As I went through the various articles and tweets this on year’s first IDLELO conference, I couldn’t help wonder about Zimbabwe’s standing on Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). I generally find FOSS issues interesting and intriguing. I’m quite fascinated by basic concepts of humanity at work.
Now, I’m no expert on these FOSS issues. Hardly. I just look at the amazing possibilities and like most of you, wish there was more happening here locally. What I find most interesting is the communal nature of FOSS initiatives. In particular, how FOSS applications/processes are community driven: the realisation that a better ‘whole’ makes better individuals. The advancement of self through advancing the whole.
While we all profess to understand this ‘community’ aspect of FOSS, somehow on the ground it’s a different matter. Our attitude smells badly of “I’ll do this if and only if I’ll individually make a killing down the road”. That, even as we enjoy free and open source software built by other people around the world and made freely available to us.
There’s little evidence to show that the ICT community understands that their great ideas can be built upon by other great minds in the community to produce something bigger than any mind could have achieved individually. That a clean peer to peer solution development model will result in nothing short of a win win.
Communal initiatives don’t necessarily have to pour hard cash immediately into anybody’s bank account. The communal gain is already there and the value of its impact is far greater than any cash an individual would realise going it alone. Instead of seeing the idea as the benefit itself, we need only see it as a channel to the real benefits other minds will build upon it.
This sincere approach seriously lacks in our FOSS initiatives, and in my opinion, is one the chief reasons most haven’t taken off. This is why the FOSS promise remains mostly unrealised in a country where we take pride in our high literacy rate and great minds.
And for a country that is number 2 on the world’s top software pirating countries, this is embarrassing.
Take the Ubuntu operating system for example. Despite the operating system being freely available (as in freely distributed around the country) only a small number of enthusiasts have given their time to help Zimbabwe adopt the cheaper and legal computing. The rest of us sit back and complain about the lack of local language versions of the operating system. Like buyers at a supermarket, we whine and grumble about how we expect to be treated and the high level of quality we expect. We complain about Ubuntu not matching the quality we get from (pirated copies of) Windows 7 and Office 2007. Embarrassing.
There are thousands of school leavers, college graduates and unemployed techies whose time and minds can be harnessed to do these things. To translate software into languages understood by our people. To build local custom applications to fulfill local software needs. To help with FOSS outreach programmes.
Maybe you should ask yourself. What are you doing to advance the use of free and open source software? When you get you next pirate copy of Windows or Office or whatever other cracked software you’re burning next, for a few seconds stop and think: maybe you don’t really need to. Your contribution to these communal FOSS initiatives, whatever you specialty, will make a huge difference for yourself and Zimbabwe.