Free & Open Source Software

Bridging the digital divide A coursework report I wrote 5 years ago about the role of open source software in bridging the digital divide, I guess still have relevance today. 5 years on, I guess the divide is a little bit narrower but still a long way to go, especially in the developing countries. These days, we all can get on the Internet and do virtually anything we want especially with the proliferation of social networks. But we should not forget that not everyone enjoy this luxury. There is even a talk on Internet access being a fundamental right, with 4 out of 5 people in a survey of 27,000 people in 26 countries agreeing to this, I sure do agree to this too. But let us spare a thought for those people, even in the developed countries, who cannot even afford to buy a computer let alone access the Internet for reasons of social/economic disadvantage. This is one of the reasons I like the free and open source software. I especially like the idea of Ubuntu; a Linux based operating system that has everything needed for productivity at no cost at all. Be it for home, school, work and business, everything is covered and free to use. Any specialised software could be added, tons of those are freely available too and compatible with Ubuntu. Bridging the digital divide is not just about having Internet access, it’s about having access to the basics of IT, the hardware and the software coupled with the skills. With that, the Internet access comes naturally; of course you still need the dough to get connected. Majority of people including myself still stick to using our favourite brand, we all know which one I am talking about. This is mainly because we are brought up on this diet and can’t bear parting away from it or in the least afraid of trying something different. Years back, I for one had no idea computers run on any other OS than Ms, I did know of Mac but then, it’s for heavy graphics. Then, when people talk about Linux OS or some other ones, I usually think, goodness, can’t do command line type of things. Because in the early days of Microsoft OS, you got everything done with command lines and you have to remember so many commands. But then, Windows came to the rescue and all you do is “point and click” with a mouse, nothing to remember. I bet I was not the only one wishing not to go back to the old days of command lines OS. But Microsoft OS is not the only Windows OS available these days, for many years we’ve got other competing Windows based OS, equally powerful and robust but not with the price tag. I can proudly say, these days I have a dual booting desktop running on both Ubuntu and Ms Windows, a small step toward a full migration sometimes in the future. Though, my laptop is still fully Ms. I wonder how many people actually know they can run their computers absolutely on free software (both the OS and Applications). Perhaps, not so much awareness or only technical people know. Perhaps, the awareness is only for people who have access to the Internet, which is unfortunately not a luxury for everyone especially in the developing countries. Is it because the free software doesn’t come preloaded on the computer boxes we get in the shops. I guess if they come preloaded, you will be paying for them one way or the other. But then, it shouldn’t cost a bomb. Though, Ubuntu is supposed to be available worldwide, I really haven’t seen it being used in my home country, all I see people using is Ms, even when the version is already obsolete. Whatever the case may be, free and open source software has been available for years and many organisations both big and small, public and private have been using them to power their IT. In my coursework, I looked into 2 case studies of OSS implementation in a government sector in the UK (Public Service) and Ireland (Health System) and the implementation in a rural local government in Spain as an example of what could be done in any developing community. Free and open source software is not just about the economy of cost or bridging the divide, it’s most especially about intellectual curiosity, engagement and expansion without barriers.  But the fact that free and open source software are supposed to be free does not mean they are absolutely free of cost,  people do charge for distributions, support and whatever else but obtaining one should not break your bank,  if you have to pay for it compared to the proprietary ones. Check out the Free Software Foundation philosophy on this. All that being said, keep an eye on the Free software directory and source forge websites for free and open source software. You can also have a peek below at my coursework report from back then, dated but relevant. My interest in free and open source software actually started then, I guess I am picking up from where I left off.

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