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Open Source's Battle In Africa 172

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the soak-em-for-all-they-are-worth dept.
eldavojohn writes "The BBC has more details about something we last discussed in 2008 — the showdown of open source versus proprietary software in Africa. When discussing the issue of cost, the piece quotes Microsoft's chairman on the scene, Dr. Cheikh Modibo Diarra, who alludes that open source continually costs you money by saying 'You buy Microsoft software, and you buy it once and for all, the cost that we tell you is the total cost for ownership.' On the other end of the story is Ken Banks from Kiwanja.net who has spent 15 years developing open source applications in Africa. His logic is that 'Today we're seeing growing open-source programmer, developer communities in South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and other African countries. Clearly, if you have this informal programming sector coming up, access to source code is almost critical if they are going to be able to take advantage of these new tools that are emerging.' Well, the battle rages on, hopefully the emerging African developers and users pick the tool(s) that suit their needs the best."
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Open Source's Battle In Africa

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  • Re:Sure! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 15, 2009 @04:12PM (#27971933)

    You buy Microsoft software, and you buy it once and for all

    Really? I finally have a senior Microsoft employee saying I BOUGHT MY SOFTWARE!!!!!

    For years Microsoft has claimed the software is licensed, not sold, to skirt the laws on selling of products, along with all the EULA crap.

    I'm going to have to quote Dr. Cheikh Modibo Diarra next time a Microsoft sales rep calls.

  • by damburger (981828) on Friday May 15, 2009 @04:18PM (#27972015)

    Trying to promote Linux in places like Africa that are still working on their IT industries could be perceived as paternalistic. The sad, sad fact is that the majority of the western world uses MS Windows, and that if you try and say that despite this, African users should embrace Linux - it can come across as if you are fobbing them off with something second rate. You aren't, of course, but that isn't how the Microsoft Ministry of Truth is going to spin it.

    The best way to promote Linux in developing markets is to promote it in developed markets. Countries that want to build their IT industry will, logically, look to how its done in countries with successful IT industries. Any increase in the Linux user base in the United States or Europe will be mirrored by an increase in much of the rest of the world.

  • Re:Sure! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mangu (126918) on Friday May 15, 2009 @04:26PM (#27972113)

    And then Microsoft stops supporting the product, changes the formats the products uses, and makes prior formats erratic or impossible to implement.

    It's ironic that he stated "Technology wise, African needs can be summarised in one word: access" because keeping older MS-Access versions working is one of the trickiest parts in a Microsoft solution.

    Although I'm a Linux-only programmer, I've had several people where I work ask me for solutions to recover lost MS-Access databases. "I only use Postgres, call Microsoft support" is my standard answer. Normally when they do that the answer is that MS-Access does not have sophisticated data recovery tools, they must buy that from third-party vendors. "Total" cost of ownership, indeed!

  • by rs232 (849320) on Friday May 15, 2009 @04:30PM (#27972173)

    You buy Microsoft software, and you buy it once and for all, the cost that we tell you is the total cost for ownership

    You don't buy the software, you license it until the next version of Windows comes out and your software becomes incompatible with that, and your computer has virtually no resale value as the software has to be totally wiped else you risk a visit from the BSA. And according to Gartner the TCO [open-mag.com] for a company to support Windows was $9,784 per anum per computer (1997). You think it's come down in the mean while :)

  • The sad truth is ... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Coeurderoy (717228) on Friday May 15, 2009 @04:30PM (#27972183)

    That only the government and the largest enterprises are buying software, all the rest is pirated.
    So "Free/Open Source" software is at exactly the same price as "Closed Source" software.

    And there is a sick fascination with "the rich people" although they became rich by ripping you off.
    And the main supperiority of "Closed Source software" is that it gives more opportunity for "back door handlings"...

    And of course the "donor organisations" are much better at recommending "nice donor nation originated products" than local "service"...

    And thus the blood of africa is still flowing out to the occidental world...

  • by cusco (717999) <brian.bixbyNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday May 15, 2009 @04:33PM (#27972221)
    Microsoft is shooting themselves in the foot by insisting that governments in Third World countries enforce their copyright. My brother-in-law is a civil engineer in Peru, makes about $5,000/year. If he spends $500 on a computer he's not going to want to spend another $300 on an OS and $300 more on MS Orfice. If he can get one for free (cracked) he'd pay for the other, but there's no way he can afford both.

    Instead he'll end up with Linux and Open Office if the gov't cracks down on pirates, and MS will be entirely out of the picture.

  • My experience... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by SFA_AOK (752620) on Friday May 15, 2009 @04:54PM (#27972485)
    I helped out in a school in Uganda that has ties with a school here in the UK, and they offer a Computing courses to their students. There are a number of problems open source faces that I could see:

    1. The school teaches the UK curriculum; when I was last speaking with the person at the UK school who established the link with the Ugandan school, she'd said they'd had some new computers with Ubuntu installed on them shipped out but they didn't have the software expected by the board that set the curriculum they were teaching. Maybe that's the curriculum's fault, maybe it was a misunderstanding, either way, it doesn't solve the issue, even if it's a problem of perception and knowledge.

    2. Related to the above, some people have the attitude "Everywhere else in the world runs Windows, surely teaching something else is a disadvantage?"

    3. Few people knew how to use computers, and people usually have experience in Windows when you do find someone that's used computers. Finding someone to help with a computer is hard, finding someone who can help with Linux may be harder (though I guess the converse may be true where Linus is prevalent and Windows is not).

    4. Lack of networks to search for help when things go wrong. We made an effort to take learning materials out with us, both for the kids and for the teacher to learn more (and not just about Linux), but it's difficult to provide enough documentation to cover every eventuality. Arguably Windows has the same issue but I don't think it has it to the same degree.

    I was walking a fine line - on the one hand, I didn't want to treat the learning of the kids at the school as some sort of social/computing experiment to the degradation of their education, but on the other hand, I think open source could be a great thing in those sorts of situations.

    I'll also add that for the time I spent there, I only saw a tiny part of Africa, so hopefully other people have more enlightening experiences to share!

  • Re:Sure! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BitZtream (692029) on Friday May 15, 2009 @05:28PM (#27972885)

    While I call bullshit on the MS statement, I also call bullshit on your statements for being the exact same level of crap.

    Eventually everyone stops supporting old versions of software. Show me a Linux distro thats supported as long after EOL as Windows, go ahead, I'll wait.

    I can show you FAR more open source projects that came, were cool/awesome, and have gone cause no one develops them anymore and no one cares about their formats. I can probably show you a handful that have done all of that life cycle in the time that XP has been on the market.

    Trying to claim that OSS is 'free' is also as stupid as MS's statement. Purchasing a software package from Microsoft or installing a freely distributed Linux distro is not the total cost. For those of us who actually manage business aspects for a living, things like paying your admins count against the TCO, as part of the, you know, TOTAL part. Both you and MS are full of shit if you're trying to say that what you 'pay' to get the software legally installed on a machine is the total cost of ownership.

    Software that is 'continually and freely developed' is a pain in the ass to any real business. Its great that you can get a linux update every day just about, thats neat and cool when you're sitting in dad's basement bored and lonely on a Friday night. You have fun updating your box. I on the other hand will do something else because I'm not constantly tracking changes and praying to god that those changes don't break something in the process.

    Your post indicates you aren't a sysadmin, or haven't been a sysadmin for any systems that actually needed to be reliable.

  • Re:Contact Canonical (Score:2, Interesting)

    by N3Roaster (888781) <nealw@[ ].org ['acm' in gap]> on Friday May 15, 2009 @05:30PM (#27972907) Homepage Journal

    Good to know, but I can't seem to find a package list of what, exactly, comes on those disks so it's difficult for me to determine just how relevant that is (new installations aside where it's somewhere between "fantastic" and "no down side" but I tend not to encounter these on my trips). Googling Ubuntu CD package list doesn't help either. Also, 10 weeks delivery time? The price is right, but if you need something now, advantage still goes to MS (or bootleg MS).

  • Re:Contact Canonical (Score:3, Interesting)

    by N3Roaster (888781) <nealw@[ ].org ['acm' in gap]> on Friday May 15, 2009 @06:04PM (#27973237) Homepage Journal

    You could perhaps download CD or DVD image and burn it yourself for those who need it? You don't have to order it.

    This is what I do now. Travel with a laptop, a bunch of blank discs, and a set of commonly useful packages. (a mix of Windows binary/source packages and Linux, but lighter distros that run well on the typically older hardware I run into.) Doesn't help people I don't happen to meet, but every little bit helps, right?

  • Re:Sure! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@NOsPAM.gmail.com> on Friday May 15, 2009 @06:33PM (#27973535) Journal

    Can we please let this old BS die, please? I'm gonna get flamed for this, but who cares. The GP is an admin and dealing with business clients and therefor most likely has a brain. You know why folks become spambots, so do I, and so does he. It is because they run IE as full admin and click on every damned thing on the Internet. If you put those morons on Linux or Mac there would be "Hot_Lesbos.SH" and "Horny_Tenn.DMG" flooding the net within days. Stupid is as stupid does. I have plenty of business clients running as admin at work and home. Not a single bug. Why? Because they don't go to pron sites, they don't go to warez sits, they don't use IE and they don't click on every damned thing on the Internet, that's why.

    If you are dealing with Forest Gump users you put them as regular users. Boom, problem solved. And I don't have to deal with the support nightmare that is the fact that pretty much every printer in Walmart don't work in Linux. Geeks like to do research, customers shop at Walmart or Staples or Best Buy based on price. Expecting them to do research just to buy a printer is stupid. So while each OS has its place (Linux makes a damned good low maintenance server, a properly admined Windows makes a better desktop) trying to spread the "all Windows machines are part of botnets" FUD is just as lame as MSFT with it's "get the facts" campaign.

    The quicker the Linux community admits there are some things that Windows is better at, the sooner they can make up the deficit and give users real choice. But the "spambot" FUD simply won't work as the users most likely to be spambots are also the ones most likely to have hardware that won't work in Linux. Frankly they'd be better off as a regular user in XP where their hardware would actually work. That is why Mac gained share during the Vista suckfest and Linux stayed non existent. Because for the average user it was cheaper to buy a Mac than deal with all the research and BS to get Linux going in their homes. Sorry.

  • by Le T800 (1137303) on Friday May 15, 2009 @07:26PM (#27974051)

    Well my employer is a native of Cameroon and we are planning to open an office there at the end of the year because there is a lot to do in this country: build intranets and IT infrastructures, transmit knowledge to techs etc.

    Of course we will support existing Windows installations but for our internal IT and for most of our solutions we'll use Linux and FOSS software, mainly because of the opportunity to start things in a different way.

    We also think that because migrating things, re-training people etc will be less often needed, the adoption of these solutions will be easier than it is in more developped countries where Microsoft dominates machines and minds.

    About perception, I see a similitude between FOSS and developping countries in the sense that both of them are trying to gain a place in a world/market which has been conquered by others.

    PS: outside the technical field my English is a bit approximative, thanks for your comprehension.

  • But you are talking about the SAME morons that send major money and CC info in 419 scams, buy "penis enlargement pills' through spam, and do tons of other REALLY dumb shit. Would putting these morons on Linux help? Nope, because once the malware writer realized that Linux had the morons they would hit it like a pimp slapping a hooker.

    There is pretty much ZERO attacks out there for OS2 and BeOS right now, would users be smart to switch? Nope, because their hardware don't work. I think Linux is GREAT on a server, on in an enterprise environment. But the simple fact is the majority of home user gear simply don't work in Linux. If you do try to switch home users it will either A-Cost them more to replace all their gear than it would to get a Mac, or B- be such a damned support nightmare because the average user will never understand why they can't shop at Walmart.

    So don't blame MSFT for having the lion's share of the market. The simple fact is for 85-90% of the home users Linux sucks. Sorry, but that is a fact. I work retail and have tried 4 times in the last 4 years to sell Linux boxes. It is a support nightmare from hell. That is why Netbooks which were practically built for Linux has seen 90% marketshare [computerworld.com] go to a nearly TEN year old MSFT OS why sites brag about Linux reaching a whole 1%. [slashdot.org].

    Why is that? How could a nearly decade old insecure OS stomp the crap out of a brand new Linux distro? because for home users Linux sucks, sorry but it is true. Nothing in Walmart works, most of the gear in Staples and Best Buy under $200 won't work either. Accept it, work to fix it, make an easy migration path for users. Because having the most secure OS in the world ain't gonna help you if you can't even fricking print. THIS is why you can't get the clueless Windows users that could actually benefit from the increased security, and anybody with half a brain can run Windows safely and therefor enjoy the wide support and range of programs and games written for Windows.

    So if you want to keeping harping about MSFT security and the 'ease" of Linux, go right ahead. When the user gets their new netbook or desktop home and find it can't print it will go back and a Windows machine will take its place. Which is why even the uber popular Ubuntu is seeing a 4 times higher [laptopmag.com] return rate than Windows. It is just too much of a PITA. Sorry but there is a REASON why Windows is #1, and it is because for home users Linux sucks. Sorry.

  • by grcumb (781340) on Friday May 15, 2009 @10:59PM (#27975765) Homepage Journal

    This assumes that you have the skills to correct the problem yourself. Otherwise you are still waiting for someone somewhere to fix the problem.

    And you're assuming that knowledge and ability are somehow static.

    I find this particular line of logic particularly irksome. That's mostly because nearly every single thing I've learned about computers, I've learned under my own steam. There's no mystical Linux Club where knowledge of systems and how they work are magically and instantly conferred on members.

    There is, however, a school of thought that encourages lifting oneself up by one's bootstraps, and which (handsomely) rewards curiousity and initiative.

    And lest I be accused of arrogance toward those who haven't had the same education and opportunities as I've had, I should mention that I'm putting my money where my mouth is: I work full-time in the developing world, and over the last 5 years or so have watched Linux begin to flourish on desktops and servers in the country where I've taken up residence.

    The hardest part of building acceptance for FOSS generally and Linux in particular has been getting people to move away from the perspective that working in IT consists of nothing more than learning a series of incantations to be performed when your Windows machine inevitably goes FUBAR.

    It's taken time, and the work isn't nearly done yet, but I'm gratified by the knowledge that, of the young IT apprentices I've taken on over the years, nearly every single one of them holds a responsible professional position managing high-end equipment, a significant part of which is running (or running on) FOSS software. Not one of them had any formal computer training before I happened along. For most of them, their employment opportunities were effectively nil.

    Based on my personal and professional experience, therefore, I have to conclude that your argument is specious, misleading and counter-productive.

  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @06:37AM (#27977685) Homepage Journal
    Building a control system for my bike I got into atmel microcontrollers. Its nice, programming on bare silicon again.

    I used to admin PDP 11/83s and 84s for a traffic signal system. They ran RSX11M. Most of them we would do preventative maintenance once a year. So when you shut it down for PM uptime would be one year. They had a certain solidity about them. The way it would be working exactly the same way at one year as it was at one minute uptime.

    We didn't have a PDP-8 when I worked there but one day one of our engineers opened a small building beside a freeway. Inside, behind spiderwebs and dust was a PDP-8. The last entry in the site log said something like Investigating fault X. Will return tomorrow with parts. It was dated ten years earlier by our current manager. He must have been promoted mid job and forgotten about it.

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