A year in the life of open source in South Africa
It\’s been a long, bad year for politicians, petrol prices and proprietary software. But 2005 was an exceptional year for open source software. It really found its feet this year, and I think it also started to cement a new faÃ§ade that will serve it well for years to come.
Voice over IP was the hot button in January, and the open source world turned to Asterisk to provide an alternative solution. In particular, a new company called OpenVoice managed to drive Asterisk into the mindspace of corporates, and it was well-timed: corporates were tired of per-port fees, being tied down to one supplier, and forced to use non-standardised telephony equipment. The uptake of Asterisk has been vast and fast, despite attempts by monopolistic national operator Telkom to squash it, claiming no Icasa certificate for Asterisk boxes (despite most of the interface cards bearing the Icasa stamp of approval). Players in the market â€“ and there seem to be more every day â€“ have been forced to lie to Telkom to get lines for their Asterisk implementations. Approval for one full Asterisk solution is expected to get Icasa certified before the end of the year.
The jury is still out on Asterisk\’s performance, however. We\’ve heard some reports that line quality is not up to scratch, especially on analogue lines. We also feel that some of the service providers may have overcommitted themselves to meet the high demand for Asterisk, while skills are still largely unavailable in South Africa. As one supplier recently told Tectonic, the Siemenses of the world have had 20 years to build up a skills base; Asterisk has had about a year in SA. We hope that these teething problems do not damage the reputation of a very promising product and area for open source â€“ telecoms has the potential of overtaking the operating system as the most important facet of open source.
Linux on the desktop carried over from 2004 as a great growth potential for open source. The decision by Standard Bank to stick with Windows despite prolonged testing of Linux came as a blow to some. We believe that the fact that they even evaluated it in such depth is a sign that times are changing.
The real battle for Linux versus Windows on the desktop is being waged at the school level. In the same way that cigarette manufacturers target children with their advertising, getting mind-share at this level can have major benefits down the line. If enough kids grow up with the penguin, its also likely that the dire skills shortage that has thus far crippled Linux adoption in South Africa will be alleviated. Microsoft\’s brilliant campaign to train thousands of MCSE\’s certainly paid off in spades for Redmond.
The Linux Professional Institute (LPI) equivalents to the MCSE exams saw a major uptake this year, with record after record broken through the hard work of mainly one man â€“ Alan McKinnon of Afribix. The mass LPI certifications continued strongly throughout the year, increasing the skills base in SA at pace. The first mass certification saw over 325 exams in one day. The second mass certification at LinuxWorld saw an additional 111 exams written.