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Russia warming up to open source

Russia is cozying up to open source, but it still feels like it's a few years behind the US and Europe.

Matt Asay in Russia
Matt Asay

Russia is warming up to open source, as evidenced by a new government policy document that Roberto Galoppini analyzes, and something I experienced firsthand today during my trip to Moscow to keynote Interop Moscow.

I met with a range of people including systems integrators, government employees, open-source vendors and, of course, Microsoft (Yes, they're always at these events, and the Russian country manager turned out to be a bit of a Putin-bulldog type). Despite the Microsoftie's attempt to discredit open source as a terrible strategy for Russia - perhaps he worries about a second Bolshevik Revolution, this time in IT? - it was a pleasant, informative day.

In my keynote (available to download here), I argued that Russia should develop its own IT economy, rather than shipping rubles back to Redmond (or anywhere else, for that matter). For any developing country (which is pretty much everyone), why would you ever want to try to build an IT economy on imports?

The economic impact of open-source development, as derived from a report the European Union commissioned, is telling:

Matt Asay

The people are proprietary in open source. Russia needs to develop its people.

That said, some interesting factoids emerged:

  • Russia is in a bit of a chicken-and-egg dilemma vis-a-vis open source. On the one hand, there is significant interest in open source within the private and public sectors. However, many larger organizations won't buy open-source solutions because of a shortage of qualified companies that provide open-source support/software. As such, they keep defaulting to Microsoft and a few other proprietary vendors.

  • Russia won't allow open source for mission-critical government applications because it still believes in security through obscurity. Apparently the Kremlin didn't get the memo from the US Defense Department. "Da, Boris. They say it's actually more secure, not less! Crazy Americans."

  • Russia is big on local offices. I must have been asked 50 times if Alfresco were planning on opening an office in Moscow to serve the market. I told them we already had one. It's called "Sourceforge.net." Once that office gets full, then we'll consider opening a physical office.

  • Russia is very tapped into the open-source conversation. I felt like I was in the US as the conversations swirled around the same topics: Patents, business models, etc. The only difference is that the Russians with whom I met seemed even more passionate about these things. Raskolnikovs, they were not.

  • There is a LOT more money here now than there was in 1991, the last time I was in Moscow (shortly after Yeltsin rolled the tanks on the attempted Soviet coup d'etat). Back then, there was one McDonalds. Now there are possibly hundreds. (And the food is just as bad as ever.) Back then there were just ugly Ladas everywhere; now there are Porsches, Audis, etc. that compete to run over pedestrians. It's a growing economy. It's got money to spend on open-source software. And Big Macs.

All in all, a great trip. Russia feels like it's five years behind the United States with regard to open source, which is itself a few years behind Europe (meaning, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, UK). But it will come. It will happen. This Russian bear can code.