Free and Open Source Verses Proprietary Softwares: The Case of Ghana

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.

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Free and Open Source Verses Proprietary Softwares: The Case of Ghana
was published on 18.09.2010 by Worlali Senyo. It files under global, sub saharan africa
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