The Asian Free and Open Source Community

During my work as a FOSS business matchmaker in Asia for FOSS Bridge and other projects in the last two years I met many fantastic people doing amazing things with free and open source software. Yes, there is a vibrant free and open source community in Asia. I have done a few interviews and talks and will be publishing more of that step by step. I had a talk at the Berlin Webmontag a few days ago about business opportunities with free and open source technologies in Asia. The slides (in German) give some ideas about this.

Community First!

The current release of MySQL shows the problems free and open source software projects face that put business first and community second. Michael “Monty” Widenius critizes in his Blog the current developement model of MySQL and recommends not to use the current release 5.1 of the database system.

The reason I am asking you to be very cautious about MySQL 5.1 is that there are still many known and unknown fatal bugs in the new features that are still not addressed.

Monty points out problems stemming from having a company taking the lead in the development of a free software system - cause they need something to sell fast. In this article I am supporting the view of Monty and discuss his views in regards to Freifunk and LXDE. I believe communities must take the lead in order to make and keep a project on the bleeding edge, however, we should work together with companies (like for Freifunk or ASUS for LXDE) and exchange resources. Both can profit. In the end open and free community projects are all about cooperation.

In his blog entry Monty gives some reasons why the MySQL development department again got a quality problem with the release. Problems are ranging from the fact that MySQL 5.1 was declared a release candidate to early (because of commercial reasons), to focussing too much on new features rather than on quality (because of commercial reasons), to involving developers that are not experienced in developing database systems (Mario: Maybe because they do not come from the community?), to not keeping the development open for testing and participation of the community and more.

As I said in my talk at the MySQL users conference, I think it’s time to seriously review how the MySQL server is being developed and change the development model to be more like Drizzle and PostgreSQL where the community has a driving role in what gets done! (

What can we learn for the free software and other open source projects here? The consequences are clear. Projects that want to stay on the bleeding edge of technology with quality code and widespread support must put the community first.

In the projects I participate - e.g. freifunk, LXDE, FOSS Bridge - I always work hard to bring the community together, make the community grow and keep and foster it. And this is not always easy. There are different expectations of people involved, different goals and outside circumstances change and have positive and negative effects.

For example, even though the Freifunk community was in the spotlight many times in the last two years, it seemed somehow stagnating. We had put a lot of resources to rebuild the website and foster more exchange, but with the broader availability of broadband in some districts in Berlin for example the motivation of people to participate to get constant Internet access became less. Additionally new business models seemed to draw people away from freifunk to something that seemed easier to use and offer many things similar to Freifunk. However Freifunk is more than mere exchange of free Internet access. The idea of Freifunk is to build a local network - the public space in cyberspace, but we did not have the tools easy enough giving everyone the chance to build the local network with the limited resources, especially time!, that people have.. but we are getting there with simpler software and easier to use devices. received different reactions in the core groups of the global Freifunk community when it started, ranging from refusing any connection with FON to trying to ignoring it. Some welcomed FON and their involvement. FON pays some of the core OpenWRT developers which is the base of the Freifunk Firmware and it offers new hardware, that can also be used by the Freifunk community. Personally I do not mind working together with FON. As I see it, we have to be pragmatic and everyone has to make a living and the Freifunk community could profit from the involvement of FON and other companies. I would like the decision if people from the community work for and with FON left to the person him/herself. At a recent meeting in Berlin, I have discussed this a bit with Martin Varsavsky. Martin actually asked me how FON could work together more with the Freifunk community.

We should be clear here though. FON and Freifunk are two very different things. FON is a company that labels its participants (actually its customers) community. Freifunk is a community with many different people - students, engineers, scientists, free and open source activists, people who want Internet, people who want a truly free network, people using it for their business, people working for development cooperation and so on. People have different motivations to participate in Freifunk - interest for technology and development, Internet access, interest in new ideas and projects, inspired by idea of freedom, a way to make a living. These people would not participate if Freifunk was a commercial operation. I remember the saying of some ¨Money destroys the community¨. It is formulated in this regard, I believe.

Still, we should not be absolute here - meaning - we should acquire resources and money for the community -> for conferences, events, hardware for developers, funding for projects etc.. Based on my experience of the last years, communities need resources. We should study successful models of communities that have achieved to channel resources to the people really working on it. Associations, Foundations and similar organisations are very helpful here as they keep things transparent and offer newcomers entry points. Also companies that would like to support projects have it easier to talk to someone from the community if there is a working organisation set up.

During recent months I have seen more activity in the Freifunk community again. With the new OpenWRT Firmware Freifunk will have many features which we want for years. I am always talking about the fantastic things we can do in local networks - new usage cases and sharing of content in your local environment, community radio in schools, universities or simply your backyard. Local networks are different to the Internet as cinema to TV. Felix Fietkau and John have presented a development version of OpenWRT to a group in Berlin recently. The new OpenWRT will offer plugins that will let us store content directly on the nodes. With router devices offering USB connections now everyone can have their small webserver at home. We can have a local Web 2.0. With devices connected to sensors like thermometers we can have live feeds from all over the city, the country and worldwide. I do not want this local Web 2.0 called after a company, a device or anything else. We call this FREIFUNK. A global local = glocal network open to everyone - to the public and to companies.

Companies are always welcome to join development and focus on their business models. However, Open Source, Open Infrastructure and Free Software Projects like Freifunk and LXDE or Open Content projects like Wikipedia have a roadmap that is following long term goals instead of short term profitability. And people are engaging here not just for monetary reasons, they have much broader motivations and they are inspired by the freedom the communities offer. This is why communities are more powerful. Companies simply cannot compete with this in terms of human resources and motivation. In order to grow and sustain free and open projects and the communities though we need to work together in our different fields and we need companies that engage and support the communities.

LiMux: Interview mit Florian Schießl über das Linuxprojekt der Stadt München

Ein Vorzeigeprojekt der Freien Software-Gemeinschaft ist das Projekt LiMux der Stadt München. Bei dem Projekt werden die Computerarbeitsplätze und Server der Stadt München nach und nach auf freie Software-Alternativen umgestellt, weg von einer Microsoft-abhängigen Monopolstruktur. Auf der Open Source Meets Business hatte ich die Chance mit Florian Schießl über das Projekt zu sprechen.

Producer: Mario Behling // Kamera: Stefan Koehler
Direkter Link:

LiMux – Die IT-Evolution ist ein Linuxprojekt der Stadtverwaltung München, das freie Software auf den derzeit ca. 14.000 Arbeitsplatzrechnern der städtischen Mitarbeiter etablieren wird; aufgrund der für die öffentliche Hand in punkto Software-Beschaffung neuartigen Ausrichtung auf Open Source ist LiMux weltweit in den Medien präsent und wird von der proprietären Softwareindustrie und den Befürwortern freier Software gleichermaßen beobachtet. Das Kofferwort LiMux setzt sich aus Linux und München zusammen. Der Zusatz „Die IT-Evolution“ steht im Gegensatz zur „Revolution“, die versucht, durch einen scharfen Schnitt die aktuelle Situation zu ändern. „LiMux – Die IT-Evolution” wird eine langsame, aber kontinuierliche Entwicklung sein, die als Ziel eine modernere, den Anforderungen auf dem Arbeitsplatzrechner besser angepasste IT-Landschaft hat. (Version 23. März 2008, 16:30 Uhr,

Hintergrund zu Florian Schießl, der das Limux-Projekt von der Seite der Stadt München betreut und Stefan Koehler, der von Seiten von Gonicus an dem Projekt arbeitet:

Biographie: Florian Schießl
Florian Schießl (29) ist seit 2003 bei der LiMux-Projektleitung und stellt als stellvertretender Leiter des Linux Client Teams die Ablauffähigkeit des Basisclients und die Koordinierung der Officeumstellung sicher. Linux ist sein ständiger Begleiter seit 1998.

Biographie: Stefan Koehler
Stefan Koehler wurde 1971 geboren. Nach einem Musikstudium wandte er sich der Informatik zu und vertritt aus Überzeugung den Einsatz von Freier Software in Unternehmen und Behörden. Derzeit begleitet er als Berater der GONICUS GmbH die Linuxmigration der Landeshauptstadt München.


Manel Sarasa CEO of Openbravo, Interview at Open Source Meets Business

I conducted an interview with the CEO of Openbravo, Manel Sarasa. Openbravo is a free and open source software for enterprise resource planning.

We are talking about the story of Openbravo, localization of the software and the business model of the company. Openbravo has currently more that 1500 downloads a day and all together more than 500.000 downloads up to know. 70 partners are acting in more than 20 countries. The download of the software is completely free of charge. Customers can also customize the software and distribute it. The company earns an income by providing services and consulting. It received 5 million Euros funding from investors in the first round.

Our clients are organisations that have chosen to be the owners of their ERP solution and to only pay for the professional support they really need, when they need it. (May 15, 2008,

60 people are steadily employed by the company. One third in the engeneering team, one third in the operations team and one third is employed in other parts, like in corporate services and in the internal consulting unit. "About the community, we estimate that there are thousands of people contributing to the project." Emerging markets and Asia, especially India and China, is a hot topic for Openbravo. "We start to have some good contacts there." The next step in increasing userfriendlyness of Openbravo systems is the one click install with an easy option to keep clients up to date.

Interview: Mario Behling // Camera: Stefan Koehler
Direct Link:
Openbravo is an open source web-based ERP business solution for small and medium sized companies that is released under the Openbravo Public License, based on the Mozilla Public License. The model for the program was originally based on the Compiere ERP program that is also open source, released under the GNU General Public License version 2. The company is also a member of the Open Solutions Alliance, a non-profit organization working for open-source standardization. The program is among the top ten most active projects of Sourceforge as of January 2008. Development decisions are made by Openbravo, S.L., located in Pamplona, Spain. (Version 22 March 2008, 18:31,


Towards Wireless Open Hardware Routers and WLAN Servers

At the CeBIT I had the chance to talk to some fantastic folks of direct open embedded systems, a new Latvian company that is producing WLAN devices based on the GNU/Linux distributions like OpenWRT, OpenEmbedded and FlashSYS Linux.

In the video they present their devices and some show cases as well as FlashSYS, their own web based firmware for small router computers.

FlashSYS environment is a cross-operating system clent-server environment that allows developers to use existing web development skills (HTML, JavaScript, Ajax, Flash, SQLite, and Lua) to build and deploy Rich Internet Applications (RIA) for an embedded system with a very small footprint. (

direct open embedded systems is able to produce WLAN devices that can act as small web servers with currently up to 64 GB storage space.

Most of the free and open source companies presented their products in hall 5, which was packed with crowds of people. You can get an idea when you hear the background noise in the video. The interest in free and open source technologies is amazing and ever increasing.


Europe leader in the adoption of Open Source

I conducted a short interview with Andrew Aitken at Open Source Meets Business. Andrew is the Founder and Managing Partner of the Olliance Group, which is advising large companies like IBM, Microsoft, Motorola, major banks and even the US Navy on their Open Source strategy. At the conference he gave a keynote about The state of commercial open source.

Camera: Stefan Koehler

Speaking about Open Source Aitken states that „there are a lot of business opportunities. There are not so many viable business models. It is a big difference.“. According to Aitken there are still opportunities in selling software and subscriptions for Open Source companies: „The successful companies today are selling subscription services, such as RedHat, such as MySQL, SugarCRM, Alfresco and others.“ He continues, „...Adaption (of Open Source) is so widespread. Virtually all major corporations in the world are using Open Source. ... And that is what driving the commerce behind it.“

Andrew gives an interesting example how the US Navy set up little supercomputers based on open source technology on their ships in order to process a whole range of sea data, such as water levels, temperatures and so on. Open Source solutions like that could also be used “for tsunami relief and the [control and observation of the] spread of infectious diseases around the world”, Aitken adds.

At end of the interview Aitken offers an insight of what is going in the Asian market in regards to Open Source Software: “The markets are a bit separate. For instance Japan is a very tough market to break into. And in order to do so you really have to have the support of one of the large companies there. And those large companies are just beginning to understand the opportunity that Open Source presents. I would say Asia is probably three years behind North America, and which is behind five years behind Europe. ... Europe is the leader in the adoption of Open Source, not necessarily commercial Open Source, but Europe is clearly the leader in the adoption of Open Source in general.”



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