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Startups, pride and open source

Since I started working with the internet back in 2001, I have used open source software to create. Indeed, back then open source software was the only opportunity to create online for a lot of people. I was in a Zimbabwean city called Gweru, and software piracy then was not as rampant as it the case now.

Using genuine commercial software was not as uncommon. Quite a higher percentage of people bought genuine copies of their Adobe Photoshop, their Corel, SQL Server, NT Server and Windows OS. Microsoft Office even. One big reason of course is that computer usage was equally not as uncommon as it is now! Freely downloading and using open source software therefore was nothing short of a big deal. Learning that I could just download MySQL, PHP and Apache and start creating on the internet was a religious experience! The opportunities were clear!

Today, I use open source software for pretty much all the work I do online. Our blog here runs on WordPress. We designed the theme and a few plugins, but other than that it’s purely WordPress at work here!

We have benefited so much from Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) that for every project we’ve implemented using an open source package the “Proudly Powered by NameOfProject” credit is left visible somewhere. This way, a bit is contributed to spreading word about the project.

I say all this because at the recent Startup Challenge qualifiers we held, I noticed a few startups that are using open source tools trying to hide this. Some pretending they wrote all the code from scratch. Pressed to say how much of the code was theirs and how much was open source, some just felt embarrassed to say and tried dodging the question.

I don’t know if it’s a sign of lack of innovation locally or it’s just people pushing their luck trying to get credit for work they didn’t do. Whatever it is, I wish we didn’t look at open source the way we do: just some free code that we try to keep secret to avoid others benefiting as freely as we have.

FOSS can be used to create successful businesses. The business is what we do with the code and not the code itself. Spreading the word about the tools we use will only push us to be innovative and compete with a unique product & service offering. More than anything, I wish we would start building projects we can open source too and give back to the community.

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21 thoughts on “Startups, pride and open source

  1. that is very true. Most of the “startups”, i think most of the participants had misconceptions about the term startup, but i think as time goes on more innovative products will come out of zimbabwe

  2. Even Micro$haft use open source software like Apache to run there back-end servers. Also look how again Micro$haft was trying to corner the market of  open source by going into agreement with Novel. The  deal is meant to checkmate the ever-growing Redhat.

    l for one use Ubuntu server as my everyday OS with all its power intact, which l got for free, imagine trying to buy MS server with no limitations, they would have cleaned dry even my future pockets.

    1. I understand you are a Linux lover, but it is worth pointing out Microsoft over the last five years has shown a strong support for open source.  All their new web platforms are open source i.e. .Net libraries, MVC etc.  They have also embraced the JQuery library as the javascript library of choice for MVC and contributed a lot to its stability and cross browser compliance.  They have also funded many OSS projects (like Apache in a small part).

      Yes their servers are closed source and paid for but the huge increase in productivity we have gained by using their free and open source web development tools (we used to use php) has more than paid for the relatively small cost of a server license, and as they are web applications then it does not matter what the client machines are you just need the one server (I havent tested to see how well it runs on Mono, would be interested to find out).In my opinion use the right tool for the job in many cases that is a free open source application, in other cases not, tying ones self to one exclusively is detrimental.

      1. Agree, totally! Also just to add on, Microsoft’s most popular programming platform, .NET was released as an OPEN STANDARD, paving way for anyone to implement a language based on the framework’s standard, therefore giving rise to many languages, and opening avenues for .NET programmers to develop for the *nix platform through such initiatives as Mono(which you rightly mentioned).


      2. It well within the last 5 years that Microsoft claimed Linux infringed on a substantial (but unspecified) Microsoft patents.

        There has been a subtle shift though from the ‘open source is a cancer’   to trying to co-opt bits of the “Open source stack” with the aim of replacing Linux with Windows at the OS Layer (virtually *all* their contributions are to improve how higher-level software works on/with windows. See IronPython for case study).

        @tinm@n Mono is a patent Minefield, Microsoft is yet to pledge the non-enforcement of patents to to implementers/users.

        In all, it’s an improvement.

  3. The main reason why zimbos use opensource software and do half-ass
    customizations to it is that they really cannot  write good code
    The fact is that we lack exposure. Many of us first touched a computer
    when we got to college. I am happy that this is changing though.

    I know people with computer science degrees from zim who could not write
    a single line of code to save their lives. People should take the time to
    learn how to write good code. There are lots of tutorials on the internet
    that can set you in the right direction

    To those of us who can code, lets spread the love, teach and build stuff 
    and put it out there. Don’t be satisfied with just the day job. (I am guilty
    of this by the way. lol)

    1. I disagree with you about it being the “main reason”. Former startups like Facebook, Google, Amazon, Yahoo and co all started using opensource software, and today are notable contributors to the opensource community. All for the same reasons: cost, availability, community support, mindshare and security…most of all FREEDOM. Many reasons why most of us, zimbos, use it. YoAfrica, Mweb, ZOL all use opensource platforms for most of their services.

      1. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with using opensource software. The web practically runs on opensource software from linux to apache. What I have a problem with is that each time someone decides to build a website they think wordpress or joomla, download and slap on a few plugins and then customize a template that was also downloaded from somewhere.

        All the companies that you mentioned write their own code. THEN go on to opensource it. You don’t learn anything from downloading plugins, I would like people do, write their own stuff. Whether you use php, java or .NET even. Opensourcing it is up to you. if something goes wrong you know where to start fixing it coz you wrote the code.

        If you just want to display information on the web, then joomla and worpress are great for that, If you want to collect and crunch data and do something innovative with it then you will have to learn how to write your own code. Pick a language, master it and build a product.
        my 2 cents…

        1. My disagreement was in the use of “main reason”. I do agree with most of what you say.

          I also find no fault in people using Joomla, WordPress and other opensource web CMSs. It all depends on the needs of the project before you. Sometimes an existing and well-written plugin/extension/addon is all thats necessary to achieve something.

          Should one need to go beyond existing code, then it is necessary to write your own extensions/addons/plugins for those platforms you choose. The beauty of true opensource is that you have that freedom to customise the code which you have at your disposal to work specifically for your needs. Be it on a web application or on an operating system. All those companies would be nowhere if they decided to code their own web servers and operating systems. They used existing products and customised them(…just as WordPress et tal are existent and customised ).

          It is a misconception to say those who code everything from scratch are most likely to succeed. Only do so if you have to, and if there isnt an existing tried and tested product!! There is, really no use re-inventing the wheel.

          This is not to say I support those who just download and slap on plugins and modules senselessly and without understanding of what that code does(as u mentioned). Or those who are limited by whats available for download…and fail to deliver a solution according to specifications. But instead may try to force features  onto the project, based on those downloads. If that would be the case, I agree with you in total. One should strive to learn to code and extend. But also pointing out that selecting some of these tried and tested products(like Joomla) to deliver does not demean u professionally.

          I do know one “successful” web company that relies on downloaded template packages for all the clients. I had a friendly argument with the owner, and he said its about making as much money in the quickest way. It works well for him, but I doubt he can go beyond that box. We never agreed but decided that we each had a different perspective on how to approach this.

          this is damn long, i’ve bored myself!

          1. Thank you for that. I guess we are on the same page then 😉 

            On another note, You should have a look at this site. I would love to see a similar initiative being done in Zim. A friend of mine spent 3 weeks there recently. Its a great thing that these Kenyans are doing.

            @Kabweza, perhaps its a topic that deserves its own post…

    2. The main reason why zimbos use opensource software and do half-ass
      customizations to it is that they really cannot  write good code

      That’s an interesting blanket statement, which I strongly disagree with (to put it lightly).

      Food for thought: the computer science luminaries: the ones who wrote books that dominate syllabi. They only got exposed to computers at universities (because they were the only institutions that could afford & house them)

  4. I think nt many can write good code I have seen a lot of pals trying to google the whole code ( bad programming ) .I think the should be not just start up challenges but programming groups which meet regularly to share ideas and skills these initiative happen in other countries and their networking and programming has improved. Open source is great we also just need to contribute to it more.

    1. “just start up challenges but programming groups which meet regularly to share ideas and skills” totally agree. More exposure, more sharing skills, more networking so we can work on some projects together and learn from the experiences

  5. “FOSS can be used to create successful businesses”. Actually, open source is behind the success of Facebook the mighty Google itself, Amazon, and even the New York Stock exchange. That’s right NYSE runs Redhat linux for all shares traded on its exchange and recently the London Stock Exchange said bye-bye to Windows and embraced linux, Redhat again. Even Microsoft has begun borrowing open source ideas into its products, particulary software development tools. MVC a web programming paradigm has been around for years in open source circles, from Python/Django, Ruby-on-Rails, Java, Cake-PHP etc. Only recently has MS Visual Studio start adopting some of these practices. But sadly MVC is clumsily implemented in Visual Studio.
    The challenge for us in Zim is a proper IT curriculum in our educational institutions, one that focuses on IT and not the PRODUCTS of a particular vendor, which in most cases are Microsoft prodcust. Microsoft is not IT but a vendor of IT tools. Try getting school systems to understand that and I wish you luck.

  6. If you see someone trying to pretend like they can do without FOSS, they’re not a programmer. They are qualified & they have the general idea but they CANNOT program. Take it from a computer artisan, i prefer that to the word geek.

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