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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Open source software as business solution



Open Source Software has increasingly become a necessity for growing small businesses and government that wants to leverage on technology, especially for developing nations on the continent, reports REMMY NWEKE.

“Using open source software as the basis of your development can cut your development time and budget by 50 per cent,” Accenture Australia.


Once upon a time, a business entity presumably based on Open Source took over the Nigeria’s software scene, with cars and office outlets deliberately adorned with Linux logo and colour. For most local industry observers, it was a novel and classical entrance into the scene that has been known and described as ‘non-performing’ and ‘non-profitable’.

Soon after the campaign went down and from no time, the branded vehicles began to disappear one after another from Nigerian roads across the commercial nerve centre of the nation, Lagos. But one thing remained intact, the knowledge and awareness such a campaign has drawn to Open Source Software (OSS).

For Nigerians, open source means various things to diverse individuals and organizations. A school of thought would not like to hear anything about open source software and yet for another, open source is where the future lies.

And for the software engineers at a California-based Open Source Initiative (OSI) founded 12 years ago, www.opensource.org, the term ‘Open Source’ does not mean mere access to source codes, but must comply with some core 10 distribution terms for OSS, including free redistribution, source code, derived works, integrity of the author’s source code, no discrimination against persons or groups, no discrimination against fields of endeavour, distribution of license, non-limitation to specific product, restriction of other software and technology-neutrality.

According to OSS advocates, the term ‘free redistribution’ entails that no restriction on any party “from selling or giving away the software as a component of an aggregate software distribution containing programmes from several different sources. The license shall not require a royalty or other fee for such sale.”

On the ‘Source Code,’ experts said that the programme must take account of the source code which allows distribution in source code as well as compiled form, even where some form of products are not distributed with source code, there must be a well-publicized means of obtaining the source code for no more than a reasonable reproduction cost preferably, downloading via the Internet without charge.

Thus, this must be the preferred form in which a programmer could modify the programme. In other words, deliberately obfuscated source code is not allowed, just as intermediate forms such as the output of a preprocessor or translator are not allowed.

For the ‘derived works’ they outlined that licenses must allow modifications and to be distributed under the same terms as the license of the original software. While the ‘Integrity of the author’s Source Code’ affords Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) application to have explicit permit to distribute software built from modified source code, which could require derivation works to carry a different name or version number from the original software, therefore, guaranteeing that source be readily available, and ensuring ‘unofficial’ changes to be made which could readily be distinguished from the base source.

Equally, FOSS experts described ‘No discrimination against persons or groups’ as theory with rationale that in order to get the maximum benefit from the process, the maximum diversity of persons and groups should be equally eligible to contribute to open sources. Therefore, it’s forbidden for any OSS licensee to lock anyone out of the process. This also applies to ‘No discrimination against fields of endeavour’ clause, which insists that licensee must not restrict anyone from making use of the programme in a specific field of endeavor. For example, it may not restrict the programme from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.

And for ‘distribution of license’ developers are not required to attach a programme codes that could make its redistribution a difficult option. As outlined by FOSS advocates, license must not be specific to a product, which entails that the rights attached to the programme must not depend on the programme’s being part of a particular software distribution. So, if the programme is extracted from that distribution and used or distributed within the above terms of the programme’s license, all parties to whom the programme is redistributed should have the same rights as those that are granted in conjunction with the original software distribution, thus, foreclosing yet another class of license traps.

In furtherance to maintaining its freedom stand, FOSS licenses must not restrict other software, either distributed alone or alongside other applications as well as insistence that any being distributed at the same time must have a given trade mark or open-source software. They maintained that distributors of open-source software have the right to make their own choices about their own software.

Finally, the ‘License must be technology-neutral’ as no provision of the license may predicate on any individual technology or style of interface, which aims at specific licenses requiring an explicit gesture of assent in order to establish a contract between licensor and licensee, such as provisions mandating so-called ‘click-wrap’ may conflict with important methods of software distribution such as File Transfer Protocol (FTP) download, Compact Disc Read-Only-Memory (CD-ROM) anthologies, and web mirroring; as well such provisions may also hinder code re-use. Therefore, conformant licensees must allow for the possibility that a redistribution of the software could take place over non-web channels which may not support click-wrapping of the download, and covered code or re-used portions of covered code, thereby running as a non-Graphical User Interface (GUI) environment that cannot support popup dialogues.

Presently there are several Open Source applications platform including Linux, IBM and Novell to name a few. Though the likes of Microsoft known for proprietary applications are turning some of their offerings into what some experts described as partial open-source, just to reduce the implication of argument that it is strictly tight-fisted and 100 per cent profit inclined. So, it was heartwarming that Linux distributor, Mandriva West Africa, recently opened office in Nigeria in an effort to expand its global market share with headquarters in Lagos.

Chief executive, Mandriva West Africa, Mr. Dele Ajisomo, while disclosing this, said his company’s goal in West Africa is to provide local distribution of Mandriva Linux and other integrated open source applications in English and French throughout the region. He pointed out that his firm is expected to work with regional Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to bundle Mandriva Linux with their hardware as well as work with independent software vendors to establish an open source integration environment for locally developed software.

Ajisomo also said that his office would work with educational organisations in the region to make computers more accessible to learners, just as plans are up to establish a certified business partner programme in the region and authorised Mandriva education centres that would provide Linux Professional Institute (LPI) training.

“The OEM versions of all Mandriva products are currently available and running on hardware from major international OEM vendors like HP, IBM/Lenovo, Dell and Acer. Mandriva West Africa plans to work with local OEMs in bundling these products on their hardware,” he said.

Affirming this, President, Information Technology (Industry) Association of Nigeria (ITAN), Dr. Jimson Olufuye, disclosed at 22nd national conference cum 30th Anniversary of Nigeria Computer Society (NCS), that ITAN, a hardware interest group of NCS partnered Mandriva West Africa for Mandriva Linux (ML) an Open Source Operating and application software on all the Personal Computers (PCs), laptops, notebooks and thumbdrives for its Old Students’ Computer In School Initiative (OS-CISI) now branded “OSPC” that is, Old Students’ Personal Computer.

Olufuye pointed out that OSPCs are computer gadgets provided by old students in the government across the three tiers, private sector and for primary, secondary and post secondary schools nationwide.

“1 million OSPCs powered by ML and its suites of educational software are projected to be deployed to primary, secondary and post secondary schools in Nigeria by the year 2015,” he said.

Above all, it is essential that proponents gain access to national and international markets through using the open source marketing methodology; the open source testing and debugging have brought great reduction in product development costs, and using open source software marketing and distribution channels could greatly increase the possibilities that products developed under this platform get the widest market, and tends to level the playing field with the larger, better-financed competitors, bearing in mind that Open Source licenses are not anti-commercial, but anti lock-in.

This aspect of Open Source has been described as excellent for users who could use it at will, thus, very good for marketing objectives.

Speaking with ITRealms Online in Lagos recently, Chief executive officer of Mauritius-based Footprint Africa Business Solutions (FABS), Mrs. Karien Bornheim identified complicity in the Nigeria’s public sector deployment of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), especially with respect to software application, hence creating confusion on what and how to deploy a given service that could lift the administration of governance through technology.

“They don’t know what exactly they really want. Also, the leadership change very often and it is difficult to make decision that could spur growth and enable the catering for clients better,” she declared. As said by her, FABS utilizes the platforms of world class software providers such as IBM, Novell and RedHat among others to deliver quality services to its customers in virtually all parts of the globe, pointing out that in most cases, especially at this era of meltdown recovery intensity, organisations do not really have to buy new software.

“We have our own expertise in our bid to deliver and we would not give any customer a product that is not certified,” she declared, stressing that most companies may not necessarily buy a new software application, but still prefer to deploy open source suites.

“In Open Source, the license is free, but the support service is not,” she explained, emphasising that Linux environment is the way to go. She cited an instance with East African countries where open source applications have become almost official software backed with a government decree, saying that is what is needed in other parts of Africa for open source to get to the next level of assisting developing countries to advance.

In furtherance of business viabilities for open source, the Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA), recently linked up with the European hub of open source cum ICT hub located in Berlin, Germany, backed with intercontinental working tour.

Team leader of FOSSFA working tour and council chairperson, Ms. Nnenna Nwakanma, said it was the longest out-of-the continent working trip to Berlin, Europe’s Open Source hub. She also said, the Foundation’s executives and staff from the Western, Eastern and Southern Africa toured Berlin and its environs for one full week.

Noting that Berlin as centre of innovation brings science and Small and Medium Enterprise (SMEs) together for innovation on the Open Source Business Foundation platform with members cutting across companies, institutions and persons inspired by open source software.

Nwakanma also said the highpoint was a visit to Linux Tag, European’s oldest Linux Tradefair, which normally registers above 12,000 attendees. Other organizations and events scheduled included Open Berlin, The Open Source Business School, LiSOG, newthinking, Linux Association, LXDE, and Linux Verband. Parallel to these, she said, is FOSSFA and Inwent Capacity Building International event dedicated to ICT@INNOVATION.

“The joint project serves the need of Open Source SMEs in Africa, even as the team joined the Linux Professionals Institute (LPI) in celebrating their 10th anniversary.

Like the president of Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON), Chief Chris Uwaje noted, FOSS is where the future lies for development and emancipation of local content in a developing economy like Nigeria into the global realm.

For Uwaje, who spoke at the weekend during the Nigeria IT Expo (NITEX) organized by the NCS at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), said all nations of the world now look up to Open Source Software (OSS), as the roadmap to sustainable progress and creation of wealth. Therefore, he declared that development of OSS application and software products should be strongly encouraged and promoted to accomplish many objectives for the Nigeria software industry.

For the chief executive, Jidaw.com, Mr. Jide Awe, in view of the considerable interest OSS has generated globally, it will be a mistake for a developing country like Nigeria to fail to examine the worth and benefits of OSS.

However, noteworthy is that lack of awareness and relative availability of expertise among FOSS members could be a major hindrance for support services, but top on the logs has been the absence of adequate funding both by the government and few multinational proponents of FOSS in developing countries and Nigeria, of course, cannnot exist in isolation.

So, a clarion call is hereby made to those who have advancement of developing countries at heart to embrace open source as a way out of the wood, especially given its ability to drastically reduce cost of deployment and management, mostly where the expertise is available for support services.

Therefore, the introductory quote above could apply to businesses and government entities in the not-too-developed nations, most of which, could be easily found in Africa and with Nigeria’s size and population, the chances are in legion, in that what Accenture saw and witnessed in Australia could be replicated by Nigerian firms.

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