State science department embraces Linux

By   |  September 18, 2006

South Africa’s department of science and technology (DST) is taking bold steps towards switching to free and open source software(Foss) and is starting to move its first desktop users over to Linux.

Speaking at the Software Freedom Day celebrations hosted by DST on Saturday, DST director general Dr Phil Mjwara said the entire 14-person National Advisory Council on Innovation (Naci) will be using Impi Linux desktops by the end of September. Currently half of Naci are using Linux desktops as a pilot project.

Naci is a an advisory body set up to advise the minister of science and technology and as such holds important influence.

DST is imlementing a customised version of Impi Linux, a South African developed distribution based on the popular Ubuntu Linux version.

The customised Impi Linux version includes a number of new enterprise elements such as single sign-on features and a “heavily customised” Codeweavers application for running the department’s Windows-specific document management system, according to an Impi source.

The department, according to Aslam Raffee, DST CIO, is committed to using free software and is adding users to its pilot project daily.

Mjwara said on Saturday that one of the key challenges facing Africa is a lack of infrastructure and affordability of access to technology. “Free and open source software is perfect for addressing this.” He also said Foss is important in achieving other important goals.”We want to develop users that are more than just passive consumers but active particpants in software. Foss encourages and supports this.”

Mjwara re-iterated the department’s support of Foss saying “it is the policy of the DST to migrate to Foss. Whenever Foss is not implemented there needs to be a good explanation as to why.”

“We promote free and open source software not only because we want excellent software but also because Foss is excellent for scientific applications. And where we develop our own software we will comply with open standards and licence the software under Foss licences wherever possible.”

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