Zambians tap into open source software

5 April, 2011, Danstan Kaunda

Proprietary software can eat into organisations’ ICT budgets

In our time where computers and other Information Technology (IT) have become not a luxury, software business has become the keystone of commerce by both small and giant firms.

However, proprietary software can eat into organisations’ Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) budgets, with a heavy purchase price and often annual licensing fees that can further drain resources.

Besides that, there are often many third party tools. Integrating these with proprietary software can cause issues to crop up within all of the tools.[frax09alpha]

The so called ‘Vendor lock-in’ has become a common scenario with proprietary tools. Software that only working correctly in a homogenous environment.

Some IT experts in Zambia say most organisations in the country are faced with the intensifying challenge of shrinking IT budgets on software, which then has a large impact on an organisation’s ability to adopt new technology and improve work outputs.

Image: Logo of the Open Source Initiative

“This is the space in which open source software plays, offering several significant benefits to organisations like the not-for-profit organisations faced with the multiple challenges posed by proprietary applications,” Peter Chambo said, a Lusaka- base IT consultant of PC and company.

He believed open source software delivers these benefits without breaking the bank nor denting organisations’ IT budgets, and developing countries like Zambia should invest heavy in developing such products.
“As no proprietary code is required to manipulate and modify the software, it can be easily integrated into multiple-party environments,” Chambo points-out.

He said on top of this there are generally no licence fees, so budget can be focused on getting top level support, and the huge international community of open source users and developers are more than happy to share advice and experiences, allowing businesses to leverage the ‘best practice’ information this community supplies.

Although open source software came into being in the early 1980s in developed countries, Zambia and other low-developed countries are just opening up to this new wave of opportunities in the IT business for small firms.

Open source software gives that freedom to developers to ensure it remains popular even today, as anyone can take the code and manipulate it to deliver new functionality.
“One of the major concerns businesses have had with open source tools is a lack of reliability. Because anyone can effectively edit and modify the code, there has been a perception that open source software is not as effective as its proprietary counterparts,” said Moses Zulu, a software developer from the University of Zambia.

“The usability of the software has also been a concern, as well as the support available and the ongoing development of these tools.”

“However, these perceptions have proven to be false over the years as the number of developers who are available to service and support open source software has grown exponentially, and the fact that open source tools are just as reliable as licensed applications is becoming far more widely understood,” he says.

In fact, the demand for open source applications is increasing daily in the software market, which is in turn driving developers to create more of these types of tools. There has been a dramatic increase in investment into open source as more and more businesses consider a migration, and year-on-year there is an increase in the number of businesses enquiring about open source and migrations to this type of software.

This move is being driven in large part by cost factors, as using open source software frees up organisational budgets for better quality software and superior support. This is helped along based on the quality, reliability and performance of today’s open source applications.

“Modern businesses demand freely available, flexible and – above all – customisable tools that can be altered to meet the specific needs of individuals and companies to deliver maximum benefit, and open source software can deliver all of this, fuelling an ever increasing move onto open source platforms and away from locked-in, proprietary solutions,” says Zulu.

“And that’s what we must be working on.”

Open source software delivers a wide variety of benefits, but from the perspective of business there are three that stand out head and shoulders above the rest.

Firstly, the software is extremely flexible and scalable and can be improved and redistributed within the software community so that everyone can benefit from it. Secondly, this community aspect enables individuals or companies using open source software to benefit from the advice and support of a large global network of users and developers. On top of this, outsourced providers should also offer training to clients on software tools and open source operating system administration, and ensure that developers and administrators are skilled and certified on open source tools in much the same fashion that licensed software requires.

In this way, the misperceptions around the quality of available support will be addressed, which will in turn create greater confidence in the open source platform as a whole.

“Open source is here to stay as it delivers multiple benefits over licensed software, but it is up to the developers and those who support these software products to address existing perceptions and deliver quality service to rival the licensed giants, in order to make open source the platform of choice for businesses looking to implement great software,” Chambo concludes.

“This is the space in which open source software plays, offering several significant benefits to organisations like the not-for-profit organisations faced with the multiple challenges posed by proprietary applications,”

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