A new organisation, OpenForum Europe, has been formed to push the benefits of Open Source software in the UK. But it is an organisation with something of a past; its moving spirits have been involved in X/Open, Uniforum UK and its successor Interforum, and the inaugural OpenForum Council membership list seems to have a considerable amount in common with the membership of Interforum. The extent to which these organisations succeeded is a matter of opinion.
According to a prelaunch OpenForum document leaked to The Register, one objective of the organisation will be to "broaden the market take up of Open Source Software (OSS) including Linux." It also intends to avoid repeating the mistakes that were made over Unix in the 80s and 90s, but there are some people who think that organisations such as X/Open and Uniforum bear considerable responsibility for those very mistakes.
Noted Open Source evangelist Eddie Bleasdale of Netproject holds X/Open responsible, alongside "AT&T lawyers," for "opening the spec of Unix so widely that even NT could be called Unix," and points to the hideous mess that Unix descended into in the 90s as reason for serious scepticism about the likely effectiveness of OpenForum.
Graham Taylor, programme director for OpenForum, chaired Unix International in the UK, while Geoff Morris was a leading light of X/Open, InterForum and now OpenForum. OpenForum itself has been spawned by the IT Forum Foundation, which also founded InterForum. InterForum CEO Philip Flaxton also has track with Uniforum UK, and is one of the backers of OpenForum. These people, as Bleasdale points out and some of their own supporters confirm, do not know a great deal about Linux, but they do know quite a lot about getting backing, and having their voices heard in the highest circles of government. Although concrete effects of their efforts in this area in the past are tricky to nail down.
Speaking to The Register earlier today Graham Taylor said the organisation's aim was to "move Open Source forward in the business world," and that there would be a formal launch in February. He said that although mistakes had been made over Unix, "Geoff and Phil were among the people who stood up and said 'this is nonsense.'" And he apologised profusely for sending out the press release in Microsoft Word format. "I am in the process of being converted," he shamefacedly told The Register.
OpenForum's intention is to focus on the commercial benefits of Open Source, and to push it in the business world. In that sense its ability to gain backing from commercial and government organisations may be useful. At the moment for example it has on board several banks, IBM, HP and Compaq, a clutch of government departments and agencies (including The Office of the E-Envoy), BT, BA, the Metropolitan Police... We needn't say more, but there are plenty. There are also several representatives of the national and technical media - 365.com, CMP Europe, Dow Jones, Reuters, the Financial Times, but not The Register, apparently. The DTI is meanwhile co-funding a study "to measure the benefits of Open Source Software to British Business."
One might observe that if all of these organisations had already standardised on open source software, then there would be no need to push for its adoption. One might also observe that there is a distinct dearth of companies you'd actually class as open source companies in the supporters' list. Graham Taylor volunteers IBM and Caldera, but you could respond to this by pointing it out that this is the mouthy one that doesn't do anything, and the weird one. No Red Hat, no Mandrakesoft, no SuSE. Entry fees are currently set at bracing levels, from £3,000 to £25,000, which doesn't seem calculated to win hearts and minds among Open Source vendors. Graham Taylor concedes they may have to come down.
So will the veteran influencers succeed in pushing open source on to stardom in the UK (and then in Europe, for that is the plan)? Or will there simply be many conferences and white papers? We'll see, but The Register is not confident. ®