2009. november 9., hétfő

Global Linux: Africa (2005)

Although faced with unique sets of challenges, countries across the continent of Africa have varied experiences with Linux and open-source software.

From country to country, the issues are often much more elemental than a debate over whether to use proprietary or open-source operating systems and applications. Instead, the key can often be as simple as whether villages have phone lines or high-speed Internet access — or whether there is even electricity available to run computers.

"You just can't make generalizations about infrastructure across Africa," says Allen Gunn, co-director of Aspiration Tech, an Amherst, Mass.-based group that helps nonprofit organizations find the best software for their needs. In South Africa, bandwidth is extensive and reliable, he says, and electricity is more widely available. In Zimbabwe and countries to the north, electricity and network connections are spotty.

But ironically, the availability of electricity and connectivity isn't necessarily limiting the development work being done in open-source and Linux, he says. "People in some of the least connected areas are doing some of the most interesting work," Gunn says. Some developers adjust their work schedules to fit times when they can connect — say, from midnight to 5 a.m., he notes.

Linux Advocates
Across the continent, several open-source and technology advocacy groups, including SchoolNet Namibia, the Free and Open Source Foundation for Africa and the Shuttleworth Foundation, are working to put open-source and Linux on the radar.

Joris Komen, a founding director of SchoolNet, says open-source use is so far mostly centered in schools in Nigeria, Namibia and South Africa. Tanzania and Mozambique are just now beginning to embrace Linux use, he says. But the price of technology is a huge stumbling block in poor countries, he says. "If we can get the price of hardware down to what we pay for mobile phones today, we'd be in business," Komen says. "We would be well on our way to bringing the spread of technology across the African continent."

Across Africa several local Linux distributions are continuing to be developed, including Ngoma Linux, Direq International's OpenLab education-targeted bundle and Ubuntu Linux. One nonprofit group, Translate.org.za, has been translating open-source software into the 11 official languages of South Africa.

Marek Tuszynski, a partner at Amsterdam-based Tactical Technology Collective, a nonprofit that aims to advance the use of new technologies as a tool in developing countries, says that people are using whatever Linux distributions and open-source applications they can get their hands on. One problem is that because of the lack of bandwidth, it's difficult to even download the software and burn it onto CDs in order to use and distribute it, he says.

Through the work of groups such as Translate.org.za, Tuszynski says, more users in Africa will be able to find a Linux distribution in a language they can speak. "In another year, there will be more different distributions and versions available across the continent," he says. "It's very dynamic."

Source: Computerworld