A couple of weeks ago I received an “Update available” prompt in VLC, clicked on in it and watched in awe as the update download was completed in under a minute-less than half a minute actually. Hitherto, even such downloads were a pain and often required me taking an impromptu coffee break otherwise I would be forced to hurl my laptop across the room or pull all my hair out as the download sometimes slowed to Bps. Upon further investigation of the cause for my good fortune I realised I had the ZOL mirror to thank for it.
Over the past several years individuals, start-ups and Telecoms have worked hard to rectify the local content problem. For those not in the know, the Zimbabwean internet suffers from lack of local content. Most of users are always requesting international services which are out of the country: services like Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp (no it does not “use” Econet/Telecel/Netone), BBC iPlayer, CNN, Google (don’t let that .co.zw extension fool you) and Windows Update among other services. The result is an unquenchable demand for international bandwidth which is both limited and expensive resulting in slower internet than would be the case for say a country like the US where pretty much every website is local hence their relatively cheaper and fast networks.
The local content problems has been mitigated significantly by the establishment of mirrors. ZOL and Yo!Africa have been notable champions in this arena. The former with innovations like the ZOL bandwidth Saver which allows you to keep your PC up to date without consuming your international bandwidth by getting Windows Update form ZOL instead of Microsoft. ( It is not clear however if this service is still functional because I cannot seem to find the necessary executable from their website although one can be downloaded here.) Both ZOL and Yo!Africa host repositories for popular Linux distros like Ubuntu, Centos and Debian further lessening the need to chomp on your international bandwidth.
Flash drives and Sd cards
Apple Airpods pro
Linovo laptop think pad
3 in 1 wireless charger
There is a missing piece in the puzzle however-SourceForge. If you are a PC user the current mirrors aren’t going to do you much good-I know I am the glass is half empty kind of guy. Chances are that when you click on the download button of an open source project like OpenOffice, FileZilla, LibreOffice or (before the ZOL mirror) VLC; your download will be served by one of SourceForge’s worldwide mirrors. Despite what its name implies SourceForge is home to many of the most popular FOSS projects’ binaries and not just the source code. Currently most Zimbabwean users are served by the Tenet mirror in South Africa or occasionally if it is down, the Garr mirror in Italy or the Free France in, well France. These mirrors, especially the Tenet mirrors make life bearable but none of them approaches the speeds with which I was teased by the ZOL mirror with nor will they save international bandwidth-they just bring the software closer to you.
There are not statistics but I imagine the average Zimbabwean internet user spends a good part of his/her life waiting for downloads to complete-years of their lives wasted looking at the green progress bar as it moves like a snail across the screen. You see it with Whatsapp downloads which often fail, Windows downloads which take years, Google Play downloads, YouTube buffering etc. You name it and it is most likely a pain to download and the fact that most mobile subscribers happily state that “errors will be billed” is just salt to the wounds.
My birthday is still a long way off and so is Christmas but that is not going to stop me from asking what I want as a present-a SourceForge mirror. I know it is a tough ask: the mirror requires a minimum of 150 Mbps bandwidth and 4 TB (recommended 8-12 TB) of storage to store the most active file set of over 25 TB of open source data. You would need to be the Chairman of a certain Medical Aid society before you even begin to have such lofty dreams.
Sigh! If I only had unlimited bandwidth I would host a SourceForge mirror, Google Cache server, YouTube CDN, start my own Amazon Web Service For Zimbabwe …
Image Credit: SourceForge