Hello all,

I think one has to be very careful about generalizing on Open
Source as an appropriate all encompassing solution for Africa
South of the Sahara and elsewhere for that matter. While it may
be appealing to use a free solution, its not really free when you
consider what is required to master Linux and other OSS
solutions and when you look around for commercial service
providers who can service the needs of OSS users, especially
the potential users.

In countries where there are well established open source
resources to support OSS roll out, such as a local university
(Namibia, Djibouti, Mauritania, South Africa among others -
possibly every African university with a computer science
department), then OK if you can get training and support from
them. More important, as a result of OSS training in many
African universities, there are now probably a number of trained
national experts in computer science who have the requisite
OSS skills. Some may even be officially certified by OSS
manufacturers, unless they have left for greener pastures.

In South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana and Senegal there is
probably enough local expertise to support OSS solutions. But
the real issue is whether or not there are local commercial
outfits who can support OSS implementations. You know, the
sort of firm that you can rely on to get you and your server and
PCs and network up and running again quickly, provide
ongoing support and training and help you and your team
remain productive and not continuously learning about the
operating system you purchased. All for a fee.

Also, there is the issue of demand for OSS. African as well as
many other firms around the world are not familiar with OSS
solutions. Until there is more demand, there will be a problem.
If firms cannot hack XP, then they will stay with 98.

Sure there are online resources and support groups for OSS,
but do they provide mission critical and timely support to
immediate problems? Sun supports Star Office, but do they
really have live support in Africa? If so, I would like to know
about it.

Given the difficulty in supporting MS products in this way, I
would be really surprised if OSS would be any better. On this I
would like to know from others, but my experience suggests
otherwise. But perhaps I am not current enough.

Windows is still the main play in town because of the
established base (demand is there) and because local support
facilities are better geared to deal with MS products, even the
pirated versions, of which there are many of course.

In Benin, not too long ago, I was involved in a project that
looked at supporting OSS roll out through various UNDP
related ICT diffusion activities such as the SDNP. Our local
consultant, who had just returned from France with good
training and who was running an IT services firm there, could
not find any justification for proposing Linux. Perhaps things
have changed there because that was a few years ago.

Having said this, there are circumstances where OSS has a
very clear role. In Benin as well, several second hand PCs
received as a result of collaboration with the World Computer
Exchange initiative based in the US, were loaded with Linux
and distributed to schools as working machines ready for the
basic productivity tasks and access to the Internet. However, I
wonder how these machines have faired since.

A colleague of mine, an expert in KM/IT/IM, who develops
solutions for large government agencies and clients in Canada
and abroad installed Linux recently, but had to reinstall MS
because of some mission critical issues and last minute
deadlines. He just did not have the time to sort these out.

Under the right circumstances, OSS has a role to play. With
countries such as France, China and now Israel, among others,
are adopting OSS instead of MS, then perhaps the market
conditions will exist at last to ensure that OSS gets the media
and marketing exposure it is deserves, and that it is well
supported and can effectively compete with MS. This is what is
needed to ensure that the conditions are right for a considering
switching over to OSS. That would be great news and would lay
the ground for adopting OSS on a much broader scale.

Its happening, but not quickly enough IMHO.

Just my 5 cents worth.

Richard Labelle
Consultant, ICTfor D

> I'm not an expert in this domain but I think there are some
> considerations and outlooks concerning Windows/Linux in general and in
> Africa specifically.
> - Illegal copies of Windows are spread widely and are easily
> accessible today - Windows still stays somewhat easier for
> non-experienced IT workers (therefore the choice). Particularly
> installation of side-programmes are often easier (though an arsenal of
> Open Source progs exist) - In the long term it will become tougher to
> get hold of cheap illegal Windows copies (because of better software
> protection and enforced copyrights - even in Africa...) - Therefore in
> the long term there will be a shift towards Open Source, particularly
> Linux in low-income countries.
> Personally I would go for Open Source solutions for cost reasons.
> Also, online support on websites and in chat rooms is great. The cost
> for commercial solutions won't come down for developing country
> markets and will stay too high proportionally. Paying the full price
> for Windows doesn't make sense for an SME company in a developing
> country (and mostly not even in OECD countries). And as Sun
> Microsystems is strongly supporting Star Office (comparable to MS
> Word, Powerpoint, Excel, etc), the supply for professional office
> programmes is assured even on the desktop level.
> Would be interested in any comments!!
> Cheers from a medium-cool winterday in Lausanne, Switzerland,
> Alex
> At 10:41 09.01.2004 +0000, Uwe Wahser wrote:
> >Dear all,
> >
> >I somehow miss the traffic on AFRIK-IT caused by the cumulated
> >internet and Y2K hypes :-) Are there still experts left? I have a
> >specific question about the aktual usage of tools when setting up a
> >web-server in a francophone African setting.
> >
> >We were thinking about setting up a Linux/Apache server for a small
> >intra- net kind of WebServer for a public service. This would have
> >been our standard platform in the western hemisphere.
> >
> >When looking at the IT infrastructure in the capital, we had the
> >feeling that in the specific country (Guinea) Linux only played a
> >minor role. I was a little surprised, since most of the local
> >IT-professionals I met, had undergone training on Linux servers
> >during their studies in African universities.
> >
> >What is your experience/estimation? Is it feasible to invest into
> >OpenSource servers in Africa or better go with the commercial
> >solutions? What are the international NGOs mainly riding on and what
> >do you think is the trend?
> >
> >tia for your advice,
> >
> >greetings,
> >
> >Uwe
> -------------------------------------------
> Alexander Osterwalder
> HEC/Inforge
> University of Lausanne
> Tel: +41 (0)21 692.34.20
> -------------------------------------------