France pins growth hopes on Parisian open source software

The French government wants to make the Paris area a centre for open-source software development

The French government plans to make the region around Paris a centre of excellence for open-source software development, the French Minister of the Economy, Finance and Industry, Thierry Breton, says.

The goal of the centre of excellence is to develop a healthy and profitable open-source software industry.

Breton, previously head of France Telecom, announced the plan at a news conference to discuss a new report on the French economy’s future, “The intangible economy: tomorrow’s growth.”

A new economic and technological model, built on free software, is forming in the IT industry, Breton says. As this new opportunity opens up, it is “calling into question the dominant positions formed in the software industry over the last 15 years.”

France must seize this opportunity, in a sector where the country is teeming with talent, he says.

Breton hopes that sales of software and other intangibles will help the French economy grow by between 3% and 4% annually. In contrast, the Chinese economy, based on more tangible goods such as the export of computers, is growing at around 10% annually, according to figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

A group of academics and open-source software entrepreneurs have come together to create the centre of excellence. Roberto Di Cosmo, professor at the University of Paris 7, will lead the group, assisted by Alexandre Zapolsky, chief executive officer of open-source software services company Linagora. François Bancilhon, CEO of Linux distributor Mandriva and Stéfane Fermigier, CEO of open-source enterprise content management software company Nuxeo SAS will also take part.

The group’s members say the centre of excellence will allow the Paris region to renew its industrial base and slow the loss of jobs to low-cost locations.

Although the internet and other tools have simplified virtual collaborative working, software development still needs a physical place, Di Cosmo says.

“It would be very naïve to forget the importance of human contact, and the physical environment in which many projects grow before moving into the virtual phase. If everything is so simple in the virtual world, why are there so many developers’ conferences?” he says.

Explaining the choice of Paris as a centre, Fermigier says, “We work with many people elsewhere, but the kernel is in the Paris region.”

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