Though I have written severally on the principles behind the free and open source philosophy (which is the entire mission of fossnaija) and how they can help or be applied to Africa as a continent and Nigeria as a developing country. In this article I’m going to examine the aspect of FOSS that can help in the area of software privacy in the country.
Majority of the software used in the country are closed source/proprietary. This is because the behemoth of them all, Microsoft. Whose operating system (OS), Windows, is defaultly installed on every PC sold (apart from MAC) in the country. This is like dead-on-arrival for Linux in Nigeria. I have always known that Linux’s share of PC users is very small, I never thought it be that bad until I checked the country’s statcounter’s data on operating system usage. As at June 2016, more than 80 percent of the country’s computers have a variant of MS’s Windows as OS.
Realizing that majority of these installations are pirated (which is illegal according to MS terms). The only windows installations that are not pirated are those that come packaged with new PCs. So basically, the only time you can get a genuine windows installation is when you go get a brand new laptop/desktop. But if something happens that would warrant a re-installation (a crash, virus corruption or the likes) I assure you, if you take it to a PC technician, he would not waste any time giving you a new pirated windows installation. Think of it, the original version of windows 7(ultimate) is about 320 US dollars – that would be about 118,400 in naira (Nigeria’s currency) – with the current the present 370 naira to a dollar exchange rate. Who in Nigeria would pay such a sum for a piece of software? And yet you are mandated by Microsoft to install it on just one computer system.
To give an overview of the opportunity cost, I could get an ACER laptop for 87,000 or an HP laptop for 77,000 – both with a genuine window 7/8 installation. Would I have to get a new laptop every time I want to get a laptop running genuine window? The answer is obvious. That is why it is easier to just go for a prated DVD copy for just 200 naira (USD 0.54). and surprisingly, this doesn’t just go for the OS alone, in fact it is the same story with every other Microsoft products (Office, Encarta, Visual Studio, etc.) and other ‘big’ or ‘small’ proprietary softwares out there (AutoCAD, Photoshop , VMware and just name it). A very sour part of the story is the fact that these prices are fixed – a software on a CD is 150 naira while a DVD is 200 naira. This is irrespective of the actual price of the software inside.
Pirated copies of softwares are used not only by individual PC users but by business and corporations as well. Every bank in the country are major culprits; hotels, computer business centres, schools (secondary schools especially) and many others too. Though the Nigerian government show some solidarity towards Linux, but it tends to be whimsical, under convenience circumstances – rather than as a strategic investment. This is because you would still find majority of government computer systems running windows – which in most cases are pirated.
But Nigeria could benefit from a free operating system, both in cost and freedom that is reliable and beautiful. The country’s government seems to be a “little” FOSS-friendly because of it deployment of FOSS in some critical sector of governance like during elections. The government could benefit more form a robust operating system that is free to use and reliable when deployed. Not only as a measure to cut cost but an avenue to make relevant data open to the access of the citizen – creating transparency.
In the past ten years, there have been too few initiatives to promote Linux as a fore runner in the world of technology in the country. As seen from the statcounter data above, there is not even a tab to represent Linux desktop usage. Using common sense it should be in the “Other” tab which could contain other Oses, which would mean less than 1.51 percent. Currently most Linux installations are found in universities and colleges – especially by students of computer science. You should not be surprised to find people outside the university system (who are not developers) who have not heard of an OS called ‘Linux’ let alone using it. It reminds me of some years back when I called a customer care operator of a major telecoms service provider in trying to get my modem’s drivers for connecting to the internet on my RedHat Linux system. She said she hasn’t heard of Linux before, so there was no way she could help me and that was how the call ended.
Though pirated proprietary softwares have got a tight grip on the tech industry in Nigeria, it is inspiring to see app developers embracing FOSS and Linux in particular in diverse projects and environment. Ranging from Fedora, Ubuntu, Python, Django, Php, MySQL to the likes of the “mighty” WordPress. It is obvious windows dominance in the country is not because of its superiority or quality – but of piracy! If Microsoft decides to fight piracy in Nigeria, that would be its death and the very qualified alternative would be Linux in all its power. Even though FOSS/Linux enthusiasts community in the country is somehow sparse and scattered all over the web-o-sphere, most of their contributions are becoming pronounce by the day. This is despite the yoke of a cancerous pirated tech atmosphere. But there is more to be done to be able to building a cohesive FOSS community that would be able to propel the adoption and implementation of FOSS philosophy in tech development. One step at a time!