SELF: a collaborative platform to share and create free contents about free software and open standards

David Megias, Estudis d'Informatica, Multimedia i Telecomunicacio. Univers; *Jonas Oberg, Free Software Research Center. Goteborg University, IT University; *Wouter Tebbens, Internet Society Netherlands; *Rafael Macau, Estudis d'Informatica, Multimedia i Telecomunicacio. Universitat Oberta de Catalunya

Abstract


Software has become a strategic societal resource in the last few decades. The emergence of Free Software and Open Standards, which have entered in major sectors of the software market, is drastically changing the economics of software development and usage.

A formal definition of Free Software [1] is based on the following four freedoms:

1. The freedom to run the programme, for any purpose.
2. The freedom to study how the programme works, and adapt it to your needs.
3. The freedom to make and redistribute copies.
4. The freedom to improve the programme, and release improvements.

On the other hand, there are various definitions of Open Standards, such as that of the European Interoperability Framework for Pan-European eGovernment Services of the European Commission [2] or the motion B 103 of the Danish Parliament [3]. The SELF project understands as Open Standards those formats which satisfy the following conditions:

1. Complete and public documentation
2. Freely implementable
3. No proprietary hooks
4. Open standardisation process
5. Reference implementation in Free Software

SELF, an acronym for Science, Eduaction and Learning in Freedom is a research project [4] funded by the European Commission within the 6th Framework Programme of Research. This project is carried out by a consortium formed by seven groups belonging to seven institutions in different countries, namely: Internet Society Netherlands (ISOC.NL), Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC), Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE), University of Gothenburg (UG), Internet Society Bulgaria (ISOC.BG), Fundación Vía Libre (CIPSGA) and Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education (HBCSE), which are settled in Holland, Spain, Europe, Sweden, Bulgaria, Argentina and India, respectively. The main strategic objectives of the SELF project are the following:

1. To bring together universities, training centres, Free Software communities, software companies, publishing houses and government bodies to facilitate mutual support and exchange of educational and training materials on Free Software and Open Standards.

2. To centralise, transmit and enlarge the available knowledge on Free Software and Open Standards by creating a platform for the development, distribution and use of information, educational and training programmes about Free Software and its tools.

3. To raise awareness and contribute to the building of critical mass for the use of Free Software and Open Standards.

The accelerated growth of Free Software has been driven in part by the success of platforms such as the GNU/Linux operating system – now the second most used operating system in the world after Microsoft Windows – and the Apache server – by far the most widely employed public Internet web server with more than two thirds of the market. Such high profile systems are just the tip of the iceberg, with a plethora of other Free Software applications operating and being continually developed in a wide range of specific areas.

Some governments have already defined the migration to Open Standards and the use of Free Software applications as a strategic goal. Among them in Europe are the Norwegian national government (and all government bodies), the Spanish state Extremadura, the German Ministry of Interior, the city of Munich, the city of Vienna and various French ministries. Outside Europe, the national governments of Brazil, China, India, Japan, Australia, Korea and Malaysia are some of the early adopters. For more details see the Open Source Observatory of IDABC [5] or the Worldbank infoDev report “Open Source Software – perspectives of development” (2004) [6].

The SELF project starts from three main assumptions:

1. Free Software and Open Standards are crucial to support the competitive position of the European software industry;

2. the real and long term technological change from private to free software can only come by investing in education and training; and

3. the production of educational and training materials on Free Software and Open Standards should be done collaboratively by all the parties involved.

Hence, the SELF platform will be simultaneously a knowledge base and a collaborative production facility. On the one hand, it will provide information, educational and training materials that can be presented in different languages and forms: from course texts, presentations, e-learning programmes and platforms to tutor software, e-books, instructional and educational videos and manuals. On the other hand, it will offer a platform for the evaluation, adaptation, creation and translation of these materials. The production process of such materials will be based on the organisational model of Wikipedia [7]. In short, SELF will be a web-based, multi-language, free content knowledge base written collaboratively by experts and interested users.

While the SELF platform will be started by the members of the consortium, its final goal is to become a community of different interested parties (from governments and educational institutes to companies) that can not only exploit the SELF materials but also participate in its production. The commercial and educational interests of exploiting the SELF materials will assure the self-sustainable character of the SELF platform beyond the EC funding period.

References

[1] The Free Software Definition, GNU Project, Free Software Foundation (FSF). http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html

[2] European Interoperability Framework for Pan-European eGovernment Services: http://ec.europa.eu/idabc/servlets/Doc?id=19529

[3] http://www.ft.dk/Samling/20051/beslutningsforslag/B103/index.htm

[4] SELF – Sharing Knowledge about Free Software. http://www.selfproject.eu

[5] http://europa.eu.int/idabc/en/chapter/469

[6] Dravis, P. Open Source Software: Perspectives for Development. Washington: The World Bank. Retrieved January 12, 2007 from http://www.infodev.org/files/837_file_Open_Source_Software.pdf. 2003.

[7] Wikipedia. http://www.wikipedia.org


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