Gilberto and all,

I would like to give some comments on this from the perspective of a GIS company with an Open Source business model, I hope you will find them of interest.

lat/lon was founded in the year 2000 as a private company (in Germany) and had from its beginning an open source business model. We do consulting and software development for GIS projects, mainly in the context of Spatial Data Infrastructures (SDI). Most of the project solutions we develop are based on deegree, a library tailored for interoperable SDIs that was originally developed together with Bonn University. We compete with other vendors, proprietary and open source based alike, on the same grounds (software quality, price, quality of support and so on). With each project we do, we develop deegree a step further, we have no source of funding that does not come out of projects we have to apply for first. I do not want to go into too much detail, but we do pretty good, which means we can pay our bills and have continuous growth year by year. Also there is a number of other companies by now that are developing solutions based on deegree, some of these companies are based in neighbouring countries.

Now to the question of government intervention. After reading Gilberto's mail I asked myself what is meant by this term? In Germany (where lat/lon so far is mainly active) there is no official policy supporting open source software. There is a number of guidelines that suggest so, but all public bodies are free to do how they like. But there is a growing support from people in governmental agencies who decided by themselves that they want to use more open source software (Gilberto - is this what you mean by indirect support?). Still - as I said - there is not any kind of "protectionism" for Free Software. We (and other companies doing the same job) have to convience our clients that what we offer is good value for money.

So from my point of view it is possible to compete in the GIS market using an open source business model without any high-level government intervention (although it surely helps). Perhaps Germany is special in this regard, but I doubt so - we are getting more and more projects in neighbouring countries as well. I guess that there are other companies having similar experiences. I have to say that I am a bit surprised that I got the impression (from the remarks by Paul and others) that the same is not possible in Northern America!?

Best regards,


Gilberto Camara schrieb:
Dear OSGEO Discussion List members:

Paul Ramsey´s remarks are right on target.

First, GIS is a large arena and there are
different motivations for developers, that
prevent them from joining a single project such as uDIG.

Second, it is very difficult for a private
company to develop a world-class FOSS4G product
and survive based only on consulting
fees for the commercial sector.

Third, to overcome these limitations there is
a need for governmental intervention, which may
be direct, as in the case of Catalonian government´s
support for gvSIG, or indirect, as in the decision
of Germany to support open source software.

In Brazil, the National Institute for Space Research (INPE)
has been supporting local GIS development for 25 years,
with a lot of success in our national user community.
Without official support, there would be no local FOOS4G
development in Brazil.

In 2003, I did a F00S4G market survey and published the
results as a chapter of a US National Academy of Sciences book:
"Open Source GIS Software: Myths and Realities"

We analysed 70 FOSS4G software projects taken from the
FreeGIS list, and divided them into three categories:
networked products (e.g. GRASS), corporate products (e.g., PostGIS)
and individual products (e.g., CAVOR). From each product,
we assessed its maturity, level of support and functionality.

Our main conclusions at the time were:
(a) Only 6% of the  products were developed by networked teams.
    Thus, the “Linux paradigm” is the exception rather than the rule.
(b) Corporations (private or public) are the main developers of
    successful open source products. Corporations account for 41% of
    all products.
(e) Individual-led software (a small team of 1-3 people) have
    less quality and more mortality than the above.

These results show that the impetus behind successful
open source software was not coming from altruistic individuals
working in the midnight hour, but from professional programmers.
I consider that a similar result would be obtained today, should
the assessment be repeated.

This analysis was further elaborated in a JASIST paper:
"Information Policies and Open Source Software in Developing Countries"

For the FOSS4G effort to be fruitful and sustainable,
we need a very informed and candid assessment of our
business model. My personal view, based on 25 years of experience,
is that government intervention is essential for the open source
model to survive beyond a handful of examples.

Best regards

Dr. Markus Lupp
l a t / l o n  GmbH
phone +62 (0)81 339 431666

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