RAFAEL LAGUNA, CEO of open source cloud productivity suite Open-Xchange (OX) has told The INQUIRER about his hopes for a more open internet.
Open-Xchange is a cross-platform service that provides a range of web apps, cloud storage, encrypted email and instant messaging. The service can be downloaded - white labeled, free of charge and self-configured - with the company's business model based on optional support and configuration. It is licensed to a range of ISPs and telcos across Europe, running on Linux systems.
Laguna asks, "What would have happened to the internet if there had been no Linux? What if it had been set up based on Windows servers and Unix servers from Sun or IBM?
"The internet simply wouldn't have happened. It would have been way too expensive. Companies would have tried to control who had the internet and who didn't. It would have prohibited the internet from ever coming into existence.
"The same thing applies to cloud application providers. If we were to go by the dreams of the big over the top providers like Google and Facebook and so forth, they would try and control their own chunk of the internet and make it proprietary. You know, like Hotel California."
Open-Xchange acts as an open-source rival to Microsoft's Office 365. With more companies moving to open source, we ask Mr Laguna if he believes that Microsoft's proprietary system is viable.
"I think the business model is sustainable for Microsoft at the moment because a lot of people don't think about these things so for many years I see both systems competing in the market," he said. "What will thrive is a lot more fairness and competition in the market. What I don't see is Microsoft being able to continue to do with their customers whatever they like because people simply aren't locked in anymore."
But, we ask, surely giving away all the tools to create ones own data empire could backfire? What happens if a company running Open-Xchange were to become as big as, say Google?
Laguna said, "This wouldn't go against our ethos - if they're successful, they're doing something right. They cannot lock in the customer because the software that they've used to build their service is available to everyone, so if they do something stupid to exploit their customers because they think those customers are locked in, they will always have a choice to move on to another provider that provides the same or a similar system.
"For them it's much more difficult to do bad stuff that in would be if they were using proprietary software. The problem with proprietary software is that the company decides who owns the software and who gets it. In the case of Office 365, nobody gets it except Microsoft."
The biggest difficulty a service like Open-Xchange has is explaining to the man in the street why they need to change when, at least on the surface, everything seems to be working fine.
Laguna says, "People aren't interest in change - change happens to them. All you can really do is lower the hurdle. Look at Apple. The touchscreen keyboard isn't more convenient, but everything else was so much more convenient that people learnt to adapt and now it has become normal."
But underneath, security is a major issue and Laguna believes that in the post-Snowden world, people need to be more and more vigilant about who has access to their data. By using open-source systems on private or trusted servers, he believes that end users can take back the power from the major corporations that currently predominate, because trust has fallen by the wayside and now, it would seem, is the time to trust no one.
He continues, "People are far more aware of security post 'Summer of Snowden'. And I am sure that we haven't heard the end of the Snowden revelations yet. The worst may well be yet to come, because it will show the non-American involvement so much more.
"It's way, way, way more complex than that. You in Britain, us in Germany, we can't trust our governments," he says, knowingly. µ
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