Move to innovation park benefited South Tyrol’s open source centre

OSORMaking the Italian South Tyrol Free Software Centre (FSC) part of the Digital Technologies Area in the innovation centre in the Italian city of Bolzano, has given it the strength to support public authorities as well as companies in the region, says Patrick Ohnewein, head of the centre.

The FSC was made part of the Digital Technologies Area of the innovation park (TIS), a project from the trilingual province of Bolzano-Bozen, earlier this year. “It has given us a lot more resources. We are now much closer to the four strategic teams at the Digital Technologies Area, and that has raised our profile with all the organisations that contact the innovation centre.”

According to Ohnewein, this in turn has caused the FSC to become involved in commercial innovation projects such as tele-medicines, mobility, e-learning, testing & measurement, and cloud computing. “We are supporting enterprises with their research and development, help them turn ideas into real products and provide them with links to others that are active on free software.”

He explains the centre has grown from assisting public administrations to helping companies avoid being locked in by technology vendors. Turning to free software is creating business opportunities for local companies, Ohnewein said at the OpenOffice conference in the Italian city of Orvieto last month. Ohnewein also took part in the Free SoftWare Week 2009, that was held in Bolzano, in the week following the OpenOffice conference.

“We see ideas of young entrepreneurs like the company Endian, founded by Raphael Vallazza. He received the South Tyrol Free Software Award 2008, for his use of new innovative business models and his discovering of new markets, exporting free software security appliances all over the world. This is the kind of innovation we want to support in South Tyrol.”

In his presentation, he showed that public administrations in the South Tyrol province have been involved with free software for a long time. “Our public transport company, for instance, has been using GNU/Linux since 1993, preventing lock-in by both software and hardware vendors.”

Municipalities in the province started turning to open source around 2002, he says. “They began using Linux for servers, and began pilots with OpenOffice.”

The provincial administration adopted an IT strategy that encouraged public administrations to use free software and to make their date in a free and open format in 2005. That year OpenOffice was implemented on all desktops at the provincial government. The government then also began moving all computers in the Italian schools in the region to the Debian and Ubuntu Linux distributions. Schools of the other two language groups , Ladin and German, have not yet introduced free software on a larger scale, though a few schools have now begun some tests.

“That year also was the beginning of the Competence Center Open Source, Cocos. And that in 2007 became the Free Software Center South Tyrol.”

Article was originally published at the Open Source Observatory & Repository Europe.

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