A new organisation wants to promote the use of open-source software in South Africa’s public and private sectors.
“Not using this software in South Africa is detrimental to our economy and skills development,” says Open Source Software for South Africa (OSSSA) founder Charl Botha.
Open-source software is software that does not conform to traditional software licence models and can be used and distributed freely.
Botha is a computer scientist who wants to create a platform that will pool the resources of other open-source initiatives. He believes South Africa’s government should standardise on open source.
When he is not actively campaigning for open software, Botha runs a visualisation, imaging and software engineering consultancy called Vxlabs.
OSSSA was launched last week and consists of a group of individuals and organisations that promote the use of open source in South Africa, including the Open Source User Group of South Africa. “We believe open-source software is good for our economy and for the empowerment of our people.”
Botha founded OSSSA because, he says, the country sends millions of rand to rich companies in developed countries to pay for software like Windows, Office and Sharepoint, and for the support of that software.
Botha says most of these packages have free, open-source equivalents.
“If we were to use the open-source versions instead, we would be able to inject a large portion of this money into our local economy to pay for support and training.”
In the long term, it would also provide room for local business to grow and cultivate local skills, he says. “We would not be indentured to specific foreign companies anymore, but we would be able to choose freely, thus encouraging competition in the local market.”
The OSSSA website will make information available to allow South Africans wanting resources or support for open source-software. Botha wants the organisation to be the central point for all conversations about open source.
Botha says the OSSSA will campaign for increased uptake of open source in South Africa, especially in areas where it sees opportunities. “This means writing letters to our representatives in government and to the mainstream media, and working together with groups that are already active in government lobbying for large-scale improvement.”
Botha believes it’s not only servers and cloud-based applications where open source has a place, but also in the software that ordinary people use every day. Most computer users focus on a tiny subset of software functionality — they need to be able to read and write e-mails, documents, spreadsheets and presentations.
Asked about similar campaigns that have been launched before, Botha says what’s different now is timing.
“Most computing devices now run on some form of open-source software. Google’s Android is a good example. Even smart TVs run on Linux, he says.
One of the things often preventing the mass roll-out of open-source software in government and businesses is file formats, Botha says. “It is not a good idea to keep documents in proprietary formats, especially not if we want to ensure those data files remain accessible in 50 years’ time.
He also believes that moving to open-source software will allow South African developers to fill the gap left by the transition from licensed to open-source software. He says local software engineers will also be able to attract foreign business. Although this will be good for citizens too, Botha says they are targeting government because its taxpayer’s money being used to license software.
“We really can empower South Africa with open-source software, its not about limiting anyone, we just want to ensure that the majority of the computing we do happens on open-source software.” He says its good for the economy, its very good for skills, and it allows us to write our own story instead of having it written by someone else. — © 2014 NewsCentral Media