Linux in Government: Jordan - A Surprise in the Middle East
IBM and Oracle, as well as European and local firms appear to have the enterprise Linux business tied up in the Middle East. Syria leads the region in government-sponsored projects, and it's believed that the majority of Linux and free software developers live in Syria. One of the seminar participants suggested that Syria became extremely active with open-source software because of the US-imposed economic sanctions initiated in 2004 and extended this year.
The founder of Arab Eyes, Mohammed Sameer, (see Figure 3) spoke twice at the conference. His participation has made Egypt one of the leading Linux communities. Sameer spoke on both days and participated in the panel discussions. On the second day, he addressed the issue of localization of Linux and open-source software.
Sameer made perhaps the most humorous and controversial comment of the conference when he said, "Here I am speaking English and discussing Arabization of Linux at a English-speaking conference in an Arab country. But of course, we are a small community, and we need all the help we can get, but then we're all Arabs and we don't get along, so this may take longer anyway." That comment began a 30-minute argument among many participants who either said Arabs work together or they don't.
Aside from Egypt, Jordan and Syria, Linux is popular in Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Kuwait, Iraq, Yemen, Palestine, Morocco and Israel.
One of the main topics in regions such as the Middle East deals with using Linux to establish economic independence and to increase the gross domestic product (GDP). I focused on this topic during the conference in my keynote and my discussion of global adoption. The regional director of IBM also brought focus to this macro-economic issue in his discussions. Yet none of the presentations either day brought up the topic of purchasing power parity.
Simply put, when one adjusts prices for the GDP of an importing country, software costs more than one might think. On a slide from a conference in Syria, Philipp Schmidt demonstrated the cost of Microsoft Windows XP plus Office, using purchasing price parity. He showed three prices, including:
Street price (US) $560 US
Street price (South Africa) $952 US
Real price (South Africa) $7,514 US, taking into account national GDP
Note: Windows plus Office XP equivalent US$ cost calculation = $560 * (US GDP per capita/Country GDP per capita). Source: Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, First Monday.
In his article, Ghosh states:
ICTs are supposed to be an 'enabler' for growth in developing countries. Such growth cannot spread much beyond a very small elite if the basic enabling software infrastructure requires the investment of several months' worth of GDP on software license fees, repeatedly, every few years in an upgrade cycle beyond the control of users.
Although many countries outside the US have embraced Linux and open-source software, I wonder how many consider the real costs in terms of the number of days a person has to work to purchase Microsoft products. Jordan has enormous potential, but I don't believe its government actually understands what it costs the citizens in terms of their own production.
Jordanians on average earn $1,700 annually. Using averages doesn't really represent the economic picture, however. In actuality, 10% of the population has wealth, and 20% work at white-collar jobs and have good lives. The remaining 70% simply get by.
Of the 70% of Jordanians that fall into the "getting by" category, 80% have jobs and 20% live off the social security system. And Jordan happens to be one of the most prosperous countries in the region. As long as the country imports software, it misses out on the opportunity to help itself. It misses the opportunity to lead the region, to provide skilled workers for the region and to end the region's dependence on imported software.
If you are familiar with British history, you probably know about the English East India Company. Americans usually have little context for the significance of this once monopolistic trading body that became involved in politics and acted as an agent of British imperialism. In fact, the Boston Tea Party was an insurgency against the company. The old quote that says the "sun never sets on the English empire" really should say that the sun never sets on the holdings of the East India Company.
Why bring up a reference here to the English East India Company? Possibly because of the parallel to a remarkably politically involved company in the United States that seems content to use federal law enforcement agencies and foreign governments to enforce that company's policies. In fact, that company seems content to take from regions outside the US instead of helping them become more able.
Considering the amount of free software growing in the wild, I hope that countries such as Jordan will come to see for themselves that it makes no sense to import software. Although such a realization may be difficult to grasp, perhaps a walk through the markets in Jerash might provide an example of the difference between a Microsoft concept and the reality of becoming a self-reliant producer of ICT products. Because, until a country embraces free software and commits to becoming its own producer, it will continue in the cycle that creates two worlds--an industrial one and an impoverished one. In the 21st century, perhaps it's time for that cycle to come to an end.
Tom Adelstein is a Principal of Hiser + Adelstein, a consulting and operating company specializing in free and open-source software solutions and support. Tom is the co-author of the book Exploring the JDS Linux Desktop, author of an upcoming book on Linux system administration and has written prolifically since 1985. Tom's business career began in public accounting where he first learned to program and develop software and later progressed to Wall Street, where he became the designated principal of a NYSE firm. He later returned to technology and has consulted and worked with start-ups as well leaders of the Fortune 500.
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