Software Freedom Day

Last week was Software Freedom Day being a saturday, I decided to spend the day at the event. In Ghana, it held at the Ghana India Koffi Annan Center of Excellence in ICT. It was my first technology event in Ghana. I hope to give my take on what went down.

The program started with a documentary on the open source movement. Presentations where done on some open source projects like Koha which is an open source integrated library management system and jquery cipher which is a front-end encryption tool.
Of course there where presentations on other products but the above represent the two I find most impressive. Koha is international while jquery cipher was developed by Samuel Asirifi a Ghanian. Beyond those two products, I was not really impressed by the rest of the event.

Business Models

The above diagram is called the IT Value Chain. Like I talked about in my post on Bringing Ideas to Life, the first option is to awaken a dragon while the second is to carve one yourself. Being away from a Graphic Designer, I had to open Microsoft Paint and do the work myself! The above image is Programmer Art. So if you like the above image, please feel free to use it for whatever purposes you like. I will not mind 🙂 I was given the information free! If you decide you want to beautify the image, please do so and send me a copy.

When you look at the above image, it explains the different players in the Information Technology sector. At the top of the pyramid are the programmers and graphics designers. These are the guys with “The Skill”. The only problem being that having power and knowing how to use it are not the same thing. Below content producers are the bloggers who bring all the players together. For content producers, apart from blogging, you can also get to this stage by having a product that make people talk about you. Blogging by itself requires no skill to start. It simply requires the ability to write the way you talk 🙂 anyway that’s how I do it.

After aggregators/hosts, the next two levels are not for mere mortals! Collaboration is then a must. In West Africa the most visible access providers are Microsoft and Google. Microsoft brought us the computer and Google brought us the internet. Therein lies the problem. Microsoft is seen as the enemy by open source movement which is strongly supported by Google. In the realm of advertising, Google and Inmobi are visible players.

Straight Talk

Someone once said “A belief if something we would argue about, a conviction is something we will die for”. The views that come next are my sincere opinion on the true state of the open source movement. Reader discretion is advised!

The first tech event I attended in my life was Google Nigeria. It was held at the University of Lagos in 2010. I don’t remember the dates but it held from Thursday to Saturday. I remember snubbing the event up till Saturday which was the program for students. It was nice attending. Subsequent events showed the Google was serious about Africa as a whole and were not Microsoft.

Bear in mind that this is 2010 when Microsoft was seen as ‘evil”. Google preached and we believed. Some of my friends even got baptized. I wonder why they could not convert me…. Anyway that was before GNBO. If there was anything that proved to me once and for all that it is all business, it was GNBO. I remember being one of the earliest adopters it was cool to be able to create a website in just 2 hours!

In the weeks to come the outburst would start from my web designer friends. Many would lose what small businesses they had. Truthfully Google opened the web space in Nigeria but at the cost of the guys on the ground. 2011 was the year I decided that it was “Every man for himself and God for us all!”. In the days following, I have not seen anything to change my mind on the matter.

How does this connect with Software Freedom Day? Easy! we have a bunch of guys selling their own agenda to the detriment of people on the ground. While I sincerely believe in the open source doctrine, it must be tempered by wisdom. FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) is the only way that Africans have a chance in technology.

However, there is The Danger of the Single Story that sorry state where we take the trees to be the forest. Any technology business needs to consider its technical as well as it financial sides. In technology today, a common business model is freemium. It gives a business a chance to try a product free while it evolves a business model.

Today, I am firmly in the Microsoft camp. My survival is at stake! The Windows 1 operating system has evolved up to the point where it now on Windows 8 that is 27 years of work! Open source has nothing to meet this challenge! No open source project has such a record. Any that for me is what is scary about Software Freedom Day. Rather than talk about what the future holds once Microsoft closes ranks with Windows 8 on October 26th, they seem to be this continuous rant on the virtues of free software.

As a programmer who has had to look through lines of code I did not write in the name of free software, I will pass! The first rule of civil engineering is that you cannot build on sand! I would rather build a company on Windows 8 as a foundation and have FOSS as an extension of that company than build the entire stack on FOSS.

Conclusion

In today’s fast-paced business environment, there is the need to focus on rapid delivery of products. FOSS is accompanied by a lot of noise that most programmers tend to think that it is the way to go. It is truly amazing that the people making the noise are not programmers!

Mythology recalls that Odysseus ties himself to the mast of the ship in order to listen to the voices of Sirens while the rest of his men have their ears filled with wax. As a programmer, that is my current stance! I will do my due diligence on FOSS tools out there because once in a while the open source movement produces great tools. But in the end in a choice between Microsoft and FOSS tools for any project I am working on Microsoft will win!

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