Open Source Software in the Emerging World
Across the globe, emerging nations are leveraging open source software (OSS) at a rapid pace. The benefits of using OSS in the emerging world are twofold. First, it is much cheaper than proprietary software. The Malaysian government estimates that it has saved in excess of $11 million in licensing fees over five years by using OSS. Second, it introduces emerging nations to the process of developing software and reduces dependency on foreign software. According to United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, OSS provides “new business opportunities in emerging countries and can help empower communities to be less technologically dependent”.
The South African government recognized the benefits of OSS early on, incorporating it into its technology policy as early as 2003. The policy on free and OSS states that the South African government will implement OSS unless the corresponding proprietary software is significantly superior. The propagation of OSS is impeded by the prohibitive cost of broadband Internet in the country. A study of broadband pricing in the emerging markets found that entry-level DSL packages in South Africa are the sixth most expensive, and high-end DSL packages are most expensive at over $5000 per year. To make OSS available despite this problem, the Freedom Toaster Project has set up public kiosks that burn software on to CDs. The Ubuntu Linux operating system, the Mozilla Firefox browser, the Open Office suite and books from Project Gutenberg are all available for free download at the kiosks.
While the use of OSS is gaining traction in South Africa, the country falls behind other emerging nations when considering the number of active open source developers. In the emerging world, India is the leading generator of open source development, followed by China. Like the South African government, Indian government agencies have also demonstrated a preference for OSS. India is emerging as the Asian open source hub and plays host to Asia’s largest open source conference. The annual Open Source India conference attracts a number of speakers representing technology giants such as Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Oracle and Microsoft. Snapping at India’s heels in this sector is Brazil’s vibrant open source developer community. The hallmark of the Brazilian open source movement is the government backed Public Service Portal. The portal offers about sixty OSS solutions catering to the healthcare, education and IT sectors among others. These software programs have been developed with government backing, are maintained by a community of users and are freely downloadable.
The trends in the adoption of OSS indicate that it is likely to have a strong global presence in the coming years. In the emerging world, this means greater independence from major proprietary software exporters like the United States. In addition to self-reliance, OSS promotes a culture of innovation and provides employment opportunities. According to Open Source Initiative board member Rishabh Aiyer Ghosh, OSS is a skills developing platform because it encourages developer participation and fosters a skilled workforce. By all accounts, the burgeoning open source movement bodes well for the emerging world.
Photo Credit: “Cabralia computer center”, Alex Araujo, Wikimedia Commons
About: Amisha Manek
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