Cocktails on the Titanic – the final chapter from #GeoCom

I presented Cocktails on the Titanic to a pretty full room at GeoCommunity on Wednesday. I have been developing my thoughts for this presentation over the last 6-9 months. It started with the AGI Foresight study and my section of the editorial on social and economic trends, it evolved with “Without a business model you are FCUK’d” at and then presentations to the ESRI UK user conference, The GeoData 2010 event, State of the Map in Girona and a lunch time lecture at CGS in Nottingham. You could say that I have been hawking this stuff around for a bit now, I would respond that my thinking has developed and refined as I have engaged in conversations with different audiences.

Thanks to Cliff1066

Now that I have just about closed out my thinking on this, I consider the key elements to be that

  • Free API’s are going to dominate simple web presentation because they incorporate good quality free data, are highly performant and scalable and offer slick intuitive interfaces. The traditional GI industry can and is responding by moving to the cloud but they will face some fierce competition from an advertising funded business model with massive resources.
  • Open Source software is increasingly recognised as a cost effective alternative to proprietary software, particularly for web mapping applications where the functionality is quite well established and becoming commoditised through open standards interfaces. Open Source is not free but it is potentially a very cost effective alternative to traditional license models, particularly if hosted in the cloud.

In his barnstorming defence of his Soapbox champion’s trophy entitled “Free, my arse” (note the importance of the comma) Ian Painter had a light hearted lampoon of me ranting “You are all doomed” in a Scottish accent (not sure about the accent). It was good fun and he was making the perfectly valid point that access to source code is usually irrelevant to customers (I agree) and that implementation costs can be much higher than for well designed proprietary software (I doubt this but would like to see some evidence to that effect, the Accenture report that I found did not support this statement) and that support costs could be higher than those for proprietary software (possibly but I doubt that TCO over 5 years would be anything like the cost of licenses and support and maintenance for a proprietary solution). So am I suggesting that Open Source is the answer to every problem, absolutely not!

Open Source appears to me to be a very attractive option for server based applications. Linux, Apache and Java power a mass of web applications from many of the giants of the internet including a large part of Google’s applications. Many enterprise vendors including IBM, Oracle and most of the GI vendors use some of these Open Source products or components. They aren’t doing this without carefully evaluating their costs of ownership. So as web mapping becomes more mainstream and the pace of functional enhancement slows, Open Source becomes a very viable alternative and new services businesses will spring up to implement efficiently and offer competitively priced support.

Where Open Source is unlikely to compete so strongly is on the desktop (most of the user interfaces that I have seen are just too clunky to gain widespread adoption even if they are free, of course that could change as some government bodies are considering dropping Microsoft and deploying Open office on a Linux desktop) and in the specialist niches where it is unlikely that a large enough community of developers will form around a project.

The implementation of the UK INSPIRE implementation on Open Source, distributions of complete geostacks loaded with Open Data by academics and other initiatives suggest that Open Source geoweb is gaining ground fast. The next year should be very interesting and no doubt the traditional vendors will have some strong and competitive responses all of which should be for the benefit of UK Geo.

You can view the slides for this last presentation here

The mindmap for the presentation is here and is open for edits

That may be the final chapter for me on this topic as it is time to get on with doing some stuff in the cloud with and on Open Source with CGS in Nottingham. The epilogue will need writing by someone, maybe this time next year? Ian P, I am sure you will remind me about this post at next year’s GeoCommunity.

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