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Open source 'leaving Asia behind'

Novell veep warns of collaborative culture clash

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The open source community risks leaving Asian users and developers behind, thanks to cultural differences and western business's tendency to treat programmers there as code monkeys rather than software designers, a senior Novell staffer has warned.

Kurt Garloff, the company's global product opportunities veep, said that while open source communities regard criticism as constructive, others see it as insulting. Speaking at the start of the company's Hackweek in Germany, he argued that software companies need to find ways to mitigate the sometimes confrontational nature of open source development, if Asian developers are not to be excluded.

"If you look at the open source mailing lists to see where the posts come from, it is almost exclusively white males, from Europe, including Eastern Europe and Russia now, and North America, plus some from South America," he said. "The absence of countries such as Japan is striking.

"Open feedback is OK culturally in Western Europe but a big problem in Japan - for example, open criticism can be seen there as a big shame on you. I do hope it doesn't keep them on the margins of open source - we are trying to create awareness of these issues."

He suggested that while Asian cultures are evolving and opening up to constructive criticism, one option for now might be for open source companies to create less free-wheeling and more protected environments for would-be developers to collaborate in.

"The second angle is that the open source community needs to adapt and become less confrontational," he said, adding that the language of on-line discussion can discourage western newcomers as well.

"In countries such as India and China there's an additional problem," he continued. "Their education system trains them to do software manufacturing - the straightforward but tedious work of implementing specifications - rather than software engineering, and that's how western outsourcers use them.

"Software engineering is an art, it's a fundamentally different mindset to software manufacturing."

He added, "I can certainly see people being afraid of the low-cost economies, but the bigger loss is for the whole world, if it doesn't use developers from all cultures to develop code."®

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