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Challenges for open source software in Nigeria

By Adefokun Tomiwa Michael
Open Source Software (OSS) has played very important roles in the growth of software technologies. Nigeria being a developing country that faces various socio-economic challenges; access to freely distributed solutions that have no restriction on selling the software as a component of an aggregated solution is invaluable.

Using OSS generally helps in saving cost, notably as a result of reduced development time and other expenses. More so, OSS licenses allow modification of the original source code; enabling developers to customize these solutions to suite their particular requirements. It should be noted, though, to avoid misinformation that users of OSS may be restricted from distributing the software in modified form, except as patches included in the original distribution.

In Nigeria, the initiative is being challenged by various factors; from both the consuming and producing ends.
The volume of OSS being distributed around the world is so enormous that it would be tasking to choose from this array of solutions, particularly without a well informed medium that provides the user community with guided information about the software and respective evaluations. Coupling this with the presumption of inferiority for indigenous products make the idea of local OSS not very attractive.

The reliability that has been garnered by proprietary software corporations from the western world over time is overwhelming and would hardly give local OSS developers the chance of expression. It has also built a formidable courtship between our market and these foreign vendors. Really, critical businesses need critical solutions and reasonably, we cannot blame those who turn to the westerners for such. This does not apply to the case of OSS only. And unfortunately, we are yet to have that very strong voice that would pierce through software consumers’ heart that a world class solution can emerge from our local community.

The idea is not to compete with our foreign counterparts, even if we had to – we first, must have products that can convincingly compete globally. Building applications for the world is different from building applications that sell. A lot of passion is required to have a product that would win millions of hearts around the world. Our current system does not really provide the needed support and platform to enhance this thinking.

Software development business is about making profits, and companies invest a lot in the protection of their key ideas and business logics. To create a solution that is distributed freely and can be modified and integrated into other systems would not be a saleable idea. Our economic situation would not encourage developers to conceive and invest in ideas that might not guarantee some level of profit.

Really, the foremost
software development companies in Nigeria who has some of the best of Nigerian programmers on their payroll may not buy the OSS idea. They are able to pay their employees through proprietary software sales, in the first place.

Smaller organizations, freelancers and young talents that could attempt to make some difference in our open source community are facing enormous challenges in getting a standard source of comfortable livelihood. Power supply is critical and other development enabling infrastructures are either poor or unavailable.

Developing an application that would compete on the global scene might be too expensive for our folks in this class, and when they are able and come up with something tangible – they surely hope it is their golden pathway to fortune. OSS model would be some risk that they may not be very comfortable of taking.

Collaboration has not started working properly in our software development society. The main idea behind OSS is to create a platform where ideas and knowledge are shared productively, hence creating a broader base for development and innovations. It is still rooted in our attitude to maintain total ownership and control over whatever is ours. Sharing our original ideas such that others can contribute to it and thus be a part of its improved version is a thinking that is naturally alien to us.

We need a system that would facilitate open sharing of ideas and collaboration where innovations are supported, nurtured and protected. The only way we can come about this is if we believed that we should be proud of advances made in our local software terrain, whether little or massive. We need a true beginning.

lAdefokun is The Creator, PHP Freedom (Web Application Development) Framework. He can be reached at: tomiwa.adefokun@gmail.com


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.