It's official: Open source is an engine for growth

At the Open World Forum, there's no doubt about the power open source and open data are unleashing in Europe

When I wrote about open source as a stealth stimulus package this summer, some readers expressed skepticism. But two reports from Europe today support the growing hypothesis that open source provides an excellent monetary bundle for economies that embrace it. More than that, it can be a springboard for businesses that engage it on the basis of delivering flexibility rather than restricting their vision to cost savings.

The Open World Forum has been held annually in Paris for the last five years, in part because of the regional government's decision to invest in open source. The man responsible for that allocation is the deputy mayor of Paris, Jean-Louis Missika; it was especially appropriate for him to break the news of how open source has benefited the city. Using data from a PwC survey of 27 international cities known for their business power, Missika reported that Paris is second only to Beijing in economic strength, third in intellectual capital (behind Stockholm and Toronto), and of course first in quality of life.

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While some will suspect a little interpretive hyperbole has crept in, there's no missing the presence at the conference of many young businesses benefiting from the open-powered startup climate Missika's initiatives have fostered.

Meanwhile, we've also heard that open source contributes as much as 450 billion euros (around $580 billion) to Europe's economy each year, according to new research published recently in Brussels. This follows news of the importance of open source to the U.S. economy, discussed in an O'Reilly report this summer. By freeing software for reuse without strings attached, startups are given easy access to the shoulders of giants.

We're steadily seeing evidence build of the importance of open resources: open source, open data, open research. They each unleash power by removing the need to ask permission before innovating, repurposing, and generally improving the economy by unfettered use of shared resources. With the White House using open source, the European Commission setting aside funds to promote it, local government around the world preferring it when all else is equal, this source of economic energy is becoming more evident daily.

We need to keep repeating to our political representatives how important it is to make space for open source and open resources if America is not to be left behind in the global economy.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.