Open source Software for Africa

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What’s the price of a Computer these days? At $750 (~ Rs 30 000) you can get a pretty decent one – maybe powerful enough to play some of the latest games! So for most office (typing, spreahdsheet) jobs and browsing, a simple $600 (~ Rs 25 000) PC will certainly do the job.

However, the PC won’t run on its own: we’ll need software (and an OS) and most of us go blindly for Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office. Despite all the criticism they’ve received, they do the job but they are bloody expensive!

 

Some Prices:

  • Windows Operating System
    • Windows XP Home Edition: ~ $200 (Rs 8000)
    • Windows XP professional Edition: ~ $ 250 (Rs 10 000)
    • Windows Vista Home Edition: ~$ 200 (Rs 8000)
    • Windows Vista Professional Edition: ~ $300 (Rs 12 000)
  • Microsoft Office
    • Office 2007 Standard: ~ $325 ( Rs 13 000)
    • Office Professional: ~$375 (Rs)

So most computers will need an additional $500 investement to be usable which brings the total cost to ($500 + $600) $11 000 (Rs 44 000) which is reasonable if you live in the US but certainly not in Africa where “36.2% of the population is living on under $1 per day” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Africa. Yet it could prove too costly to be left out of the eWorld trend!

 

Open Source to the rescue

One of the most widely used Linux distribution these days is ubuntu … and it happens to be African! It’s a fantastic distribution that’s updated every 6 months (yes a brand new revised OS every 6 months) with updates coming out on a weekly basis – Cost: $0.

Cost of Open Office (whose documents respect the ISO standard): $ 0

So just by making a little effort and moving to Open source software, can incur benefits of $500 which is not negligible! And the list of software does not apply only to Windows and Office; here a list of Windows software and their linux equivalent: http://www.opensourceafrica.org/default.php?view=softwarereplace

 

Obstacles

So if it’s all so good, why aren’t people moving to the world of Open source staright away? There are many obstacles in the way of which not all are to do with the software themselves

  1. Pressure/Lobby
    I’m very sorry to say that but many African regimes are among the most corrupt in the world and investing into free software will generate $0 in terms of commision. Moreover, there’s a huge lobby behind adopting “paid” software
  2. Visibility in the media
    The voices crying out for open source are very hard to hear and subdued by the very loud voices behind “paid” software. For example, how many have heard of the new release of KDE (which is a real landmark)? Yet whenever Apple or Microsoft does something, it’s a very very big event that’s covered by the press, TV, … and is considered the next essential gadget.
  3. Inertia
    Inertia is one of the biggest force at work in this world – people are relcutant to change. Many PC users have been brought up knowing nothing else but the world created by Microsoft – Linux is just a thing for geeks that is rather scary!
    Also, even governments do not have the courage to advocate Open source and use open source themselves. Lack of support is often a major fear but support will be supplied as the need for it is created.
  4. User-Friendliness of software
    This is an issue with Linux and a few other Linux based software. Normally they now work out of the box but sometimes for some unknown reason they just won’t work! Ubuntu has done a lot of effort in that direction but there’s still a small small thing missing to reach total user-friendliness

 

The Future

Things are looking better for Linux -with especially Suse and Ubuntu (Kubuntu) leading the fight – and the Open source community in general. As more and more awareness is raised and software get better and better, it will be hard to overlook them.

If the marketting is done properly, and the Open source world opens instead of being viewed as a geeks thing, the future looks bright. In the end, it’ll all be about the image.

– – – – –

An interesting website: http://www.opensourceafrica.org/

I’ve assumed the following change Rate: 1 US Dollar ($1) = 40 Mauritian Rupees (Rs 40)

11 responses to “Open source Software for Africa

  1. Nice blog entry Pascal🙂

    I’ve noticed something over the years. It’s tough to convince people to try Linux. As you said, inertia is one of the most important characteristics of humans.

    I’ve also noticed something else. People have a very low expectation of how a Microsoft product is supposed to behave. If Windows or Office crash, then everything is OK as a reboot will cure the problem. In a sense, Microsoft has managed to make people believe that it is normal to use a faulty product day in day out… and this why people do not feel the need to move to something better.

    In my opinion (and paraphrasing Christina), it’s more effective to convince the “opinion leaders” than to try to convince everyone…

  2. Interesting topic.

    I do not think the problem is inertia (that’s what you call it). The fact why Linux fails to even reach out to us (the lay man, the typical CS student or even the big software services companies) is that it is barely user-friendly. Whatever massive step made these days (KDE4, Kubuntu 8.04 very shortly,etc), there’s always a tendency to make a free and cheap copy of a Vista or Mac-like interface when you have the real one! Indeed, many do pay for their Windows and do not regret it.

    You’re from an academic background. You work on algorithms, prepare students with the basic knowledge to face what? The job market evidently. Do all of these comapnies use Linux? It may sound shocking to you but even top-notch companies like IBM are dropping support for Linux-powered servers for Windows! The reason: why need Linux geeks when there’s support for an almost infallible product like Windows server 2003?

    I don’t understand why some supposedly self-proclaimed Linux experts have a gripe about MS. I would rather say: Our good friend Tom needs an internet connection, Office apps, and some good games. He turns to Windows and that keeps him happy. Linux is not for everyone, neither is Windows. Everybody chooses his own lifestyle, isn’t it?

  3. Hi Pascal,
    IMO, those who are most likely to be interested in Linux in Mauritius are IT professionals, computer enthusiasts, young adults and teenagers. AFAIK, apart from the Universities, maybe the MIE, who at one time had Linux installed on some computers in a section of its main lab, centre SYFED and a few computer centres, there is no real exposure to Linux.
    Who knows about Linux in Mauritius? There have been a few articles in the papers. What about tv shows? MCA programs? We do have a tv program dedicated to computers each Tuesday. I don’t watch it regularly but AFAIK they have not yet talked about Linux. It could be a great opportunity to get these guys talking about this system.
    Among those who have the opportunity to make Linux known to the public, you have computer dealers, secondary school teachers and the govt. These are the one that Linux advocates need to target. If I’m not mistaken the previous govt had considered the opportunity to have all its computers operating under Linux a few years ago. I don’t recall why this idea was dropped.
    Secondary teachers may introduce Linux to pupils. The problem is that if ever they get pupils interested in using Linux, the latter still have to convince their parents to format the computer, partition the disk, have enough technical know how to get the software installed etc. Linux live cds might be considered here.
    What’s about the availability of Linux in Mauritius. Apart from centre SYFED who distributes Ubuntu and Debian, where do you get Linux distros? It is not given to everybody to have access to a broadband connection or to be willing to download Linux from the net. Linux is free but it is more difficult to get them than pirated cds.

  4. hehe interesting topic..😛

    i don’t use linux a lot.. coz of my games..🙂 and bcoz my parents also use my pc..

    @ kenny

    you mentioned about cpying vista or mac interfaces??

    i think that many of them were implemented first in linux distros ( need to confirm that)

    Quote:
    “there’s always a tendency to make a free and cheap copy of a Vista or Mac-like interface when you have the real one!”

    as you pointed out copy of interfaces.. meaning practically alike interfaces? so y pay to have the same thing?? if you are getting the same for free!!

    another point you mentioned..

    the thing about companies not using linux..
    so let me put it like this..
    transition from linux to windows is much smoother than from windows to linux..

    wat am trying to say if you know linux, moving to windows can be quite easy… but if you come from a windows background migrating to linux might not be a piece of cake( personally still having troubles lol)..

    finally i do agree with you about the fact that everybody chooses his way of life.. 🙂

    @ Hensley Bass

    kubuntu can be ordered online.. its completely free and the a good postman will deliver it at your doorstep🙂 you can even order multiple copies for you and your friends🙂

    @ pascal

    maybe an introduction to linux module (in yr 1) might be nice at uom… i believe cs students themselves are not at ease with linux so how can we hope that other people are lol..

  5. Hi.

    I’m using Kubuntu and I’m very happy about it. It’s not that you don’t have a nice office app (OpenOffice.org is fantastic) or games (many games run on Wine). It’s all about using something that’s nice, elegant, FREE, usable…

    Instead of battling, just do as me: for everything I use Kubuntu, except when things don’t run on it: some music progs and some games…

    You can’t say: I have a family-car and I’ll ONLY use my car. The day I want to race, I use a sports car! Same philosophy, applied to the computer.

    Huh, what did someone at uni told me: we can’t use Linux (RedHat). The day the mail server on RH went down, we had no support and didn’t know what to do. I told him to employ a RH certified and he told me everyone is RH certified!
    Sounds fishy… what do the certificates are for then??

    If “experts” at university tell these kinda things, then I’m left surprised…

  6. @ Kenny

    A few clarifications:

    – If you check the netcraft latest statistics, you will see that the most commonly used webserver is Apache and not Windows 2003 though I will agree that Windows 2003 is gaining on Apache – http://news.netcraft.com/archives/2008/01/28/january_2008_web_server_survey.html

    – Also, netcraft allows you to see which OS a website is running. You will see that most big websites do not run Windows 2003; even servihoo and gov.mu do not run Windows 2003. Linux is known to be much more stable than windows and contain fewer loopholes especially for servers

    – Linux has made huge progresses in terms of user friendliness but I do agree with you that it’s not windows level yet

    – Finally, Linux though its use is very very low on desktop but is gaining tiny ground

    – – –

    @Qwerty

    I’m not an expert of Open source licences but I don’t think they prevent you from selling your software; most just force you to release your code

    – – –

    Finally I agree with Kenny, each one has to find his/her own way. I used to try to convince people to use Linux but it’s not for everyone.

    Also as Avinash said most people have a very low expectation of software and it’s ok for them to have crashes, blue screens, spyware, … as long as they have Windows. For me these are not ok and I need stability; thus linux is fine, I’m not bothered by virusses, spywares,… anymore and my laptop has maybe crashed just 2-3 times requiring a reboot in a little less than 2 years of heavy usage

  7. nice blog pascal it is a free democratic forum in the of Ubuntu bravo mo kamarad kontinye amenn lalit la pu free software Ubuntu to lead the masses……power to the people….

  8. nice post🙂
    Personally i discovered linux with ubuntu dapper in january 2007, and that was through a friend blogging about it. (my only linux experience prior to that was using knoppix to repair win x) )

    Honestly since then i’ve been impressed by all the improvements made by the various GNU/Linux distros. I’ve tested mostly debian based ones, except fedora recently and now i’m stuck to dreamlinux (everything including wi-fi working out of the box \o/)🙂

    about user friendliness, what is the “windows level”? haven’t we all spent time to learn windows at the very beginning? -_-” anyway i think user friendliness is not a constant, and greatly depends on the user involved (a joke i read somewhere: debian IS user friendly, it is just picky about who its friends are🙂 )

    anyways i’ve successfully raised some of my friends’ awareness to linux and open source (one of my friends (not at all a CS student) recently installed Linux mint without any help at all)

    As for UI copying, it is just a question of taste imho, some people like how osx looks, others like how win looks, and the “copying” is mainly for these persons imo. also, a linux interface has no “Definite” look. anyone willing to spend time tweaking a WM can customise the interface🙂

    IMHO the true problem IMHO is the lack of information. I was in france last month and was literally stunned by my cousin who thought “il n’y a pas d’interface graphique sous linux non?” o_O” no wonder some people hesitate a lot before giving linux a try!🙂

    And btw Pascal i think you are right, Suse, Novell, Red Hat and Xandros all sell their distros afaik🙂

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