Developing Countries Gain from Free/Open-Source Software

A new report from Finland says that FLOSS use is increasing around the world for business, education and political needs.

Free and open-source software are not only "a useful and significant tool for the developing countries", but clearly have the potential to help democratization and help find solutions to the most pressing problems faced by the populations of developing countries, says a report recently released on the subject.

Set to be released in Finland on May 22, "Free as in Education: Significance of the Free/Libre and Open Source Software for Developing Countries" is authored by the Helsinki-based researcher Niranjan Rajani. Rajani prepared the report in collaboration with Juha Rekola and Timo Mielonen, from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, along with OneWorld Finland and KEPA.

"Even a quick look at the use of computers in the education sector, NGOs, alternative media and civil society is enough to convince us of the potential of FLOSS", says the report, which reviews what's going on in Latin America, Africa and Asia. The report points out that students, teachers, journalists and democracy activists have been using computers, e-mail, web publishing, desktop publishing and the Internet to get their messages out to the world, participate in societal debates and acquire as well as disseminate knowledge and skills. "All of that can for sure be done without it, but FLOSS has some intrinsic characteristics that make it a convincing and integral ally of democratization process", adds the report.

The study further says, "FLOSS has a complementary and reciprocal relationship to education. One needs an educated section of the population to fulfil the full potential of FLOSS, and at the same time FLOSS helps, enhances and complements education by providing tools to promote education."

It goes on to point out that, in the case of education in computer sciences, FLOSS provides opportunities that nothing else can: unrestricted access to the source code, an environment of unlimited experimentation and tinkering and collaboration and interaction with a community of programmers, coders and users around the world.

Free software and open source's "inherent qualities" also make it a prime tool for achieving local language educational software, "especially for languages which are not deemed commercially viable for proprietary software vendors". "If the adoption of FLOSS in developing countries is done wisely, it can help stimulate indigenous software industry and create local jobs", says the study. The report then looks at the possibilities of FLOSS playing a role in "reducing conflict, enhancing independence and meeting international obligations".

In Asia, of some 20+ countries looked at, "the highest overall FLOSS related activity" seems to be taking place in countries like India, China and Taiwan, (excluding Japan, which is not object of this study) followed by South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. "[The] rest of the Indian sub-continent (Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and others) having a medium level activity, while [the] Arab world (with the exception of Israel) seems to be the least active zone, only Afghanistan and North Korea being at the very end", says the report.

The report adds that in Latin America, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, have the most FLOSS related activity in overall usage of FLOSS as well as writing code, followed by Colombia, Venezuela and Peru. "The Latin American programmers have made significant contributions to the overall FLOSS projects around the globe", says the study.

In Africa, South Africa tops the list, closely followed by Kenya, Namibia and Nigeria. And significant activity is starting in Ethiopia, Ghana and Zambia. Rajani's report states that "of all the three regions reviewed, Latin America tops in terms of code contribution, but Asia is not far behind, and...South Africa in the African continent is poised for more code contribution in addition to its reasonably high use of FLOSS".

Rajani, a geek with a Master's degree in Philosophy who is originally from Pakistan but is now based in Finland, says three factors "stand out" when asking why third-world countries choose FLOSS: cost, the anti-piracy campaign and security concerns. "Definitely the most overarching factor is the lower cost, despite a well known assertion that people in developing countries don't pay for software anyway. It is true that a large number of users in the developing countries don't and, more importantly, can't really pay for software", says the report, pointing to the phenomenally high price of proprietorial software compared to the average incomes of people in these countries.

The report points out that in the "developing countries", the costs associated with re-training users and hiring skilled people to migrate and run FLOSS based systems are not as high as they are in developed countries because of lower labour costs. More importantly, "people thus employed are locals contributing to the local economy rather than paying expensive software license fees". Many in the developing countries also have realised that not paying for licenses for the software being used cannot go on for ever. "Combined with cost, security is perhaps the most important factor pushing FLOSS in every country outside the United States", the report argues.

But there are obstances too, for FLOSS in third-world countries. First, free and open-source software is relevant to a development effort only if a reasonable investment in ICT infrastructure is made. "If no hardware is available, software is good for nothing", says Rajani.

Factors such as the dearth of trained IT professionals in many South American countries, the lethargy of the bureaucracy acting as another stumbling block and corruption ("despite being extremely cost-effective and of competitive quality, [FLOSS] still is kept out because companies with enough cash can buy off decision-makers") are the other roadblocks. "One thing is sure: FLOSS doesn't corrupt," says Rajani. The brain drain means talent moves away from the "developing countries". But in the case of IT, a software developer could still contribute to the growth of ICT solutions back home.

The full report will be available one May 22 at the following URL: The English language version will be available at

Plans are being made to move this report ahead collaboratively "using the FLOSS model (so that it) can be developed further over the coming months and years". Rajani writes in the report, "The hope is to put these reports on-line and to fill in the blanks by people from the concerned regions."

Frederick Noronha is a freelance writer living in Goa, India.



Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Re: Developing Countries Gain from Free/Open-Source Software

TaranRampersad's picture

Excellent article!

In Trinidad and Tobago (and possibly the Caribbean), the problem that is first encountered is employment. Graduates need jobs, and with companies using proprietary software almost exclusively, it's apparent where the jobs are.

It's a culture issue in many respects, I am finding. Some are related to businesses themselves, where FOSS hasn't made inroads where it may be found most useful (That is changing). Some are related to the infrastructure - such as Internet. Some are related to education. Some are related to advertising from Media Mogul Microsoft.
It's apparent that Developing Countries can benefit from FOSS, but the question that often boggles my mind is - how do we get that message across? The economics, the usability - they all stand on their own merit.

Culture. It's culture. Culture change in a large organization requires initiative, and in a country, it requires the same. The benefits are there. A paradigm shift? Yes.
Heightened awareness of the issues by the public is important, and this article helps. Thanks. We'll keep working on it. :)

consider: "My experiences trying to leverage the power of Linux

Anonymous's picture

Imagine a poster who uses fear mongering based on a letter in a name, who departs from common thought on what can only be a political and ridiculous tangent, and purports to represent his experiences representing the object he ridicules.

They must be very scared of a rational decision. Remember this You should decide what you want based on your needs. Dont let others convince you that those needs are gigantic. If other people fulfill the same needs less expensively and you want to save money that is what you should do. The more clear you are with your needs, and the better they are defined the more efficient your computer set up will be.

A $2 CD that costs hundreds of dollars and you dont even get to keep your data in a portable format! Is obscene.

The richest company in the world that increases its profits in a depression - thats obscene.

Not getting wide government support for people who want to give software to our schools and governments for free. Thats obscene.

Compare that to mature systems that aren't flashy but work really well. Nobody should hide that there is a little learning to do to use some software -- but thats true always.

If you believe in literacy in this world remember that Open Source is the only solution. Closed source is like the parent who reads a book out loud only to hide it when a child needs to learn hisher letters. Its your data and none of their business so pick systems with more respect.

Re: Developing Countries Gain from Free/Open-Source Software

Anonymous's picture

Where can the full text of the report be found? Ravi Nair.

Re: full textfound at

Anonymous's picture

Re: Developing Countries Gain from Free/Open-Source Software

Anonymous's picture

As I see, in my country, which is Mexico, I don't see any Open Source
Developing groups or companies--- The major contribution was made by
the most known man in the linux Desktop, Miguel de Icaza followed by
his best friends, Federico Mena, Arturo, etc (mexicans too) but now
they are in the USA.

In the counterpart, Brazil has made very strong contibutions to the open
source community most of this written in Python.

I don't kwno what to say about Argentina but I think that this country
is extremedly affected in its economy to try to solve their economy
with open source business.

finally I think that Latin America could create job opportunities if
good university graduated students get some interest in FLOSS but
staying in the country not going outside wich this is one the most
serious problems in Mexico for years, the brain fugees.

Ahh one final thing-..... Please ignore the first post to this article...
This guy is a MSpupil.


My experiences trying to leverage the power of Linux in the ente

Anonymous's picture

I used to work as a consultant for a Fortune 500 company (more than 10,000 employees). As an expert in the field of IT consulting, I think I can shed a little light on the current climate of the open source community, and Linux in particular. The main reason that open source software, and Linux in particular, is failing is due to the underlying immaturity of the technology and the perception of the viral GNU license.

I know that the above statements are strong, but I have hard facts to back it up with. At the Fortune 500 company that I worked for, we wanted to leverage the power of Linux and associated open source technologies to benefit our server pool. The perception that Linux is

Nice wind up. "I even used t

Anonymous's picture

Nice wind up.
"I even used the latest version of gcc (3.1) to increase the execution time of the binaries."
made me laugh too. how slow did you go? all the one minute programs take 5 minutes. x is for commie. what a side splitter.
But wasn't the article was addressing the use of software to bridge the poverty gap in the developing world.

Seriously... invest in GNU/linux and you will be free

Anonymous's picture

If enough governments band together and invest in GNU/Linux, our taxes will serve the people instead of serving the interest of Microsoft shareholders.

As for this article, the guy is a joke. There is no such thing as Linux 9.0. And no one with the right mind would replace all servers at once without running a small scale test first. Server deployment is almost always a gradual thing, brining up one server at a time and introducing them gradually into the network. I don't think this guy is what he pretends to be. And if he is, good luck to his customers.

Re: My experiences trying to leverage the power of Linux in the

Anonymous's picture

Sounds like a drastic experience. Think the other way around. Lets pretend you had Linux for about 10 years, all the specialists... now switch to Microsoft. I can not belief that the migration would go smoother than the one you made.
Unfortunatly a lot of your arguments are right but what is wrong with communists ;-)

Re: My experiences trying to leverage the power of Linux in the

Anonymous's picture

Oh, yeah...
X for carl marX...?
Are You stupid or what..?
And what about iriX? uniX? widows Xp...? ibm's aiX?
Also comunist "carl marX" OSes....?

You are so stupid that I do not know how do you use you PC anyway...

This comedian is looking for a job, obviously

Anonymous's picture

Why else would he post such an orchestrated litany of lies on a public feedback site, lies that firstly made my mouth drop open, then cracked me up. VB on Linux? Using gcc to compile VB? Kernel panics from miswritten perl?Hire him, DiMarti! I think we Linux geeks are often too serious, and we need some light comedy at times to lighten our mood. (sotto voce) And besides, there's always a need for some a*&shole to block the holes in the roof come wintertime!(/sotto voce)

LJ Trolled by paid astroturfer

Anonymous's picture

MS is not gaining in any new areas and is losing in both of its only two cash generators, MS-Windows and MS-Office
This summer there is an enormous marketing blitz to try to steer companies away from MS problems. Most Linux bashing follows the astroturfers' formula and centers around anecdotal evidence.

Re: My experiences trying to leverage the power of Linux in the

Anonymous's picture

I wonder if the Fortune 500 you have been working for is still in business. I bet this is Enron like company.
Amazing story!! Who do you think you will be able to fool?
Even Microsoft user aren't as stupid as that.


Re: My experiences trying to leverage the power of Linux in the

Anonymous's picture

This guy really hits the nail on the head, I allways thought that linux
was a stable and versatile OS but now I see the light. I too have been
experimenting with VB scripts as kernel modules but as soon as I did
insmod asp_net and insmod asp_vb to load the kernel acceleration
for serving asp pages, the machine crashed with a kernel oops stating:
"kapitalist software intrusion detected, calling marx panic handler to
defeat MS worm" and the machine wouldn't boot ever since.
I don't work at that unfortunate 500 company anymore, hell , the whole
company doesn't exist anymore , I think they had to remove all ms-software from the building , before their linux servers wanted to boot again , by that time they had to file for bankruptcy. Sometimes
I meet my former boss on the street and when he sees me he gets
that strange wild gleamy look in his eyes, must be the communists
he hates so much.

Re: My experiences trying to leverage the power of Linux in the

Anonymous's picture

Amazing tale! This runs so contrary to just about every experience I've read about or encountered. I wonder how the Wall Street firms and all the other companies using Linux survive running their entire shops on Linux.
Reading this, I'd expect most, if not all, to have shown Linux the door, rather than expanding it ever deeper into the enterprise.
I am not sure if you used Mandrake 9.0 there, I know there were many rumblings about that distro.
For your and your customer's education Linux is Linu(s)' Uni(x). You also use Apache on a daily basis as it drives the proponderence of Servers on the internet and elsewhere; I've never seen apache crash.
This has to be a WIND-UP article. If it's not, then the company with those credentials should have employed IBM, RedHat, Mandrake or SuSE to undertake the project.
If it wasn't any good, then IBM, HP, Dell and a host of other companies would be out of business rather than experiencing the growth they do.
** A Linux user dating back to the earliest of kernels - back when "shoelace/bootlace" from Minix was used to boot up. I use Linux for all business activity and pleasure, including the many facets of amateur radio, flight simulation (I'm a private pilot), watching TV, Word processing, Spreadsheets, Presentations, Citrix Winframe, X3270 i.e everything.

Re: My experiences trying to leverage the power of Linux in the

Anonymous's picture

The Troll says: ""As soon as I replaced all of the Windows2000 servers with Linux servers,.."
hahaha - just wondering how did you do that? Fortune 500 company must have had hundreds of servers ! and only after moving *all*, did you realise it was not performing ?

Re: My experiences trying to leverage the power of Linux in the

Anonymous's picture

hahahahaha - Hey troll# , I really hope somebody pay you to waste your time with this b***t - otherwise I have to declass you to troll.dll (and send you to dll hell)

Re: That's very funny! Nice troll. (n/t)

Anonymous's picture

The scary thing is many people won't get that was a joke, and very very darn funny.

Re: That's very funny! Nice troll. (n/t)

baggins's picture

I have to admit, when I got to the "x" line, I nearly popped a circut-breaker until I did the "take a deep breath and count to ten" thing. The second time through though, I was rolling on the floor. I have to say he's got the "Frustrated Microsoft Whiner" tone down to an art.

Re: My experiences trying to leverage the power of Linux in the

Anonymous's picture

An expert who claims to do kernel level programming in VB, says .NET VB produces code that is faster than C, and states that the latest version of Linux is 9.0. It lends a lot of credibility to your posting.

Re: My experiences trying to leverage the power of Linux in the

Anonymous's picture

You are clearly a M$
You program on M$ platform in M$ languajes, you claim they can do low level work (ja).
Linu(x) means Marx, (jaja)
You are ignorant about this. I hope M$ pays you well, becouse you have no future outside it.

Geek Guide
The DevOps Toolbox

Tools and Technologies for Scale and Reliability
by Linux Journal Editor Bill Childers

Get your free copy today

Sponsored by IBM

8 Signs You're Beyond Cron

Scheduling Crontabs With an Enterprise Scheduler
On Demand
Moderated by Linux Journal Contributor Mike Diehl

Sign up and watch now

Sponsored by Skybot