LocationTech: The Next Step for the Open Source Geospatial Software Community

February 6, 2013

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The Eclipse Foundation announced its LocationTech initiative on February 5th via a press release. The Foundation, with more than 190 members and more than 225 projects underway, is one of a number of organizations that nurture and grow open source software. It grew out of an early IBM open source project called Eclipse.

Eclipse is a community for individuals and organizations who wish to collaborate on commercially-friendly open source software. Its projects are focused on building an open development platform comprised of extensible frameworks, tools and runtimes for building, deploying and managing software across the lifecycle. The Eclipse Foundation is a not-for-profit, member supported corporation that hosts the Eclipse projects and helps cultivate both an open source community and an ecosystem of complementary products and services.
LocationTech is a working group of the Eclipse Foundation, which basically applies the same mission - to collaborate on open source software - with a focus on geospatial software. Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, explains, “The main idea behind LocationTech is to use the model Eclipse has used so successfully and aim it at developing location aware components. The Eclipse model of open source is one which creates collaborations which have room for both companies and individuals to participate. LocationTech is both an industry collaboration, and a new open source community where individuals and companies can collaborate on creating location aware technologies.”
While LocationTech might sound a bit like the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) and the Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGeo), it’s a complement to them, says Milinkovich. In particular, LocationTech offers a “full-service not-for-profit Foundation providing support for open source location aware technologies.” He ticked off this list of differentiators: 
  • software licensed under commercial friendly open source licenses
  • intellectual property (IP) management services
  • a professionally-supported open source forge
  • full-service, not-for-profit staffed by full-time professional staff to support the ecosystem
Having these services offered by a full-time staff can take the burden off software developers and instill confidence in their “open source shy” potential adopters or customers. LocationTech members garner other benefits including influencing and supporting technologies of interest, voting rights to direct the Foundation, as well as networking and marketing opportunities.
The four sustaining members (those companies that pay a higher fee to literally sustain LocationTech, see the fee schedule in the Charter) at launch include IBM, Oracle, OpenGeo, all known in geospatial circles, and Actuate, which is new to me. Actuate founded and co-leads the BIRT open source project, a project focused on business intelligence (BI). What about Esri? One of its open source tech leads just wrote a piece called Going Open Source with Esri. Will Esri be involved? The reply from Milinkovich: “LocationTech is open to all and we hope Esri will participate in the future.”
Two other members are listed as participating members (that’s a “regular” membership level): Carleton University Research Center and OSGeo. Doesn’t OSGeo sound like the logical leader of this sort of effort? After praising OSGeo on its good work over the last seven years, Milinkovich provided a bit of history.
Andrew Ross, our Director responsible for LocationTech, has been active with OSGeo since 2007 and a charter member since 2008. ...Momentum for this initiative started growing after conversations at FOSS4G 2011 in Denver. There was strong desire from numerous people to provide a place for companies to more effectively engage open source geospatial software and thereby grow the ecosystem. Also, the community was just starting to recognize the significant importance and opportunity represented by engaging better with Enterprise IT ... There were a number of people involved in both the Eclipse and open source geospatial communities which caused people to start asking what-if. It took time to figure out the details and get the work done. The result is LocationTech.
It will be interesting to watch as this new organization spreads the word about its offerings and enhanced support of open source. Will more geospatial developers choose the open source path? And, if they do, will they do so as members of LocationTech?

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