Open-Source Software Opens New Windows to Third-World

OSS is helping people around the globe escape the crime of software "piracy".

GNU/Linux, and tons of useful software that comes along with it, is clearly attracting interest from a range of quarters. From Pakistan to the UNDP, from Africa to Malaysia, and even in the Philippines or Thailand and Nepal, GNU/Linux is being closely watched, studied and adopted in a range of interesting experiments.

Created and propagated largely by volunteers, most of GNU/Linux's growth simply isn't based on giant billion-dollar spinning corporations that have the resources to promote its cause. So, such success stories from the Third World could largely go unnoticed.

In large parts of the world where the average per capita income is often less than the cost of a computer, the current phenomenal price of software turns millions into "pirates". In these parts of the globe, words such as free or low cost are not necessarily associated with low-quality, but offer to include millions who otherwise would be simply left out in the cold.

Because GNU/Linux is open source, there are no mountains of secrecy blocking replicability. So prices of the same fall to a point which is dramatically low compared to proprietary software and thus affordable to the millions.

For instance, a couple of hundred thousand copies of GNU/Linux have been distributed across India, through local popular computer magazines, at a price of just around $2. That includes both the cost of a slick magazine and CD. This software can, of course, be legally copied across as many computers as needed.

This being the case, is it surprising that there are interesting stories coming from varied corners of the Third World?

From Pakistan--Low-Cost Computers

Pakistan Ministry of Science and Technology advisor Salman Ansari says that some 50,000 low cost computers are to be installed in schools and colleges all over Pakistan. These will be PII computers, each being sourced for less than $100 a piece, he says.

Proprietary software for these PCs would cost a small fortune. Surely more than what the computers cost. But, using GNU/Linux ensures that the overall prices are kept low. Pakistan is seriously considering the use of StarOffice office as well, saving thousands of rupees over using more expensive and wholly proprietary office software.

"Don't be surprised if we become the first country in the world to say that all (government-run) services are going to be GNU/Linux based," Ansari says enthusiastically.

In Africa too

In Africa too, GNU/Linux is making its impact felt. Dakar (Senegal)-based Pierre Dandjinou is ICT-D Policy Advisor for Africa. Says Dandjinou: "At one point, we got an idea to set up an Open Source Foundation for Africa. We are working on it."

He points to discussion list to discuss open source. South Africa's network is perhaps the most popular among the continent. Dandjinou, as ISOC (Internet Society) chairman for Benin, was able to organise a conference on this subject. UNDP has been experimenting with such technologies since 1994.

"Can African citizens be paying for all the proprietary software stuff?" he asks.

Besides, SNDP, the Sustainable Network Development Programme, which is a network promoted by the UN, itself uses Linux in some 47 countries worldwide.

But Dandjinou says: "I don't feel the cost (alone) is an issue. Of course, if you compare (the price of Open Source or Free Software products) with what we've been paying by using proprietary software packages, we have been paying really a lot of dollars. But more than price, what matters is the application development. The idea of the openness should be kept there. Openness and sharing... these are great values in themselves."

M. Thierry Hyacinthe Amoussougbo, the coordinator for the Cisco regional academy in Benin, says that enthusiasm about GNU/Linux is high, even if there are still practical problems in implementation.

Part of the problem is due to lack of technical skills to spread GNU/Linux sufficiently. Besides, the widespread predominance of pirated versions of proprietary operating systems makes the need for innovation and study of options a low-priority. "Everybody says let's go over to open source. But on the ground, it takes time to get started. It is being used by some, but is yet to be widely used," Amoussougbo admits.

"Linux is used for many servers. We too want to promote it and establish more Linux-based servers. But what moves on the ground level is still Microsoft... maybe without respect to copyright though," says Amoussougbo.

Spat in Malaysia

In Malaysia, in end-March, the Kuala Lumpur newspapers reported a verbal spat between the global software giant Microsoft and the fledging-but-influential Open Source movement in that country.

Tabloid daily The Star reported in its issue of March 26 that Microsoft (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd had "fired its first salvo against the Open Source movement in Malaysia" with an article sent out through its electronic newsletter and posted on its web site.

This article, "Not Quite an Open and Shut Case" (www.microsoft.com/malaysia/business/articles/linkpage3866.htm) was signed by Microsoft Malaysia managing director Butt Wai Choon. It argued that open-source software was "a threat to the commercial software industry". The Star, a popular Malaysian daily, noted however that the article "sounded familiar to a speech given by Jim Allchin to US lawmakers in Washington just a bit more than a year ago".

The Star also noted that in the last few months, both the Malaysian National Computer Confederation (MNCC) and the Association of the Computer and Multimedia Industry of Malaysia (Pikom) have formed "special interest groups" devoted to the Open Source movement. MNCC is the national body of computer professionals, while Pikom is the industry trade association.

"Both bodies have announced or are considering initiatives to create greater awareness amongst business and government, of the benefits of using and adopting open-source solutions," reported The Star in an article by A. Asohan.

Unnamed industry sources were also quoted saying that one or two Malaysian government or semi-government bodies are studying the feasibility of developing Linux--the Unix-based operating system that many consider the flagship of the OSS charge--into a "national operating system" like what's being undertaken with China's Red Flag project.

MNCC's member and security consultant Dinesh Nair was quoted saying: "In my opinion it [the article] indicates a growing concern that open source may be a threat to them locally." Nair also leads the technical sub-group of the MNCC's Open Source Special Interest Group.

"Only Mr. Butt can answer for certain [about the article's] timing... but it is true that at this moment in Malaysia, there is substantial interest in open source in both the private and public sectors," another MNCC-OSSIG member Dr Nah Soo Hoe, told the newspaper.

"Open source can be a threat to the commercial software model as practised currently by companies like Microsoft. Obviously, if you cannot charge a lot for your software, or hold users to ransom for upgrades and repeated purchases, you will tend to lose a lot of money if your business model is based on just this," he added.

But he went on to point out that it was possible to have a changed model that does not "rely so much on the actual purchase of software, but rather on the services needed to achieve the functionality the software offers, then whether you charge for the software is "not so important anymore", Dr Nah noted.

He said his fellow MNCC-OSSIG members believe that the open source model can in fact be a critical element towards making projects like Malaysia's ambitious Multimedia Super Corridor a success. The MSC is an ambitious ICT (Information & Communications Technology) initiative planned by the Malaysian government, to attract leading global companies to locate their multimedia industries alongside Kuala Lumpur). This dedicated corridor stretches 15km wide and 50km long, between the giant Petronas Twin Towers and the hi-tech Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Open-source software, they argue, is even more important for a developing country like Malaysia.

"Access to source code will encourage and promote local capacities for software modification and redistribution," Dr. Nah was quoted as telling The Star in its special in.tech supplement (star-techcentral.com).

"It promotes an environment for technical and systems development, as well as the ability to learn, innovate and invent, while stimulating the local software industry. More importantly, it promotes independence from foreign software companies and reduces an outflow of funds from the country," he added.

Speaking to visiting participants of an UNDP/APDIP-organised Africa-Asia Workshop on ICT for Development, Ng Wan Peng a senior manager at the Multimedia Superior Corridor at Cyberjaya, the new township being built alongside Kuala Lumpur, says the Malaysian government is "very open" concerning using open-source software.

"We're considering using open source. What really matters is the total cost of ownership, including the other costs that come along with it. Wherever possible, we would like to use it," says Peng.

In other ways too, Malaysia is giving open-source and free software a close look. Take the case of MIMOS (www.mimos.my), the Malaysian Institute of Micro Electronic Systems, which is intended to grow into a premier R&D powerhouse in this South-East Asian country.

"MIMOS has lots of our programmes running on open source," says Dr Raslan Bin Ahmad of MIMOS Berhad. MIMOS is one of the key pillars in taking this country towards becoming a K-society and K-economy (based on knowledge) and turn into a 'developed country' by the year 2020.

In its e-world section, MIMOS showcases projects like its attempt to build a low-cost PC that is "affordable to everybody". This computer is based on GNU/Linux and and is expected to cost far less than what it costs to buy a PC in the market.

"Infoniti" ("infinite" plus "information") is being built up as a handy web device "that makes accessing the web as easy as using a TV or VCR". Both inexpensive and friendly to use, this device would, hopefully, "cross the digital divide separating computer phobics from computer literates". Its promoters say it aims to help "all Malaysians" improve their quality of life through the "power of information".

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Alex930's picture

Excellent, iv always liked linux.

Actually, Malaysia is

Anonymous's picture

Actually, Malaysia is evaluating open source software. In the final report by PIKOM (Malaysian Computer Industry Association), the government should place OSS software in the same light as closed ones and make proper decissions. (I'm a Malaysian). The government won't be moving to something OSS unless it's better than what they are using now. methoo.com

open source software

dawa tsering's picture

i am a user of open source soft ware and i have find lot of good advantage in working with this software. i suggest to use some of my friend about open source sofe ware and i have install some word processing (open office.org)in my friend laptop they are very satisfied with the use of open source soft ware and operating system (ubuntu.o8).

Software as a service

James Hrubes's picture

I think that software as a service and hardware leasing is the best way to solve this issue since it enables a hierarchical approach that will encourage people to improve their level of performance through incentives (improved technology choices with greater productivity aka they make more money so they buy faster stuff). That being said I believe that the state has a role to fill for transportation and the tax plan should include a basic hardware and services voucher so that distance learning is available for all people. I am a free market capitalist who believes in productivity as the solution for gaining higher yields worldwide. The $100 laptop is a good start and created market awareness, but I would prefer distributing refurbished technology so that users have greater access to higher quality components that won't cause cancer or eye strain. The $100 laptop is a good example of how the cost of hardware can be affected by a free market and a mandate from scientists to create an inexpensive product, but ultimately it comes up short when it is compared to a refurbished 1st world laptop.

Ultimately, it is software that will decide the fate of the project and a public data utility should be able to handle that issue since they are built on supercomputers which are almost exclusively Unix. Of course that little upstart Linux is going to dominate this sector in the future as the next generation propellor heads start to churn out the Linux Supercomputing codebase.

No money in class...

Mary's picture

I thing very well that GNU/Linux was used in classrooms.

I saw one of these $100

Kahuki's picture

I saw one of these $100 third world laptops the other day, and I think this is a great idea to bring these countries one step ahead!

Unfortunately, Polish government behaves like Microsoft agent:

Anonymous's picture

we are probably the only country in the world where MS Windows is obligatory! State rules that business with more then 5 employees has to sent special monthly social security rapport via "free" software which runs only under MS Windows! Government has a few more bright ideas: it tries to tax free software (22% VAT) again!

Re: Unfortunately, Polish government behaves like Microsoft agen

Anonymous's picture

For the 'must use MS Windows', go to the court, IMHO. Theoretically :-(

But: how to tax free software if you don't pay for it? Or is it for buying a distribution? Is the tax different for propritary software?

Re: Open-Source Software Opens New Windows to Third-World

Anonymous's picture

The '3rd world' (stupid term, IMHO) will gain - using open source is learning how to use computers efficiently.

The 'open source world' will gain much more brain power any monopolistic megacorporation can afford to pay.

Using MS Windows is to pay a lot for being kept stupid.

Re: New Windows to Third-World : a not well known benefit

Anonymous's picture

"We're considering using open source. What really matters is the total cost of ownership, including the other costs that come along with it. Wherever possible, we would like to use it," says Peng.

---------------------------------------------------------

One aspect I don't see emphasized is the fact that a LINUX machine asks for very low maintenance cost :

MS:

-----

how often a MS-Windows maintainer is called to reinstall all the stuff (corrupted dlls, viruses...) ???

Linux:

-------

Usually we are just happy to upgrade our Linux to enjoy a full bunch of new applications, not to correct something.

A dedicated workstation may be installed and let running for months or years. It is very cost effective !

I demonstrated that at the National Botanic Garden of Belgium, even using a set of old 486 working remotely on an application server (very effective for the maintenance : only the server is to be regularly upgraded for the benefit of everyone)

See the state in 2000 : (with some pictures)

http://www.br.fgov.be/RESEARCH/INFORMATICS/tutorial/intro/history/state2...

See the presentation of our 'crisis' and its resolution owing to LINUX (Table of content) :

http://betula.br.fgov.be/RESEARCH/INFORMATICS/tutorial/intro/history/sur...

Alain EMPAIN : alain.empain@ulg.ac.be

Thailand and Open-Source

daengbo's picture

SIS server has been around for years in Thailand, but the really big news is on the desktop front. The National Electronics and Computer Technology Commission (NECTEC) has produced both SIS and, now, Linux TLE (pronounced "talei" meaning sea). While Mandrake et al have had the ability to display and type Thai for some time, the support has been less than 100%. The big stir about all of this is that the new OS is entirely in Thai, down to the install, the menus and help. This was released virtually at the same time as another product, Pladao (meaning Star Fish), by Sun. It is Open Office 638 modified to be completely in thai, down to the mouse-overs. Pladao is free (beer) and copies, reviews, and tutorials were in every major computer magazine last month. This month, the number one selling computer magazine has thirty pages devoted to Linux TLE, and how to use it to replace the illegal copy of windows on your computer.

NECTEC has produced a standard for computer manufacturers for entry-level Linux TLE machines that are now being sold by the five major computer manufacturers in Thailand at every outlet. Things are changing here... I am typing this on my Linux TLE/Pladao machine right now. The only drawback is that the Thai menus are difficult for me, a westerner.

Re: Thailand and Open-Source

Anonymous's picture

I am very happy to hear that this is going on well. NECTEC is making a lot of changes. As a software engineer outside the country, I am really glad to see the country moving in an admirable direction. Thanks to the folks back home.

Re: Open-Source Software Opens New Windows to Third-World

Anonymous's picture

I can't bother signing in... I was speaking with GeekCorps while at LinuxWorld -NYC this past March....

I was wondering what kind of Open Source software they were installing in the developing world. The intelligent and down to earth woman working the both started to whisper to me that they really aren't concerned with what the software is.

Interesting!, I thought. Why? The answer she gave me made incredible sense. They were trying to primarily teach people to use software & it made the most sense to use "whatever most people use" hence they could help each other too.

When push comes to shove piracy isn't a big deal in these countries anyway. No one enforces piracy laws, good or bad.

I will email GeekCorps to let them know what I've posted here & let them respond. I don't disagree with them. I just thought it was an interesting take on software in the developing world.

-Steve@ Open Source Directory

Linux is cheaper than pirated Windows.

Anonymous's picture

Even when using Windows in open violation of Microsoft's draconian license terms, it is more expensive to run Windows than to run Linux. Third world governments, in particular, should note that modern, up-to-date, Linux distributions exist that exploit even pre-Pentium processors and machines with far less than 32 MB RAM. With the right networking model, performance is on a par with far more modern, and more expensive machines.

I note that Pakistan is getting PIIs at $100 (USD?). We westerners tend to sneer at the idea of running older hardware, but even a savings of $50USD per machine is significant in local economies where average wages are often only a few hundred dollars per year. The ability to provide essential services without increasing risk to data on even cheaper 486 and low memory first generation Pentiums is too often overlooked in these discussions.

Later,

Colin Mattoon

Re: Open-Source Software Opens New Windows to Third-World

Anonymous's picture

In other ways too, Malaysia is giving open-source and free software a close look. Take the case of MIMOS (www.mimos.my), the Malaysian Institute of Micro Electronic Systems, which is intended to grow into a premier R&D powerhouse in this South-East Asian country.

Things like this will help Linux everywhere. As devices (PCI, USB, Firewire, etc.) come out of development shops where Linux is the OS they use for development, it seems quite likely that the Linux kernel and userspace programs will make the devices work at least as well on Linux.

Perhaps they can save packaging costs by having the stamp that says "Made in Malaysia" also say "Designed for Linux".

The South African Perspective

Anonymous's picture

Peru is doing the same thing!

Anonymous's picture

Just look at Peru, where the congress is discussing a law proposal to 'force' the government to use Software Libre/Open Source for ALL of its institutions.

Their basic premise? It lets the government maintain ownership of their data!

That's the key of the whole thing, who owns your data?

Cheers!

Check the site here http://www.gnu.org.pe (it's in spanish though, but if you can read it, check the conversation between the congressman who presented the proposal and Peru's Microsoft CEO. Very interesting)

Re: Peru is doing the same thing!

Anonymous's picture

for links to the MS and Villanueva documents in English, see:

Peruvian Activism

http://www.pimientolinux.com/peru2ms/

Regards to all,

W.

Re: Peru is doing the same thing!

Anonymous's picture

Here's the English translation:

http://216.239.51.100/search?q=cache:TvfSi6UFJpQC:www.gnu.org.pe/resmsen...

Excerpt:

"The inclusion of the intellectual property of others in works claimed as one's own is not a practice that has been noted in the free software community; whereas, unfortunately, it has been in the area of proprietry software. As an example, the condemnation by the Commercial Court of Nanterre, France, on 27th September 2001 of Microsoft Corp. to a penalty of 3 million francs in damages and interest, for violation of intellectual property (piracy, to use the unfortunate term that your firm commonly uses in its publicity)."

Thanks for the translation,

jason's picture

Thanks for the translation, just was messing with google translate :)

Re: Open-Source Software Opens New Windows to Third-World

Anonymous's picture

GNU/Linux, and tons of useful software that comes along with it, is clearly attracting interest from a range of quarters. From Pakistan to the UNDP, from Africa to Malaysia, and even in the Philippines or Thailand and Nepal, GNU/Linux is being closely watched, studied and adopted in a range of interesting experiments.

Actually, Malaysia is evaluating open source software. In the final report by PIKOM (Malaysian Computer Industry Association), the government should place OSS software in the same light as closed ones and make proper decissions. (I'm a Malaysian). The government won't be moving to something OSS unless it's better than what they are using now.

Re: Open-Source Software Opens New Windows to Third-World

Anonymous's picture

Sounds like it's a done deal to me then :)

Re: Open-Source Software Opens New Windows to Third-World

Anonymous's picture

welcome to the exciting world of Linux. and

dont forget Mandrake Linux 8.2 is THEE

Linux for the people.

Re: Open-Source Software Opens New Windows to Third-World

Anonymous's picture

Anonymous: Mandrake is an uninnovative load of crap and that statement is the statement of an embarressing product of the opensource community.

Latin America is also doing the exact same thing!

Anonymous's picture

Just look at Peru, where the congress is discussing a law proposal to 'force' the government to use Software Libre/Open Source for ALL of its institutions.

Their basic premise? It lets the government maintain ownership of their data!

That's the key of the whole thing, who owns your data?

Cheers!

Check the site here http://www.gnu.org.pe (it's in spanish though, but if you can read it, check the conversation between the congressman who presented the proposal and Peru's Microsoft CEO. Very interesting)

Re: Latin America ... links to Peruvian docs in English

Anonymous's picture

for links - still working - to the documents (the MS Peru letter as well as the reply by Congressman Dr. Villanueva) in English translation, see

Peruvian Activism

http://www.pimientolinux.com/peru2ms/

(The URL posted elsewhere in this thread does not work anymore.)

Regards,

W.

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