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AFRIK-IT  October 2005

AFRIK-IT October 2005

Subject:

Re: Pre-WSIS eDevel Briefing 1: FOSS and Development

From:

Alan Levin <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

African Network of IT Experts and Professionals (ANITEP) List

Date:

Wed, 12 Oct 2005 09:20:36 +0200

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (149 lines)

Dr Heeks,

On 12 Oct 2005, at 12:52 AM, Dr Richard Heeks wrote:
> Our first eDevelopment Briefing – "Free and Open Source
> Software: A Blind Alley for Developing Countries?" – is
> available at:
> http://www.manchester.ac.uk/idpm/dig/briefings.htm

I find you paper an interesting briefing containing some of the  
potential pitfalls of FOSS.  I believe that this is the first  
occasion where I must disagree with you, especially in your most  
judgmental generalised closing remarks: "In its present state, FOSS  
will remain a marginal activity that does not deliver on its  
development promise and that is no match for the enduring power and  
business acumen of major proprietary players".

Having spent over 6 calendar months in the past few years researching  
the economic and social impacts of FOSS/OC I can quite categorically  
say that you seem to have overlooked the following ten developmental  
benefits...

Developmental benefits of FOSS/OC

The benefits FOSS/OC and standards are not just the relative benefits  
of FOSS/OC when compared with their proprietary alternatives, as  
outlined in your paper. The characteristics of FOSS/OC and standards  
mean that their use also has benefits beyond the technical and  
financial, including important broader social and economic benefits  
that are not conveyed by the use of conventional proprietary ICTs.  
These socio-economic benefits are an important consideration when  
evaluating the proper place of FOSS/OC in the developing world. The  
social and economic benefits of wider use of open souce software and  
open technologies are, in summary:

1. Open source supports the local IT industry and digital self- 
sufficiency: FOSS/OC supports ICT spending with local companies,  
keeping that money ‘onshore’ and thereby encouraging a valued,  
employable skills base to flourish domestically, which in turn keeps   
educated and skilled workers at home and encourages other educated  
and skilled workers to immigrate, drawing in talent.

2. Open source supports entrepreneurship and business formation: FOSS/ 
OC, by  recognising participation in software development at the  
level of the individual and not the corporation, and by shifting the  
value capture within the ICT industries from proprietary software  
development or packaged software sales to customisation and  
integration of  existing FOSS/OC, also furthers the success of small,  
medium and micro-enterprises (SMMEs), which can create opportunities  
for entrepreneurial success of SMMEs, and drive job creation as well  
as grassroots economic empowerment.

3. Open source supports innovation, local solutions and learning:  
FOSS/OC encourages hands-on, self-directed and experimental learning  
of ‘primary source’ material (i.e., source  code) with peer-based  
support mechanisms for guidance and feedback, an empowering way of  
learning that is particularly important in an information society.  
And the result is software solutions and content that are  
particularly suited to local needs.

4. Open source promotes collaboration and open standards: FOSS/OC  
also provides, encourages and self-regulates a set of rigorous and  
broadly applicable standards and mechanisms for collaboration,  
quality assurance and distribution of ICT product (i.e. software), an  
empowering and team-oriented way of producing products, particularly  
well  suited for the products highly valued in a knowledge economy,  
and proven across a range of industry sectors.

5. Open source supports local content creation and consumption:  
Existing FOSS/OC can readily be adapted for local languages, reducing  
barriers to access and to the mastery of skills while helping  
eliminate the marginalisation of those from cultures not ordinarily
possessing a high level of fluency in one of the world’s major  
languages.

6. Open source reduces vendor dependence and lock-in: Each of these  
five benefits above also help counter a psychology of dependence on  
developed countries and corporations to provide the innovations and  
solutions to problems faced domestically, even as FOSS/OC helps  
reduce that dependence in practical terms.

7. Open source allows market entry for firms that would otherwise be  
unable to withstand corporate competition: Supporting the  
collaborative and communal culture of FOSS/OC development also helps  
to balance the bare-knuckled culture of market competition in the ICT  
industries, supporting both social and economic upliftment.

8. Open source raises the profile of African and other developing  
countries in the global economy, and narrows the digital divide:  
Participating in the FOSS/OC community raises the profile of the  
developing world, helps to demonstrate its capabilities and its  
desirability as a progressive, technologically literate and knowledge- 
savvy nation, and provides a greater degree of participation in and  
access to the global ‘quick response’ teams addressing criminal  
hacker and virus threats. Ultimately this participation should lead  
to peer based relations, thus narrowing the digital divide.

9. Open source puts user needs first: FOSS/OC shifts the competitive  
advantage among ICT companies to value creation for the customer,  
removing recurring revenue streams such as licensing upgrades and  
ancillary software purchases (e.g., for interoperability within a   
proprietary operating system or application suite) that benefit firms  
having longevity in an industry and that subsidise those existing  
firms to the disadvantage of SMMEs and start-ups who cannot compete  
on equal footing. The latter situation promotes a lock-in of economic  
winners in a global industry, thereby reducing market competitiveness  
as well as global economic transformation.

10. Open source promotes transparency and accountable government: The  
nature of open technologies can help move forward a culture of  
openness and transparency in government as well as society, promoting  
public access to government by facilitating information sharing and  
interoperability of ICT systems among stakeholders, and enabling  
governmento be accountable to the people without instead being  
beholden to the proprietary software

I am also personally of the opinion that like the PC (80's), and the  
Internet (90's), we'll see FOSS/OC as the 'thing' of the next ten years.

Sincerely,

Alan




On 12 Oct 2005, at 12:52 AM, Dr Richard Heeks wrote:

> In the run-up to the WSIS-Tunis, Development Informatics
> Group at the University of Manchester will be releasing a
> series of "eDevelopment Briefings".
>
> These are very short (one-two page) overviews of current
> evidence and thinking on key issues related to ICTs and socio-
> economic development.
>
> Our first eDevelopment Briefing – "Free and Open Source
> Software: A Blind Alley for Developing Countries?" – is
> available at:
> http://www.manchester.ac.uk/idpm/dig/briefings.htm
>
> It reviews recent experiences and the likely future trajectory for
> FOSS in development.
>
> Richard Heeks
> Development Informatics Group
> IDPM, University of Manchester, UK
>
>

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