Free software

A player in free software and founder of IRILL

Logiciel Libre

Inria continues to demonstrate a commitment to free software. Convinced that free software has a vital role to play in the development of the digital society, and with plenty of experience behind it, Inria is strengthening its policy in the field, particularly with a view to technology transfer and the announcement of a new Computer Science Innovation and Research Initiative on Free Software. Together with its public research partners and organisations involved in free software, Inria is proposing, through the Centre for Computer Science Innovation and Research in Free Software, to bring together in a single place of creation the scientific, technological and industrial expertise necessary to meet the challenges raised by the rapid expansion of free software.

Inria and free software

With software design and development at the heart of its expertise, Inria has been involved in free software for many years. Its contributions to the field have taken different forms:

  • the development of free software, some of which has come to achieve real recognition within the community (OCaml programming language, Coq proof assistant, Graphite software, etc.);
  • involvement with other academic and industrial partners in the creation of consortia such as ObjectWeb in 2002 (which became OW2 in 2006) and Scilab in 2003;
  • participation in the creation of the CeCILL licence family, which establishes the principles for using and distributing free software in accordance with the French law brought into force in 2004;
  • development of a methodology for analysing the legal situation of software in QualiPSo.
  • production of a guide to analysing free licences and a collection of documents explaining free licences.

Inria has thus developed an overall view of free software, encompassing the perspectives of research promotion, technology transfer and industry.

Free software, a tool for promoting the research conducted at Inria and making use of it in industry

Convinced that free software has a vital role to play in the development of the digital society, Inria is consolidating its free software policy. Free software is complex and comprises several potentially contradictory aspects: it can be a vector for the promotion of scientific knowledge and an object of research, a vector for technology transfer and an industrial product. In this context, free software must be chosen carefully and must be part of a strategy that maximises social impact, particularly through technology transfer.  With this in mind, Inria has:

  • characterised the methods for developing, distributing and transferring software (what are the objectives being pursued?), in order to assess how appropriate the choice of free software is;
  • established a programme to professionalise practices in order to ensure appropriate technological development, the development of communities of developers and mastery of the aspects related to intellectual property.

The Initiative for Research and Innovation in Free Software

The exponential growth of free software creates major challenges:

  • on the scientific front, free software is becoming a major subject of research, with the emergence of new questions linked in particular to the change in codebase scales, their multi-component nature, or the issues associated with collaborative development;
  • in terms of training, we need to prepare the engineers of the future for the new challenges that free software brings;
  • on the economic front, free software can be a powerful vector for technology transfer.

A multi-faceted phenomenon, free software requires a combination of different approaches and skills. Convinced that the development of free software will also be dependent on our capacity to bring together stakeholders from research, education, technology transfer and innovation in a sustainable fashion and in an identified place, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Université Paris-Diderot and Inria have launched IRILL (the Initiative for Research and Innovation in Free Software), a unifying project led by Roberto Di Cosmo, a professor at Paris 7 University who is currently seconded to Inria. "We are convinced that France has a fertile breeding ground for free software. With IRILL, we wanted, in conjunction with our public research partners, to create a place for research and innovation in free software, open to all those involved in the innovation chain," explains Michel Cosnard, Chairman and CEO of Inria.

IRILL's goal is to become a leading centre for research and development in secure and reliable free software, helping, in conjunction with other initiatives, to bring together players from the world of free software.  IRILL will also house industrial projects, serving as an observatory and experimentation centre for transfer of free software.

The first collaborations began after the IRILL days held on 4 and 5 October 2010.

Inria and free software: some notable events

  • 1996: Inria researchers begin to develop the AMAYA web editor and browser, in partnership with the W3C consortium.
  • 1997: Inria researchers develop Coq, a system for the development and verification of formal proofs, which represents a vital stage in demonstrating the reliability of software. Today, it is integrated in many high-security applications, particularly for air transport. 
  • 2002:  Inria, together with Bull and France Telecom R&D, launches the Objectweb consortium, which sets about building a complete and standard corporate-infrastructure-oriented open-source middleware platform.
  • 2003: Inria joins forces with other industrial and academic partners to launch the Scilab consortium, based around the scientific computing software of the same name, which it developed with the Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées. Scilab is now led by the Digiteo foundation.
  • 2004: Inria, the CEA and the CNRS launch CeCiLL, the first licence to set out the principles governing the use and distribution of free software in accordance with French law
    June 2009: The Graphite software application, a platform for research on 3D modelling and computer-generated images, developed by a project-team from the Inria Nancy Grand Est research centre, wins the judges' special prize for the most innovative project currently under development, and third prize in the "sciences" category (applications or tools useful for research and science) at the 5th edition of Les Trophées du Libre.
  • 2009: More than 300 pieces of free software are distributed by Inria's project-teams.

Keywords: Roberto Di Cosmo IRILL Free software

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