Many articles have been written for the attractiveness of the GNU/Linux operating system – so this would not necessarily be one of them. Instead I want to focus on the plausible aspect of the FOSS philosophy and model that could be very beneficial to the continent (and country) as it moves towards a technological advanced society just like the rest of the world. This is very imperative as one cannot shy away or sweep under the carpet the fact that the world is no longer a global village but global “room”. So Africa cannot afford to relegate its technological development to foreign (developed) climes; especially with the continent-wide saturated thinking that it is “cheaper” or “easier” to just import virtually ANYTHING. Maybe in another article I would address that aspect of the issue. As I said, I want to x-ray some implementable FOSS model that can serve as a technical drive for the continent.
FREE as in free beer
The “free” in FOSS etymologically refers to the freedom of the computer user to do whatever he/she pleases with the piece of software – and not the cost. In fat it is possible for anyone to sell a “free” software. But most times “free” (as in freedom) softwares are free too (as in cost). There is little or no cost on a “per system” basis. A single USB thumb drive (or DVD) containing a Linux distro could be installed on computers of an entire corporation, university, secondary school, hospital, or government institution – with applications and productivity software abundantly available for each system. And also, that same Linux distro installation DVD could be customized for a desktop PC user and then be used for an enterprise installation. This would save millions when implemented and there won’t be any threat of commercial software licensing and patent restriction. In fact it is on this very fact (“free” – both as in freedom and in free beer) that most other reasons why Linux for Africa is a plausible are hinged.
Linux also provides a royalty free development environment for the production of ICT infrastructure (hardware and software). And the FOSS world is washed with numerous high quality development tools and models that would create a low entry point for newbie developers and techies to innovate and open startups. If apps, for instance, are invented using this platform developers would not be worried about a situation where somebody or some corporation would come demand that they be paid royalty/licensing fees for using their platform.
Linux suits and can be programmed on a large number of hardware platforms we now use in our day-to-day lives. With the improvement of the power of the CPU, there have come to be a variety of embedded systems (little powerful machines) that can be made useful for the continent. And it is wonderful to know that Linux is available for such hardwares – ranging from tablets, smart phones, solar devices, irrigation heads, raspberry pi, drones and so many more. For instance, Drone technology could help farmers in Africa to monitor their crops, fend off pests, improve land tenure, and more. But to realize all these and many more potentials there must be a large deployment of open source tools and methods, since it can easily speed up the production and adoption of these tech innovations – especially in rural localities.
System use duality
Over the recent years Linux has been continually refined and polished for the desktop user, but it can easily also be deployed as a server platform – in fact this is where its power can easily be felt. The OS has some qualities that makes it suitable for use as low cost server deployment; it is a very secure system and can easily support multi-processor computers (and by extension millions to billions of users at a time). This simply means that it can be deployed to, for instance, educational institutions in Africa that require the storage of large educational resources (books, journals, portals and apps). I could remember in 2011 a secondary school in Nigeria that had a computer laboratory that was totally built on Linux (the now defunct MANDRIVA Linux). I was very impressed at the variety of applications that were installed on the system in a server configuration – encyclopedias, dictionaries, spelling apps, typing apps, science tutorials, e-books and so many more. All the students needed was to connect to it and access all of its contents. Linux would make the replication of something like this to be easily and cheaply carried out all over Africa.
Linux, no doubt, has a very large user-base ranging from people using it on low-end laptops through corporations with their big mainframes – with this, support is readily available. And since development on Linux follows the use of “open” tools and models – with the watchful view of everybody in the Linux community – it would be easy to proffer solutions and repairs when something goes wrong. This would lead to a much reduced cost of maintenance (saving money) which should be a viable option than any other alternatives.