The most valuable and most successful companies are IT companies: Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft. All based in the USA. China, another huge market, is the production site of most hardware, but also the seat of companies that successfully take the place of US companies: Alibaba, Tencent and more. Emerging markets also have their own market, where online business takes place. KaiOS is an example of an innovative model that is hardly known in the first world.
Where does Europe rank? There are no significant online platforms. Businesses and administrations make themselves dependent on software from the USA and hardware from China. Creative entrepreneurs and talented developers are migrating to the USA. In the long run, Europe will become less relevant as an innovator and remain an importer of technology. This is disastrous.
Europe needs a strategy and the political will to change this trend. But the potential and the resources are there to make Europe more independent in a changing global world. In the following I would like to present my personal thoughts on such a strategy.
Europe should under no circumstances try to copy the USA or China. The existing successful solutions are basically centralized solutions. This means that services are offered, where the data of the customers are in the access of the operating companies. No matter how well the privacy promises on the websites can be read, de facto there is no protection of the data from the companies or the authorities of the country where the company is located - usually the USA or China.
Data is the commodity of the information age. The first difference that Europe should make in its strategy is the absolute protection of this data. Users should have full access and control over their data so as not to become dependent on individual companies. This can be achieved through decentralized solutions and strong encryption.
It must be possible to display and edit data. Computers, tablets, smartphones and, over time, other devices will be used for this purpose. It is important which operating system is used, because this is the foundation on which all solutions are built. Microsoft, Google and Apple have a [monopoly] (https://de.statista.com/themen/783/betriebssysteme/), all of them based in the USA. Europe should focus on its own free platform, with Linux and Android as a first starting point.
But besides the operating system, another secret operating system has emerged: the web browser. Originally a European invention, it has revolutionized the access to information on the Internet. In recent years, complexity has increased and most computer services can now be accessed using web technologies. The programming is easy to learn and the knowledge of it is widely spread. Now with WebAssembly there are no real performance problems anymore.
Europe should take advantage of the fact that there is the proven web platform. However, after the weakening of Firefox only one browser engine is relevant and this is controlled by Google and Apple. Europe should develop its own open engine in the short term, for which Servo is the obvious choice. In the long term the operating system as a whole could be replaced by a web engine, following the example of Google Chrome OS.
It is also important to be able to trust the devices themselves. In many chips there are own small operating systems, which take over important functions and normal developers do not have access to the internals. It is important to become more independent in development and production, preferably with an open approach. Why shouldn’t several hardware manufacturers produce the same type of chips? ARM is a successful model in this area. Unfortunately I don’t know enough about this topic to be able to go into more detail. But I think it is important to create a basis that can be trusted and that is not monopolized.
The public sector, i.e. administrations and authorities, should be obliged to use and develop open source software. Any solution developed with government funds must be freely and openly accessible and must be able to be operated without limits and free of license costs. The money currently spent on licenses for Windows in Europe alone should be enough to promote software development. Contracts for development and maintenance should in turn be awarded in Europe in order to stimulate and build up expertise and markets here.
Both education in dealing with IT and the transfer of knowledge through IT should be strengthened. Especially in times of Corona, the deficits have clearly become apparent. The needs for an educational infrastructure are certainly comparable throughout Europe, but there is no common effort to find a solution as far as I know.
In the area of learning materials there are now various solutions, for example in Germany Anton App, Musste Wissen or SimpleClub. But also internationally like Khan Academy. Nevertheless, each teacher prepares his lessons individually and experiences are not effectively shared. A better promotion of such content could improve both traditional and virtual teaching and thus position Europe better, as the level of education increases and becomes more comparable.
European citizens have repeatedly shown that they are innovative and recognize future issues. Renewable Energy is a good example of this, but at the same time it is also a bad example of the short breath in political support. In the field of mobility, Europe was at the forefront with fossil fuels by optimizing cars, but then missed out on developments, even though many innovations for the engines of the future also [took place] in Europe [https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transrapid].
The great challenges of our time are also opportunities that must be taken advantage of. The potential is there, now we need the courage and passion to go our own way and to do so as quickly as possible.
Links to similar topics:
- Kommentar: Digitale Souveränität zum Schnäppchenpreis – von Europa und Mozilla by Felix von Leitner, Heise.
- A clean start for the web by Tom MacWright
Published on August 26, 2020