Survey to evaluate open source in Africa

Staff Writer
By Staff Writer, ITWeb
Johannesburg, 16 Jan 2003

A two-year study is being launched to evaluate and compare the use of open source software "in an African context" against proprietary options., an international non-governmental-organisation based in Cape Town, together with SchoolNet Africa, which is conducting the research, say the study is to present an unbiased view, as most of the debate so far has been between advocates of one or the other side.

"The debate over which kind of software is better for developing countries is heating up and many argue that the choice will have long-term implications as African countries take steps to join the information society," says programme manager Philipp Schmidt.

"Unlike in the developed world where computer owners are able to make their own software decisions, in the developing world the focus on public access to computers and the Internet means that computer lab managers and government officials are making software choices that affect a lot of people."

Teresa Peters, executive director of, says the key point is that decision-makers need to be empowered to make informed choices. "We want to step into the fray on this topic and provide unbiased information about the issues at stake for Africa."

The study will examine the implications of choosing either open source or proprietary software. It aims to investigate the practical issues facing existing computer laboratories in SA and Namibia. It will also provide a detailed view of the policy environment, says Peters.

"With this study we aim to provide SchoolNets and government officials across Africa with the unbiased background information that they need," adds Shafika Isaacs, executive director of SchoolNet Africa.

Peters says expert members of the open source community and representatives of proprietary software companies will be invited to peer review the methodology and results of the study. The International Development Research Centre`s Acacia programme and the Open Society Institute support the study.