South Africa proposal cheers open-source advocates

South Africa open source advocates are saying that a new IT policy framework proposal that advocates the use of open source software would, if approved, go a long way toward encouraging local developers to create and sell new products.

“We can now push government money as far as open-source software is concerned,” said Mojalefa Moseki, the chief information officer (CIO) of South Africa’s State Information Technology Agency (Pty) Ltd. (SITA). SITA is a South African government agency that provides information systems and other related services to participating departments.

South Africa’s Government Information Technology Officers Council (GITOC), comprising the government department CIOs, last week approved a proposed strategy to use open source software in the country’s government. South Africa’s cabinet now has to approve the policy.

A vital component of the strategy is a set of policy recommendations that have been formally submitted to the country’s Minister of Public Service and Administration as recommended policy.

The basic policy recommendation is for the government to implement open-source software where analysis shows that it to be the appropriate option. “The primary criteria for selecting software solutions will remain the improvement of efficiency, effectiveness and economy of service delivery by Government to its citizenry,” according to a statement by the authors of the policy framework.

They also recommended that open-source software policies be integrated with broader e-government policy and related strategies for the IT and communications sectors of the country.

Besides saving the South African government several billion rand, which amounts to several hundred million dollars, adopting open-source software will boost the local software industry, Moseki said.

“Most companies that supply open-source software applications are local companies” and so money spent on open-source software will likely be kept within the South African economy, as opposed to money spent on proprietary software that goes to foreign companies, according to Moseki. South Africa spends 3 billion rand (US$352 million) every year on licenses for proprietary software.

Most companies developing proprietary software allow only their own programmers to make modifications to source code. Open-source software such as the Linux operating system is typically developed by programmers distributing source code modifications freely over the Internet, though users must pay for versions of Linux packaged by commercial software companies.

SITA has been championing the use of open-source software. It has been piloting the use of open-source software in some government departments and implementing some open-source software applications in its agencies.

Other open -source advocates are also upbeat about the new proposal.

“I think it is a positive sign for South Africa and a good example for Africa,” said Alastair Otter, an open-source advocate and the editor of the open-source Web site

“Africa needs to develop its own potential and open-source software is one of the ways,” Otter said.

While developments on the open-source front were unfolding, however, South Africa’s Ministry of Education and Microsoft Corp. agreed to a deal. The deal, signed in May last year, will provide all 32,000 public schools in the country perpetual free access to the use of selected Microsoft software.

As part of the agreement schools will have access to the Microsoft Office productivity suite, a selection of development and educational titles; operating system upgrade rights to Windows; and server products.

The open-source advocates are unfazed by the Microsoft agreement.

“We will use Microsoft to introduce our students to computer literacy, in the medium term move on open-source software and in the long-term use open-source software applications in everything we do,” said Moseki.