Open source offers more realistic opportunities for developing countries as regards developing a universally competitive and viable tech/software industry than it’s opposite (i.e. proprietary software). In this post I would highlight five reasons why.
#1. Homemade modifications
Open source software offer less developed countries the “freedom to adapt it to their local setting depending on their needs. Non-needed features could be removed or modified. And when the need arises in the future they can be added or created without having to wait for a commercial software vendor to do so. Imagine how unrealistic it would be for a proprietary software company to truly respond to the request of every customer (or country) on the need to add a particular feature to their software. With open source these developing countries can easily evolve with technology that is best suited to them. It is then good to ask if a country want to develop its software industry would it be wise to stick with monopolized software vendors where they would have little or no control over how and towards what direction the development can go. Or is it better to have the option where they can easily adapt their software development plan to their local situation?
#2. No restrictions.
There are many commercial software (many produced by developed countries) that have license that are restricted to some countries and/or sometimes they provide regional licenses where they impose limits on where their software can be deployed and receive support. There is no such restriction when using free and open source software. This could make it easier for countries to quickly build an innovative software industry that can compete with others around the world. This is also an avenue to escape or avoid software colonialism.
#3. Less brain drain.
FOSS would provide a viable pool of competent homegrown software professionals in developing countries. Why? Because of the knowledge-sharing community that is an integral part of FOSS all over the world. Some might argue that you cannot depend on a group of hobbyists to provide support for a software that is deployed in an enterprise environment. That is true. But the community surrounding any FOSS is not that made up of hobbyists but include a wide range of computer professionals – some who are even working in large corporations where the software they are contributing to are deployed. As I have explained in a previous post the beauty of the FOSS community is that it comprises of different facet of software users (and developers) that have deployed the particular software in different platforms and situations. And hence they have seen different problems, and even proffer solutions, that might be encountered when the software is deployed. Providing different points of views and angles is an invaluable tool when looking for solution to a problem – that is what the FOSS community provides. This can serve as a resource for finding solutions (debugging, patching and so on) and skill sets quickly when such problems come up – instead of reinventing the wheel.
Most importantly, many of these countries can benefit from using the FOSS communities to serve as pool or recruiting homegrown certified professionals on different FOSS platforms at different experience levels.
Even though companies leading FOSS projects might provide enterprise class support, the FOSS community gives a wider array of homegrown choices for any enterprise client to reduce cost of support. In effect reducing capital flight outside the country, since more of the software developers and professionals in the country would be employed. Creating their own local “Silicon Valleys”.
#4. The national security question.
Security flaws are not operating system specific. That means neither an “open” or “closed” (i.e. proprietary) operating system is immune to attacks. But the advantage that open software systems have over closed system is that security flaws are fixed very quickly, because there are more people inspecting the code. Sometimes some security flaws are unknown to the producers of closed source software for a relatively long time. Even if found they have to be reported to the software company, which might require service licenses or contracts for them to patch vulnerabilities. Even if the user of a software finds a security flaw that he can fix, closed software vendors would not allow him to do it (through licensing restrictions) and also because most times he cannot get access to the source code – waiting for the company producing it can take forever.
In recent years revelations have shown that various agencies (you remember the NSA right) in the United States (you can add Russia and china to it) have been tampering with closed source software and solutions to spy on various people, including leaders of other countries. As long as the software cannot be inspected for backdoors or other malware, developing countries will be at the mercy of other countries. Especially when these softwares are used in military, telecoms and other critical installations and platforms. This is not advisable for any sovereign nation.
Only an open source infrastructure can provide immunity to such intrusive cyber monitoring since any code tampering would be quickly detected by the FOSS community and professionals that have access to the code in the first place. Developing countries can maintain full control of a software stack as well as actively monitor for security vulnerabilities.
#5. Innovation and Creativity
For developing countries FOSS could be a very good catalyst to developing its tech and software industry. Tis can be done by using FOSS for research, advance development and prototypes. Since the biggest challenge to tech start-ups all over the world is capital and funding, fledging companies could leverage the low cost of FOSS and access to source code and powerful open platforms to reduce barriers to entry. Instead of diverting very hard to get and volatile resources to buying proprietary software with free alternatives. There are many development tools, office products and solutions available in FOSS that could save a young company millions of naira in startup costs.
When many startup companies can participate and compete on these level playing platform, tech entrepreneurs would have nothing other than being constantly innovative and creative to survive and stay relevant.
The more startup companies there is the more wealth and employment are created and the more the tech industry develops – the better for developing countries.