OSGeo Vision for UN-GGIM 2

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In 2006 OSGeo set out to support and promote Open Source geospatial software development. The world at that time had changed rapidly by the unprecedented success of other major software initiatives using an Open Source model, notably Linux, BSD Unix, Apache, Mozilla and an ecosystem of software tools including GNU, perl, bind and others. The ability of software developers to contribute to common source code, and to form functional communities focused on rapid, state-of-the-art improvements to crucial infrastructure had changed the rules of the game. Private sector companies, academia, government and the military were taking notice of the huge success of these projects, and beginning to change their thinking about how to benefit from this model. In particular, the strategic decision of IBM to support Linux, against its own proprietary operating systems marked a watershed moment in the adoption of an Open Source development and governance model for software by a Fortune 500 corporation.

The application of standardized licensing to source code and to new contributions had proved critical to long term stability in very large infrastructure software projects. OSGeo from its inception applied rigorous and documented criteria to previously somewhat ad-hoc projects. The necessary crucible for the next generation of major advancements in geospatial software was a combination of the ability to combine and grow common source code libraries, a rigorous legal framework, and support for community infrastructure. OSGeo set out to provide all of these.

OSGeo was initially formed with several of the best-of-breed Open Source geospatial software projects of the day : MapServer, GDAL/OGR, GRASS, and in the Java world, GeoTools. Note that the initial roster of projects, and subsequent additions, covers the spectrum of server-side data storage, plug-in libraries for data transformation and format conversion, presentation of data on the web, as well as traditional desktop GIS analysis.

Very quickly, OSGeo participants realized that geospatial data itself was both crucial to the software efforts and may also achieve similar benefits in an Open Source environment. OpenStreetMap had been founded in 2004, following the massive success of Wikipedia, roughly founded in 2001, and both were expanding rapidly with unexpectedly high quality results. OSGeo started thinking about how the role of government might fit with the role of the independent Open Source software development world in geodata.

It is a truism that science itself is an open source project. The success of the scientific method and communities of research in the last several hundred years may well be a sign that Open Source software development is here to stay, but the modern conflicts in science over funding and publishing may also be an indicator of some difficulties that lie ahead.

Current Development

OSGeo is a world-wide organization operating on the Internet and through local chapters and interest groups. OSGeo operates common hosting and communications infrastructure, including:

  • more than 150 active mailing lists,
  • 25 project development instances using TRAC
  • more than 400,000 unique visitors per month
  • more than 700 active source code committers
  • source code base of more than 100 million lines of code

OSGeo Local Chapters operate in more than 25 Countries around the world. It is safe to say there are participants in every industrialized nation world-wide, and good representation from a handful of smaller countries in the third world.

Since the founding of OSGeo, the Open Source software model has grown exponentially by every measurement metric. The role of Open Source geospatial software in the future, be it five years, ten years and beyond, is unquestionable.

Data Access

Access to data is impossible in modern terms without software. Software development is the key to the evolution of the acquisition, management, dissemination and analysis of data. Currently there is a powerful and sometimes difficult evolution going on, as the roles of government, private sector and academia are blurred and redefined again and again, with respect to geospatial data and software. Arguably government is a laggard in the evolution of data access, while the private sector races forward, and cooperative communitarian models flourish on the web.

Make no mistake, competitive scenarios are being served by the Open Source movement, and highly competitive entities are in some cases committing serious resources to Open Source software development models. However, the case with data is far less clear. It is arguable that a role of government is to provide serious, comprehensive data infrastructures as a basis for good governance and economic growth, as we see in the United States and the European Union, but this is not universally practiced. In some cases it is up to disruptive, skunk-works projects to take on the challenge of common data infrastructure.

Future Scenarios

It is impossible to predict the major trends of the next five or ten years, largely because of one simple phenomenon: an invention, technological breakthrough, market changes or political upheaval, can very quickly redefine the playing field and the relationship of its players. Left with this, an intelligent observer can do several things: observe and identify the current active trends, create and discuss scenarios and their implications, and act in a way that facilitates change to effect the future.

OSGeo has in place a growing and thriving, international Open Source software development infrastructure, with rigorous review criteria and adaptive community models. There is no doubt that the future of geospatial software development rests on common tools, libraries and languages. A robust and adaptive process of software development will play an indispensable role as the future unfolds.