Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) has become widespread in Ghana and the use of software is playing pivotal role in this increasing growth witnessed in ICTs. Both Proprietary Softwares (PS) and Free and Open Source Softwares (FOSS) are being used in Ghana but PS are much more widespread because most of these PS particularly Windows OS come bundled into the computers whiles those specialized softwares like accounting and payroll, anti-virus and office productive softwares are to be purchased at extra cost contrarily to the positions adopted by the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) (Geneva, 2003 and Tunis 2005) on the importance of the issue of
diversity of choice in the use of softwares and critical role softwares play in access to information and knowledge. The positions are really not what pertain in most African countries particularly Ghana as result the worrying trend is the wide use of pirated PS, especially Microsoft Windows and Windows based applications in government departments and institutions, private firms and by individuals. In actual fact some users in Ghana think that all softwares can be downloaded and shared for free.
This blog captured key findings in a study commissioned by the Free and Open Source Software Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA). A comparison of FOSS and PS use in Ghana is made showing the usage patterns of these software alternatives on both the desktop and server environments. Total cost of ownership in the Ghanaian context is presented. Finally, suggestions on the way forward for FOSS implementation in Ghana. The findings presented are credited to a research project FOSS Advocacy in West Africa and Beyond – (FOSSWAY) commissioned by FOSSFA.
FOSS and PS use in Ghana
The study showed that in the desktop environment Windows OS dominated by as much as 84.7% whiles Linux OS constituted 11.9% followed by 3.4% for Unix OS of respondents. It was observed that the reason for Windows OS dominating is because desktop computers bought came with Windows OS pre-installed. Other reasons where attributed to the ease of use and availability of applications, and technical support. An interesting finding the study pointed out was that users of Linux OS on desktop system said it was easy to use dispelling the misconception about the difficulty of using Linux. Another reason users of Linux gave was its safety and freedom from viruses. On the server side, Windows dominated with 66.7%. Linux on the other hand had more than double (25.4%) the response of those using Linux as desktop OS and 3.2% of responses used Unix OS and 4.8% used Solaris. About 96% of the Linux OS server users had Windows Server deployed alongside the study noted.
The users of FOSS mostly are from the technical community, enthusiast and students who install often dual boot with Windows OS. The Ghana India Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT and user groups like Students Linux Space, LinuxAccra, LinuxLegon, Ghana Open Source Society (GHOSS), Ghana Bloggers Community, Ghana Developers’ Community and Ushahidi Ghana are advocating the adoption of FOSS by institutions in the country and a lot more needs to be done.
Total Cost of Ownership
The framework behind the Total Cost of Ownership combined among others factors which apply to the operations of computer equipment which included; hardware, training, and support measured over the lifespan of the equipment. The study asked respondent to rank key setup-cost factors (software licenses, hardware, technical support, and training for staff) on a scale from 1 (least) to 5 (most) and it emerged that hardware cost contributed significantly to overall set-up cost ranking 4 for PS and 3 for FOSS. Software licenses where less significant in their contribution to set-up cost for FOSS ranking 2 compared to PS which ranked 4. On technical support FOSS was ranked 3 whiles PS ranked 4. Finally, Training was ranked 3 for both PS and FOSS. Although the study did not include specific questions on piracy, the research team gathered that software piracy was high especially amongst individual users.
Challenges to FOSS use
The major challenge the study identified was the absence of any FOSS policy in Ghana and the existing procurement policy does not clearly stipulate terms for procuring softwares. It is interesting to note that in the Public Procurement Act, 2003 (Act 663) a software is defined as “something you buy a license for” which basically saying means we do not consider FOSS.
Users still have the perception that FOSS solutions are complex to use. Another dominant challenge cited in the study is the lack of support for FOSS solutions. Others include compatibility, too frequent
updates and too many OS types. The study in conclusion recommended that government to come Policy on Software or FOSS policy by learning from the South African experience to tackle the issue of software procurement in a holistic manner. It also urged the establishment of FOSS council to further probe FOSS issues in Ghana.
As main part of our internal re-design, re-focus and re-formulation efforts (which are also part of the reason why it’s currently so quiet around here) we had the ICT4D.at vision meeting last weekend. We talked about many urgent topics there and on our aims and how it will go on with ICT4D.at in the future.
An important thing we agreed on was a first draft of our vision, which should comprise all of our activities, present, past and planned. It should help us to explain (to interested people, possible sponsors, possible members, …) what we do in a short sentence. What we came up with was:
“People in ICT4D.at provide a platform/network to create an environment to enable sustainable projects in the ICT sector to make positive impact in less developed regions all around the world.”
If you have opinions or ideas on that vision draft, please comment.
Our main activities to come closer to this vision are awareness raising (about ICT4D), capacity building (= project work), research and networking.
Our “flagship” project currently is Zanzicode (http://zanzicode.com/), where we provide cost free programming lessons to motivated young people in Zanzibar. We are definitely committed to staying there and also thought of ways how to improve our engagement – for example by providing more advanced lessons for a small fee or introducing an Ashoka-inspired mentoring process for selected alumni.
As we strongly encourage our members to act independently in projects which are in line with our vision, we are definitely also open to possible future projects in other areas of the world. As a first step we’d definitely open our platform and our international network for interesting projects.
Slowly but constantly we are gaining members – and to manage this process better we now set up a process to become a member of ICT4D.at which will shortly be available as web-form, we are working on that.
We also looked at the resources we would need in the future and the competences we currently have – and identified some skills we are lacking and are searching members to cover those. If you are interested in helping out, please look at our “Jobs” site in the wiki.
So far so good, as all of us are currently working on their ToDos from the vision meeting, I’m sure you’ll hear from us more often again soon.
This year’s motto of the European Association of the Study of Science and Technology was “Practicing Science and Technology, Perfoming the Social”. Visiting Europe’s core conference in my field of research, I was fascinated to find a whole track dealing with North/South devide and development issues. Here is a review of this track: About the Sense and Nonsense of a ‘Development’ Label
I was lucky to meet interesting people also studying and operating within ICT4D. During an inofficial gathering of people working in international development context, we had interesting discussions and made plans for publishing together. The initiators were Lara Houston, Christine Richter, Gianluca Miscione and
Norman Schräpel who plans to have a closer look on Rwanda’s ICT policy. Hope to see some of you again at the ICTD Conference in London in December!
My part at the EASST conference in Trento was the presentation and discussion of a paper on video ethnography experience in Kenya together with two of my co-authors Rick B. Duque and Sonja Weber. I am happy to report that the enriching discussion with other scientists working with video as a method offered a lot of inputs and tips for our forthcoming TV documentary series ‘addICT’ on OKTO TV starting with next year.