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Open Source high on media agenda

By   |  September 9, 2003

Editor at large Open source software featured high on the agenda of this week\’s HighwayAfrica 2003 conference in Grahamstown, South Africa. The annual conference attracts journalists and media representatives from across the African as well as from outside of the continent.

Although the conference, now in its seventh year of existence, is primarily focused on the role of jounalists in the upcoming World Summit on the Information Society there has also been a significant focus throughout the programme on open source software.

In a debate yesterday, Joris Komen of Executive Director of Schoolnet Namibia, which uses Linux Termibal Server Project-based diskless workstations to deliver computer services to schools throughout the country, said that in Namibia there is \”very little in the way of decent Internet connectivity. In Namibia we are not dealing with previously disadvantaged students but rather ones that are currently disadvantaged.\”

Komen said that Open Source software allowed his organisation to keep the cost of provisiding computers to schools down. \”Open Source can and does work on second hand computers.\” Komen did, however, also stress that having access to free and open source software is just part of the solution. A far bigger concern, he said, is the cost of hardware and the ongoing maintenance of the systems deployed to schools. \”The capital equipment cost is what really underlies the delays in getting computers to students and disadvantaged areas. Prices are still far to high and we are going to have to brigng these prices down before we can achieve our goals.\”

Komen said that just 200 out of the 1565 schools in Namibia have some form of Internet connection. And of those 35% are considered to be at risk from unstable power supplies and weak or intermittent telecommunications infrastructure. 900 schools, said Komen, are without either electricity or telecommunications facilities. Komen said that to achieve a ratio of students to computers of 10:1 – which would be similar to the ratios in many developed countries – Namibia needs around 72000 computers.

Komen argued that many of the organisations delivering second hand computers to Schoolnet are simplt doing so and then walking away. \”The cost of ownership of these computer projects is a five year programme.\” And currently much of the costs are being carried by organisations such as Schoolnet, said Komen.

HighwayAfrica also included a series of Open Source workshops this year during which journalists were introduced to the concept of Open Source software as well as given an opportunity to experience applications such as OpenOffice, Evolution, Gimp and Mozilla first-hand.

The workshops were conducted by Tectonic Editor Alastair Otter and Douglas Arellanes, Head of Research and Development at the Centre for Advanced Media Prague.


2 Responses to “Open Source high on media agenda”

  1. ian
    September 10th, 2003 @ 12:00 am

    Looks like I missed out on an interesting conference – I was toying with attending. What was the response from the journalists?

  2. Alastair
    September 11th, 2003 @ 12:00 am

    It was great to attend (for once) a non-tech conference and experience first hand how users relate to technology. And in particular how users in developing and under-developed countries are using technology to get their news out.

    In most cases the difficulties they experience are well outside of our understanding given that we have access to infrastructure, electricity, telecoms and the like. There are some fascinating stories told by journalists that work in deprived areas including some who tell of filing stories by SMS because they only have access to cellphones!

    Open source is fast becoming a part of the media agenda on the continent and while most journalists are still a little cautious of the concept they are desperate to reduce their costs of producing news and the open source way is a compelling option.

    Sadly there is still a lack of usable open source products on the printing side (DTP etc) and most still have to pay over hard cash to produce their community newsletters. Online media, for which their are a range of options, is still growing in the African context of under-serviced areas.

    On the whole, however, open source is growing in prominence in the media world and by this time next year I expect it will be an established part of most publishing houses.

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