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Why not use Free and Open Source Software


FOSSI am inclined to think that VLC media player is the most popular software in Zimbabwe. Few people outside the tech circles know, however, that it is Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). Even fewer people know what FOSS is let alone its advantages especially to SMEs and Startups with their tight budgets. I am still to meet anyone who does not love the player; it is robust, has a simple interface, extensive functionality, a trivial learning curve and modest memory footprint – beauty in code. Most other FOSS, I find lovable. Why is it then, that Free and Open Source Software remains unpopular in Zimbabwe despite all the progress that has been made elsewhere?

So why do people use Sage Line 500 instead of Bravo ERP? Why not SQLedger? Why do schools use Excel instead SchoolTool? Even though the latter is more suited to some of their tasks. Ms Office instead of LibreOffice? I ask myself, why has the use of FOSS remained province of a fringe minority in this country. VLC being the exception.

Countless writings have been made on the subject and the usual suspects come to mind: FUD, lack of support, poor user interfaces and limited functionality. I doubt the sincerity of the arguments in our (Zimbabwean) case though. Why would anyone use a pirated version of Pastel rather that say a GNU version of GnuCash. For the later, the interface is natural and enthralling, more than decent and I find it hard to believe one would receive support from Chips for their pirate copy Pastel.

Some people claim ease of use. XP to Vista and Windows 7 to Windows 8 anyone? Installing a cracked piece of software requires dedication and skill the likes of which would be more than adequate to handle a little Anaconda and Ubiquity. If you could transition from Office 2003 to Office 2007 you surely can handle Abiword and LibreOffice. There is very little that is shared by Office 2013 and Office XP yet I have seen ordinary folk hop from one to the other without even pausing to ponder the gulf between the two. Lethargy or simple unwillingness have to be the real reasons for the claim “it is hard to use/learn.”

Better support for commercial software. How many have ever dropped an email to Microsoft after encountering the a problem with one of the company’s many products? I have done that a couple of times with varying results. I have no recollection of anyone’s email going unanswered in our local Ubuntu mailing list. Usually the answer comes within the hour, a knowledgeable answer for questions that are peculiar to Zimbabwe. “I am having problems with my Econet/Telecel/Aptics/Brodacom/Telecel/Powertel modem …” A Mumbai based technician outsourced by Microsoft is unlikely to offer anything besides telling you to try restarting your system.

Extensive functionality and a robust ecosystem. The myth that it is not profitable to develop for Open platforms was laid to rest a long time ago when Android broke through the fold. We all know about the successes of the Humble Indie bundle. The old “Windows is for gaming” excuse is starting to go to the way of the Dodo as Electronic Arts and Valve join the foray. It is rumored Blizzard, the makers of much loved Diablo III, are porting one of their games to Linux. While one waits, there is always Wine the compatibility software. Even with its limitations, Wine is still good enough for most of our needs in Zimbabwe.

It has been said “when all has been said and done; more is said than done.” Most Tech experts know about FOSS but their budgets are at the mercy of Accountants, Finance Managers and CEOs. All mere mortals like myself. Intransigence rules whenever money is mentioned. “We have always used Navision and that is not going to change.”

Most IT people do not know the art of persuasion; being man of science, anything artistic is bound to require above average effort. Why should we move our website to AWS? To this day and age most of my accounting friends do not know what a cloud is, what it does and they are certainly not going to spend a cent on this cloud thing. Learn the art of negotiating because your organization’s success is ultimately your success.

I am a recluse so I do not understand why. I am interested in knowing your software needs, the type of the software you are using for the moment (FOSS or otherwise) and why you settled for the current choice, if it was a choice or a forced decision. Was it Vendor lock-in?

In my “warped thespian” escapade (for which I apologize), I asked/tried to ask why you continue to use pirated software. Now I have to ask why you don’t use FOSS instead? What is your favorite FOSS and why? What needs to be done to foster the adoption of FOSS?

Image via Opensourceway on Flickr

Quick NetOne, Econet, And Telecel Airtime Recharge

28 thoughts on “Why not use Free and Open Source Software

  1. I just downloaded libraoffice about 205mb in size to see if the access database I work with would be compatible with it, unfortunately it only managed to copy the tables and that’s it, I would have to re write queries and macros plus design forms all over again. Is it me who hasn’t given it much time or should I continue to do the easy thing… use pirated software

    1. What internet is this that you’re using that let you download 205mb in a seemingly short amount of time?…On my Powertel that would take a couple of days. And thats if it allows resuming for when connection drops and I have to reconnect. :O

      1. Well I did it using an ADSL connection plus I sent the download to my download manager of choice orbit downloader, I hope the screenshot comes out for you to see I wasnt lying if you check the date and the time the article was posted it tallies

  2. Firefox is missing from your list in the article, surprisingly. It probably has a higher install base than VLC locally. As for vendor lock-in, people are ridiculously averse to change. They are not going to suddenly change software packages unless not doing so causes immediate, direct pain (such as paying huge licensing fees out of pocket, or a fine and/or jail time, preferably just the former though. Nothing is felt when employer pays for licensing, or you have a pirated copy. The best thing that could happen to Free* Software locally is if they crack down on piracy, come on BSA, do something!)

    Aside to author: I have to say I prefer the more direct writing style employed here versus the more verbose, ‘fancier’ style used earlier. This is much easier to read and understand
    *Free as in (software that gives you) freedom

    1. Thanks man for the tip. I think my bias betrayed me; I no longer use Firefox but you are right it is way popular than VLC

  3. FOSS is the way to go. I use Ubuntu at work and at home 24/7. 1 of the problems that I had with FOSS whilst in Zimbabwe was acquiring the software itself. If you have ever heard that the phrase “Linux was built on the Internet” you will know what I mean.

    I remember going to Webdav to get an ISO image for Ubuntu because I couldn’t download it over my 56k connection. For the same reason I also had problems installing packages that were not included by default in the distribution. Although much has changed in terms Internet access, bandwidth availability is still a hurdle when shifting to open source.

    1. I personally don’t like the way people are quick to throw names like “Ubuntu”, “Redhat”, “SUSE” whenever Open Source is mentioned. We are the reason people are afraid to try Open Source alternatives to expensive Windows programs. Its like we want to make them believe Open source is only for geeky Linux snobs

  4. I use VLC for media, Firefox & Chrome (Chromium on Linux) for Browsing, WAMP/LAMP for web hosting, Audacity for Audio editing and so on. I am pretty satisfied with these. However, there are other FOSS which I have to use at office which I don’t like e.g. Thunderbird as mail client, or the Libre Office. The reason is simple, the text formatting and presentation of the final document/mail created by these are nowhere near their MS counterparts. For all the criticism MS Office has faced for the Ribbon Interface, it has been one of the best improvements MS has got in a while. If you’d have asked me to chose between Office 2003 and Libre Office, I’d definitely chose Libre office. But it doesn’t stand a chance with the latest versions, at least for the time being, with the current MS products. Sadly, I don’t even find a STABLE fork to be used as a replacement for MS Office 2007.

  5. No body has ever been fired for choosing IBM. Its called managing risk. The free software support base in Zim is staffed largely young and intelligent geeks who have no idea of boardroom politics, customer care, project management. They are here today and gone tomorrow! This frightens the guys who control the purses. Must say there ir room for both software models. .Net development has provided descent revenue streams for a number of young developers in Zimbabwe and parts of Africa..

    1. The corporate world does love propriety software. As an implementer or developer, it is rewarding to be knowledgeable of proprietary systems(in addition to FOSS). Too true about .Net. I cant say I am a fan but thats what I use day to day. Even more obscene is how much the corporates are prepared to pay for SAP(both licensing and skills).

      But I strongly disagree with your categorisation of “…young and intelligent who have no idea…”. Plenty old geeks who use it professionally and some running big companies like ISPs

      1. Agree with you. FOSS has place in the ISP and other tech oriented market like mobiles, payments and even web development. In the plain vanilla enterprise market of MBA/accounting/King III aware Zim market, risk rules and corp orates will pay obscenely for peace of mind like you said. As a consultant, I make a living telling board members to keep away from FOSS for the skills reasons I have given. I also do a bit of placement of programming skills in the regional enterprise market (outside SA) and VB demands are quite high. I must accept that maybe I do not check the improvement regularly but the last survey on programming skills done by tech zim proved that proprietary (i.e. VB) still rules. Tertiary institutions also seem to be pushing VB so that ensures that that market is covered.

        1. That too! Does it beat SAP though? SAP certification costs also have to be one of the most expensive, hands down.

          1. SAP is a killer! Both in licensing, consultancy, recommended infrastructure and complexity! However once its put in properly, which is very seldom, it is worth every arm and leg it charges. They are unashamedly proprietary, and if you don’t learn their ABAS (or other funny proprietary language) and you are not certified by them, they will disown sites that let you interface with their system. Oracle should slow down since they are also pushing the open source. They have taken in mySQL and they do release API’s for interfacing with their ERP and are converting most of it to java.

  6. I just hope my users will not come across this article because I have been vigorously campaigning against the use of these open source software There is this saying ” Cheaper things are always expensive” .

    1. Why do you say it is expensive? It is free. Are you referring to the Total Cost of ownership?

  7. Q: Why you don’t use FOSS instead?
    A: I use quite a lot.

    Q: What is your favorite FOSS and why?
    A: Drupal. its extensive, scalable, usable.

    Q: What needs to be done to foster the adoption of FOSS?
    A: Connectivity to social network sites.

  8. to be honest, i dont think FOSS is for everyone. it comes down to individual preference at the end of the day. while FOSS works for me, i wouldnt expect my folks to use can be a little complicated at times. though saying that.. if you do prefer using proprietary software, at least go and buy it. everyone complains that software is too expensive in zim and then choose to pirate the software…. but those same people will go and buy an know what i mean? theres just no excuse anymore….and buying software locally also means supporting local businesses. now.. before people start complaining about the local prices.. well, thats what it costs…. if you dont like it..make a plan to buy it from SA or overseas.. or use something else. no excuse to pirate anymore!

    1. FOSS is for everyone it is the software is not ready for mass adoption.
      here are a quick list of things most people get computers for.
      1) office
      2) internet and email
      3) games and media
      and not much else
      in linux this has all now been solved and on its way to becoming a 100% replacment to windows PC’s
      1) you can use native libreoffice or google docs
      2) the internet is linux (firefox,chrome,thunder bird)
      3) vlc for movies and now valve for games
      “it comes down to individual preference at the end of the day”
      FOSS is all about preferance. nothing is locked.
      only the media remains, although the software exists it is not all industry ready.
      other than that no, FOSS is for everyone.

      1. i’ve spent the last few years trying to promote the use of ubuntu as an alternative to windows in zimbabwe… and i can tell you that between me and a few other fellow FOSS enthusiasts… we learned alot about trying to convert people to use open source worked for some people.. and others it didnt.

        i can tell you for sure that it does come down to preference… and that people will ditch an entire OS because they cant use itunes or some other specific app that was developed for windows properly…(even if they can use their FOSS pc for email, internet and movies). WINE can only do so much…and from my personal experience, its usually a pain to get things to work in it properly. it’ll never be a good enough alternative to convert a windows user until those specific apps can be run natively in a linux environment.

        open source has always played the “catch up” role to proprietary software in a desktop environment.. and because of that…i still think it has a long way to go before it can become popular in the mainstream market. while i share your enthusiasm for FOSS, it needs to be said that not everyone will appreciate it…and thats my point, there are some people who would rather go and buy windows and ms office.. then use ubuntu and libreoffice.

  9. I personally think it has to do with the brand associated with the software. Most people i know won’t even consider open software because it doesnt have snazzy ads or they havent heard their non tech geek friends talk about how cool it is. I think for as long as there isnt a marketing drive for FOSS, most people in Zim will choose to go to great pains to get a copy (legal or otherwise) of whatever software they are in search off.

    1. You’re onto something, considering how well Android has fared by being hitched to Google’s and Samsung’s stars.

      If it’s good software, the ‘unwashed masses’ don’t even (need to) know it’s FOSS; like VLC, Firefox and Android. The software has to be more than ‘good enough’, it has to be great

      1. It’s weird since you mentioned it. Almost all the popular FOSS projects do not tout themselves as FOSS. Ubuntu itself dropped the Linux tag in its quest for popularity.

  10. Not that I want to piss you off but what excactly do Valve, EA, BlizzardActivision and Diablo III have to do with FLOSS? AFAIK the correct answer is “nothing”. Also it it is an exception to encounter FLOSS in the “Humble Indie Bundle”, propritiary software in this bundle is the rule. Just porting software to GNU/Linux does NOT make it FLOSS! Just because software does not have DRM shit does STILL not make it automatically FLOSS.
    The question the title asks could be also be asked to Techzim. Disqus (the comment system on this page) is 100% NOT free software.

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