from anywhere."

In many ways I agree with both of them above. If their intent was to
denigrate Free Software then they failed, because I see the above as
the strength of FOSS. FOSS is indeed freedom to be modified at any
time, but that doesn't obviate working with standards. Standards and
software are related but in a different way.

Someone once wrote on this list that a standard is an interface
specification, which I found to be a very useful description. Software
can create a specification, but that becomes a "standard" only either
through wide-spread penetration and usage (MS-Word, Shapefile format)
or via a consensual agreement of peers (W3, OGC). And, a "standard" is
always open to change. If it is not malleable then it indeed is
fossilized in time. As new functionalities are dreamed up, standards
are modified to accommodate them. FOSS doesn't guarantee or break
standards anymore than proprietary software does (afaik, Apache has
never broken the HTML standard, or MapServer has never broken the
Shapefile standard).

Re. the cost of FOSS, I would contend that if we were to monetize an
entire FOSS community's effort to create and support its FOSS (for
example, MapServer community's effort to create and support MapServer
-- this would include everyone -- from its developers to maintainers
to bug fixers to advocates to those who help others on the lists to
even those who just lurk and learn from others), yes, it would
probably amount to a very large sum of money. It is irrelevant whether
it would be US$100-200, because FOSS community has never been
interested in monetizing it that way. Besides being incredibly
difficult because of its loosey-goosey nature, if it could, it
wouldn't be FOSS -- it would be something else. FOSS is much more than
the money of it.

So, I agree with both those folks. If there intent was to eulogize
FOSS, they succeeded, and if their intent was to denigrate it, they


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