Why Europe loves open source

Open source provides a custom fit for enterprises tired of one-size-fits-all software deployments.

Matt Asay

Next week I'm headed to Argentina to work and to ski. (Mark Shuttleworth will be joining me so I'll post pictures once I have them.) In preparation, yesterday morning (6:30 AM, to be precise) I headed over to the Sport Loft to have my Tecnica Dragon boots custom fitted.

Sport Loft does an amazing job with boots. Having gone there, I'll never go anywhere else. It wasn't cheap, but it was worth it. As Jeremy, who spent two hours fitting my boots, and I talked, he said something that resonated with me on a number of different levels, not the least of which being software:

In the US, everything is mass produced. We understand volume businesses. But in Europe, they really focus on a customized product.

He was talking about how most people never get their boots custom-fitted in the US, but that it's quite common in Europe. As open-source software adoption in Europe compared to the US shows, ski boots and software may have a lot in common.

Open source adoption in the US is quite strong, but it is Europe that leads the way, as Forrester recently noted. Europe recognized the economic benefits of open source well before the US did, and Europeans (or those of recent European origin) are responsible for many of the industry's most important open-source projects.

Open source is about customization. It's about boosting value by increasing software's relevance for you. The software industry in Europe lends itself well to this in a number of ways, not the least reason being its strong channel focus due to language barriers. Most software in Europe passes through system integrators that "fit the boot" for their customers.

Is this necessarily a European thing? No. Or, rather, it need not be. Open-source companies like SugarCRM, Projity, Snaplogic, MuleSource, and others are helping customers to rediscover the new "roll-your-own" market. It's called open source, and it begins and ends with you.

Software has attempted to be a mass market for several decades, to the financial benefit of Microsoft and a range of other vendors. This isn't a bad thing, as we need strong vendors. However, we also need to ensure that enterprises are getting proper value from their software investments. This requires customization. There's no better customization and innovation platform than open source.

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