Openness a Nordic speciality?

One firm trend is that open-source code is gaining ground in the technological sphere. Linus Torvalds’s Linux operating system is the best example. 

The question is whether this kind of openness is a Nordic specialty. Open source is well represented in the Nordic countries, particularly in Finland and Sweden. Three of the leading global open-source products originated in Finland: Linux, MySQL and the IRC (Internet Relay Chat) chat protocol. What can explain this?

Finnish Mårten Mickos had not reflected on this before he moved in 2003 to Silicon Valley as MySQL’s president. He was asked several times why so much open-source originated in the Nordic countries. “To begin with, I did not consider the question interesting. My response was that it had to be a coincidence. Even so, I started to think about the question and concluded that it did have a point.”

“I like getting out into the countryside with my family. At home in Finland and Sweden I can walk into any forest I like – we have our age-old right of public access. In California and the rest of the US, there is lots of open countryside but you cannot walk there unless you have a special permit.”

Open access is taken for granted in Finland and Sweden. “Trying to stop people moving around the countryside freely would be considered an infringement of civil rights,” Mickos says. “To exaggerate slightly, anything that is not permitted in the US is forbidden. At home, unless it is forbidden, everything is permitted.” 

The principle of public access to documents also unites the Nordic countries, and Sweden and Finland in particular. Political decisions should be transparent, and detailed records have to be kept of the actions of politicians and government agencies, which have to be available to anybody.

Mickos stresses that despite the name, open source is not about charity. “You do it for your own sake. One appropriate expression is one we use in Finland: ‘Good for us and bad for nobody else’. It is a totally simple and unbeatable concept because everyone can contribute and use the results, and the transparency means that bugs are discovered. It is an effective and cheap way of making use of the expertise that the individuals involved have built up.

“In every phase of world history, there has been a certain approach that has paid off. Today openness is the trump card and qualities such as being egalitarian, open, non-hierarchical, autonomous, open to external influences and having good general knowledge are the winning concepts.”


Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn



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