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Something for Everyone at the 2019 FOSS4G Conference

Robert White

I have just returned from an amazing week at the very well organized and executed FOSS4G (Free and Open Source Software For Geospatial) Conference held at the end of August in beautiful and historic Bucharest, Romania. Here are six reasons why I believe this to be an increasingly important conference. Some of my reasons may surprise you.

Bridge Building - Conflict between “pay for GIS” software and “open source GIS” remains the 800 pound gorilla in the room. In my opinion, this is now a dated view. Open source projects provide a place for experimental GIS technologies to live, grow or die on the vine. In this digital sandbox, all players have an opportunity to observe and learn about new trends, technologies having legs, and those having none. Open source also allows powerful commercial interests to sponsor projects of general use and utility to the greater community, and support that community, without eroding their own competitive edges. The coordinate conversion package PROJ is a fantastic example of this and has numerous commercial sponsors.

Lack of Product Road Maps - Technical and financial considerations of self-selected sponsors drive particular enhancements to open source projects with their financial contributions. Such projects often have no specific long term “road map” but do tend to drive organically to ever improved products. Open source teams have to tread a fine line crafting their products and pleasing corporate sponsors. Linus Torvalds is a good example of a strong personality who has successfully navigated Linux through this difficult terrain.

mercator storm.jpg

Open Conference Proceedings - I love this industry trend. All conference talks are freely published on this site. Trust me, there is something here for everyone. Andreas Aime of Geosolutions and Geoserver fame gave a fascinating presentation on “Mapping the World Beyond Web Mercator.” Flying home from Romania, I was reminded again of the evils of this ubiquitous web map projection which on my journey made a high latitude storm appear much larger than in reality. Web Mercator distorts our world in all sorts of other ways, too. For more than you probably want to know, Kenneth Field (cartonerd) has a blog on this topic.

Project Focus - FOSS4G teams seem to organize into very specific and focused projects sponsored by a wide variety of industry partners, such as for PROJ. Every corporate player in the GIS world that you can think of uses this, and the project attracts a wide variety of sponsors. We are also facing a large datum change with time elements very soon. (Remember the NAD83 to NAD27 issue? It just got worse). Nobody should tackle these computational challenges independently.

FOSS4G Conference Not Just Developers - Open source teams are often quite small and often still work directly with their end users. In my view, this accessibility produces healthy products and relationships. I am reminded of the early days of commercial software development where one could access developers directly without corporate filters.

The Wild West of License Agreements - A perplexing variety of license agreements governing the use of the generated code. At least one organization has tried to create license agreement standards, but open source developers don’t have to use one of these approved models. Commercial developers have to be extremely careful to abide by the terms of all the various agreements. There have recently been some restrictions in the agreements because some cloud providers have offered “for pay” services for free services and not supporting the developer community in return. If you do use open source code in your own projects and you are a company, it’s important to clearly document such code and instances of use, particularly in M&A situations.