The FOSS4G conference in Lausanne, Switzerland, is almost over. There has been a lot of talk about Free, Open, geo-data and quite a lot of interest in OpenStreetMap. Much of the interest is generated from the restrictive geo-data licensing that we are all too familiar with – it seems that people across the world share the same problems with accessing data. There is also an interesting case of “grass is always greener” that exists between people in the USA (where the government provide basic geo-data for free) and most of the rest of the world where we pay for the map data. The US representatives point out how crude their geo-data is, and also that private geo-data vendors supply data under licenses that are equally as restrictive as those of the Ordnance Survey or other European mapping agencies.
So there is a lot of discontent within the Geo and wider community, which catalyses projects like OpenStreetMap and is also drawing the attention of larger organisations. OSGeo have had a massive presence at the conference. They are an organisation that have been recently set up to support open source geospatial software – products like GRASS, Mapserver and GDAL are all benifitting from their assiciation with OSGeo. In a discussion session about open geodata, OSGeo expressed a lot of itnerest in helping grass roots projects, possibly by providing legal advice or by providing contact with a wider community and also by providing representation Governments and administrators who pull the strings. They are definitely worth taking a look at.
OSGeo themselves are partially supported by Autodesk, who have just made the move into Open Source with their Map Guide Open Source product. For a proprietery software house like Autodesk to release an open source project may have been unimaginable a few years ago and demonstrates the turning of the open source software tide. How long will it be until the open geo-data tide turns the same way?