'Mad Dog' Hall spreads Linux word in South Africa

By   |  February 19, 2003

“LInux puts the business choices back into your hands,” Jon “Maddog” Hall, executive director of Linux International said during the opening session of the HP Linux Roadshow in MIdrand yesterday morning. Hall, a vocal advocate of open source software, and Linux in particular, said open source software gives users the ability to make requests for changes or even make the changes themselves.

“How much does it cost your business when your software does not do what you want it to do? Not to mention when it does not work at all.” He said too often businesses had to adjust their internal processes and behaviours to fit in with the requirements of the software rather than the software fitting in with their individual needs. And with each new upgrade shipped by the proprietary vendor, businesses are often forced to re-educate their staff and often their customer base as well.

In contrast, said Hall, much open source software is better able to meet the specific needs of each business. And as the business expands and evolves the changes can be made as and when required. He also said business is ale to “leverage” off the open source community to get get new features included and bugs fixed.

Hall also said there are many good reasons for governments to be running open source software, the primary reason being security. He cautioned, however, that “security is about more than just keeping secrets safe. We have to ask the question ‘can our government systems survive if our software systems collapse?’ If you’re depending on a particular company to run your government and you don’t have access to the source code you don’t have security.”

Hall was critical of the recent announcement my Microsoft that it will allow governments to view the source code of its products labeling it a hollow offer. He said because the code can only be viewed through a tool produced by Microsoft there is no way to verify that the code is genuine. “Unless you have the actual source code and you can build your own binaries from it you can never be sure that it is genuine. Access to the source code gives you security.”

Another reason to use open source, said Hall, is because it offers protection to minorities. Many companies and countries are forced to operate in foreign languages when using proprietary software , he said, because the software is not available in their own language. And because they do not have access to the source code they are unable to change it for themselves. Instead they have to wait until the vendor decides it is “profitable enough” to include their language.

But, he said, “how large a population of speakers does it take before a language is considered fiscally sound enough to be included?” Too often these “minorities” are excluded because there is not a business case for including their language, said Hall.

But perhaps the biggest reasons to use open source is that it promotes local industry, keeps money inside the country. “How much money are you, as a country, sending to a company outside of the country? And once it leaves the country it is gone, forever.”

By using open source countries retain much of the IT expenditure and in turn are able to better spend the money on the development of a local industry. “This is the tradeoff of open source software: it creates local jobs.”

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