Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Open source software in Greece

In a recent blog post, fellow open-source developer Dimitris Andreadis wondered about the sorry state of open-source software development in Greece. Dimitris has been working for JBoss, er Red Hat, for quite some time now and these days he is the Big Cheese of the JBoss Application Server. Therefore, his question is not of the naive kind. As a matter of fact I've been asking myself that same question these last few years and I'm about to tell you what I've come up with. But first some brief history.

My own open-source adventures as a developer began in the Christmas holidays of 2000, if my memory serves me correctly. With the University closed for the holidays, I spent some time during my vacation fiddling with FreeBSD on my laptop. As a Unix enthusiast I had switched a while back from Linux to FreeBSD, but I had been having a problem with the system's support for the Greek locale. The problem was that there was no support, whatsoever. Being young and foolish, I sacrificed a few nights of partying with friends to tame the beast. And tamed it was. I've been submitting various patches ever since, to the FreeBSD project, the Eclipse project, the Apache Lucene project, the Gnokii project and a few others. Aside from one (recent) particular occasion, I've been doing it on my own spare time, without any sort of compensation for my work. Not to mention missing a few parties.

What was the motivation then, you say? Well, obviously, at that time and age I wasn't a world-acknowledged computer programming Giant, yet. Yeah, I still ain't. But the goal had been set. And a few pints of beer could not have stood in my way. I sought recognition from my peers and recognition I received. Not right away of course. It took a few years more than I had imagined, but eventually I ceased to be the frightened newbie and turned into a seasoned veteran, who would help others find their way around the system. Besides the numerous "thank you" notes, I was rewarded with experience. And as you've probably heard, experience does not grow on trees. You have to invest time and effort, in order to get it. You have to sacrifice stuff. You have to say no to party invitations. From pretty girls. More than once. It's cruel, I'm tellin' ya!

So, we have determined that seeking experience, peer recognition, career advancement and having an itch to scratch, can lead an otherwise sane person to open-source software development. Pretend for a moment that you agree with me that there must be plenty of people seeking peer recognition, yada, yada. There is still the issue of effort and sacrifice. I would be tempted to concur with various other commenters in the aforementioned blog that in Greece we like to have it easy. But, let's put that aside for a moment and consider the "scratch an itch" issue. What if there is no itch? My friends who had Windows on their PCs, did not have any locale issues. They regularly cursed at the blue screens of death of course, but that's not exactly an itch, it's more of a gangrene. You just can't scratch it. So you spend your time downloading pirated versions of insanely expensive software instead, fooling yourself into thinking that you are obtaining experience. The error being of course in the direction. Experience mainly comes from diving deep inside a problem space, not sailing along in the surface. If we eliminated software piracy in Greece, most people would not be able to afford many commercial applications on their PCs. They would have to settle for free and open-source equivalents, warts and all. And then they would make the greatest discovery of all: they would be able to try and fix them.

If I'm coming across as a bit disappointed, it's probably because it's getting really late and I'm feeling sleepy. Don't pay much attention to me, instead see how good things appear to be in an excellent study by professor and open-source developer Diomidis Spinellis. In his paper "Global Software Development in the FreeBSD Project" he presents a world map with markers on the cities where the project's international team of developers live. You can see there that Greece is represented with a couple of markers, whereas Spain is not. Neither is Portugal. Nor Ireland. Even Russia is not so hot either, considering its size. And don't get me started on South America or Asia.

So, I'd say things aren't very rosy, but they are not that bad after all. It's just a matter of perspective. Glass half full or half empty? Dusk or dawn?

Now speaking of dawn, if you'll excuse me...

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

what's the pc situation like in Greece at the moment? when i was living there in 2004/2005, i read the ownership was almost 40%(compared to the 7 or 8% it was before 2000), but the one thing i noticed is that very few Greeks had decent computer skills, even ones that owned pc's. a good friend told me that Greeks think of pc's as 'luxury consumer items rather than an essential tool for learning, research and development' or something of that nature. would you agree with him? is that attitude changing?

it's funny how long it took for the pc revolution to take off in Greece. i read they didn't properly enter the workforce in a major way until aroun 99/2000, and that a huge % of the public sector isn't fully equipped, or merely hanging onto outmoded technology.

past said...

I'm not following the statistics very closely, but the numbers are getting better, though the distance from the EU average is still considerable. The important thing is that today I can deal with banks almost exclusively through the Internet and to a large extent with the public sector, too. Schools are connected to the Internet through the EDUnet network and the next generation will be hopefully brought up with a greater appreciation for technology and less tolerance for bureaucracy.

Thanasis K said...

Hey man, we have been quoted in the same article :-)

http://ec.europa.eu/idabc/en/document/7182/469

my techie blog is
lixtetrax.wordpress.com

Cheers ;-)

past said...

Hey, that's a first for me! Thanks for letting me know.

Nice blog by the way.

Thanasis K said...

Hey man, I decided to revisit the issue with a recent story from the trenches. Have a look if you want :-) (if you consider this comment as spam, feel free to delete it).

past said...

Spam? Hell, no! Spam is the absence of useful content. Your post is the exact opposite.

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