A battle over open-source in Africa

May 16, 2009
Image source: XCID

Image source: XCID

The BBC had a nice article this week summarising the battle over open-source software in African markets.

Microsoft has been pursuing an aggressive policy of market expansion in Africa, even selling stripped down (some say “crippled“; i.e., less functional) versions of Windows XP at reduced rates (called Windows 7 Starter, the application is rumoured to allow users to only run three programs at a time).

The piece quotes Microsoft’s Africa chairman, Dr. Cheikh Modibo Diarra, who suggests that open source costs you more money over time.  “You buy Microsoft software, and you buy it once and for all, the cost that we tell you is the total cost for ownership.”

Ken Banks from Kiwanja.net (who we have discussed previously), argues that this is a false critique, that a top-down corporate model is not what Africa needs, and that there are already many existing, bottom up solutions to products that Microsoft is trying to gain market share with.

Banks is quoted as saying, “today we’re seeing growing open-source programmer, developer communities in South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and other African countries. Clearly, if you have this informal programming sector coming up, access to source code is almost critical if they are going to be able to take advantage of these new tools that are emerging.”

The battle is still being fought, and if the experience of the fight between the OLPC project and Microsoft is any example, it won’t be dying down anytime soon.