Those who know me and who have read my writings before will be very well aware of how important the topic of decentralization is to me and to my way of looking at the world, at our societies and our economies. I truly believe that there is no future to be had, at least not one that respects human dignity, should we continue down this same path of top-down control, mindless conformity and blind obedience to technocrats, bureaucrats and career politicians. Free competition, of goods and of ideas, free speech and free choices are the way forward.
While a lot of people might agree with these principles in theory, only a few are prepared to and capable of making inroads in that direction in practice. This is why I was so happy to have the chance to talk with Bernd Rodler, the founder and Chairman of the Board of VNC AG – Virtual Network Consult AG. Born in Bavaria, Germany, he is now a Swiss citizen and lives in the Canton of Zug. Apart from his extensive experience in the software and IT industry, Bernd also has a deep understanding of economic principles and political history. He is an advocate of Open Source software, but also open mind, meaning freedom of thought, and individual liberty.
Claudio Grass (CG): To start with a basic introduction for readers who might not be too tech savvy, could you give us a brief summary of the products of VNClagoon and what differentiates them from mainstream competition?
Bernd Rodler (BR): First of all, what drives us at VNC is the goal to offer a secure communication and collaboration stack to people and organisations.
Our company is named VNC – Virtual Network Consult and was founded 20 years ago, at a time when topics around virtual and learning organisations came up. I was fascinated by the outlook of having small, even atomic entities and teams that are connected within virtual organisations, to share knowledge and build, as we called it, an “informational pyramid“. Data, information and knowledge lead to innovation. And innovation is what businesses and societies need to foster. If your readers are interested in our vision and mission, they can read more about it here.
After many years, the archetypes Virtual & Learning Organisations are even more important. We added the third archetype of Open Source software.
Today, the VNClagoon software stack consists of a variety of integrated products for communication and collaboration, such as a messenger (comparable to WhatsApp), a video conferencing tool (like Zoom), email, groupware, task & project management, file sharing, a secure alternative to Twitter called VNCsocial, a content collaboration software similar to Slack and many more.
VNClagoon today has become an acknowledged alternative to well-known closed source and / or SaaS-only applications offered by Microsoft, Zoom, WhatsApp, Google and others. This is the feedback we are getting from the market.
As we never planned to reinvent the wheel, VNClagoon is based upon best-of-class open source technologies and is 100% Open Source itself. The products are transparent, auditable and can be operated wherever the customer wants – in public Clouds like the Google Cloud Platform, in private Clouds of Governments or enterprises and also on-premise in the data center of your choice. This is contrary to the business model and strategy of closed source vendors, who often aim to „lure“ the customers to their own servers to totally control them. We do not want to „own“ our customers‘ data. But that is just our approach and belief system.
CG: Why is open source safer and what advantages does it provide to users?
BR: Before answering this question, let me confess that during my IT carreer I was indeed involved in closed source software from e.g. Microsoft, Intergraph and other big players. For a very simple reason: there was no real open source business software these days.
In 1991, Linus Torvalds started this fantastic Linux project and prior to that, Richard Stallman came up with the idea of GPL, the general public license. Thus, a new model to deliver software code in an open and transparent manner came into existence. Stallman can be quoted with the famous phrase: „If you think about open source, think free as in free speech, not free beer.“ After GPL and the first Linux kernels gained ground, more and more open source based business software was developed.
Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer then called open source a „cancer“. That was the predominant opinion among business leaders in those times. And we did not agree. That was the time when we decided to leave the Closed Source world and focus on Open Source only. Why did we make that choice? Well, we strongly believe that Open Source has loads of advantages compared to Closed Source software. Let me mention some of these advantages briefly.
The most important aspect for us at VNC is the openness, thus accessibility, of the entire code. How can you adapt software, integrate and fix security issues, as well as bugs, without having the chance to deal with the code directly? We definitely could not have developed this huge stack based on Closed Source software.
This allows us to be performant in terms of time-to-market, either by integrating other Open Source components or by developing the required functionality ourselves. This brings along tremendous cost effectiveness. The TCO of open source is way below closed source components. As mentioned before, the software is not for free, but constitutes a valid business model.
In terms of security, Open Source has obvious advantages: open code is regularly and permanently reviewed by the community. Auditors may check each and every line of code and testify on leaks, backdoors and so on. In my opinion, the most brilliant software developers and DevOps engineers in the industry can be found in the Open Source community. Which is logical, due to the fact that openness attracts open minded and smart people, who then are driving innovation.
What is the future? Closed source is coming to an end. Web servers, mobile apps and cloud business software are increasingly built on Open Source tools and platforms. So I dare to state: the future of software is Open Source.
CG: Over the last decade, we’ve seen a rapid acceleration in the consolidation of “Big Tech”, resulting in just a handful of companies effectively dominating the sector and the wider market. In your view, does this stifle innovation and progress?
BR: We all know that bureaucracies are doing well when dealing with standardized processes and huge amounts of data. Large corporate entities – with a handful of exceptions still run by the founders – are kind of bureaucracies in themselves.
But we have never seen significant innovation coming from monolithic, monopolistic organisations that are beyond competition. Innovation always derives from small entities that allow discussion, trial and error and team work. By opening up the results of their work, namely „code and ideas“, in an open source manner, they are permanently challenged by their peers, as well as their customers.
Therefore, we are absolutely convinced that the future is Open Source, not only in software development but even beyond. Thus, real innovation and progress happen beyond Big Tech.