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South Africans don't understand OSS – Microsoft

By   |  May 21, 2008

Despite having an open source strategy the South African government doesn’t really understand how to benefit from OSS. This is according to Microsoft director of corporate standards, Jason Matusow. Matusow, who was in South Africa on an “external outreach” trip around the time SA adopted ODF as a national standard, writes on his blog that not only does government not understand how to benefit from open source software, but South Africans were unlikely to ever do any “deep” development work on Linux.

“South Africa has taken a most unfortunate position of late – the government has sought to put a political mandate in place for the adoption of open source software,” Matusow writes.

“But, the most serious issue to me is that they are not looking at the real benefits that OSS can bring them.”

Matusow says that for South Africa to really benefit from open source it should apply OSS development and licensing methodologies at the app-dev and tools layer, rather than thinking of the core OS as an OSS opportunity for them.

Development not likely in SA

“Deep dev of the core OS” was not likely to happen in South Africa where students were “still grappling with coding skills”, says Matusow. They are “not going to dive into the inner workings of Linux”, says Matusow.

“Any innovation on Linux that is broadly applicable will immediately be picked up by Red Hat or Novell and commercialized globally with little economic benefit coming back to SA.”

Matusow says that he is “against all technology mandates, and this one is no different. Ultimately, it constrains decision-making away from technology, solution quality, ROI on existing investments, people issues…in short value-for-money – all in the name of a political position. Worse, it is pushing CIOs into decisions that they don’t want to make – essentially taking working environments representing huge investments and moving to untested, more expensive solutions.”

Matusow argues that the developing world still thinks of OSS as “free as in no money, and that is widely known to not be the case.

“I heard this same point of view for 5 years all over Asia, parts of Europe, and Latin America. I saw governments try to incubate OSS businesses solely because “OSS” was in the title and mandate. Then, those businesses failed, and the mandated solutions turned out to be far more expensive than other commercial alternatives. Almost uniformly this came about through a misunderstand (in my humble opinion) of what OSS can do for organizations.”

One response to Matusow points out that a number of key open source projects have South African roots. Ubuntu, the most popular Linux distribution, was founded by South African Mark Shuttleworth while OpenBSD and OpenSSH are the brainchild of ex-South African Theo de Raadt.


55 Responses to “South Africans don't understand OSS – Microsoft”

  1. Bob Scanlon
    May 21st, 2008 @ 12:20 pm

    Matusow’s disingenuous comments reflect Microsoft’s barely concealed terror: The company sees its desktop monopoly disintegrating, led by South Africa, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, The Netherlands and many others.
    Yet, Microsoft is perfectly free to implement ODF, the South African government’s chosen document standard. And if Microsoft actually listened to its customers, it would do so. But it won’t because to do so would be to place itself in a head-to-head competition with OSS which it doesn’t want to do because it knows that, with competition it will lose market share. And THAT is the reason Matusow went to South Africa: to attempt to shore up Microsoft’s weakening market position in that country. Microsoft did not send Matusow to South Africa to offer impartial advice.

  2. P Saunders
    May 21st, 2008 @ 12:31 pm

    What the hell is Matusow smoking? No deep development on Linux? Sounds like a load of sour grapes to me, particularly in light of the fact that the most popular flavour of Linux comes from a South African. Africa’s only hope to build a viable IT development sector is to turn to OSS where money stays in the country instead of finding its way into the pockets of a company 12000 miles away; where users are encouraged to take OSS technology apart and make it better (try doing that to Windows or MS Office); and users are not locked into proprietary file formats for which there is no guarantee of backward compatibility.

    Pull the other one, Matusow. Africa needs Microsoft like it needed colonialism.

  3. Tsiolkovsky
    May 21st, 2008 @ 3:44 pm

    He is at least right about one thing, a thing which even most of us in the western world don’t understand quite well. This is that FLOSS is also a lot about freedom, transparency, openness and equal opportunity for anyone and everyone. So people in Africa are not much differnt from us. At least they have an upper hand in that they can start learning in the right direction and keep the pollution with propriatery and closed source software and standards to the minimum.

  4. Michael Dundee
    May 21st, 2008 @ 8:35 pm

    Wow. I never thought I’d see Microsoft come out and speak with such poorly hidden prejudice and downright racism. I thought they were smarter than that. You don’t see them claim that Spain, by its very nature, can’t be a contributing member of the OSS community.

    But since its Africa it’s OK. Everyone knows Africans can’t actually create anything. They only exist to be exploited by MSFT and similar corporations.

    And he also claims that SA would somehow “Lose money” by the fact that other big vendors could pick up their patches. Better then that they funnel the money directly into MSFT. That will sure benefit the South African people. The truth of course is that by paying the money to their own citizens they keep their money in the country and can even collect some of it back into the state budget through taxes, thus lowering their IT costs even more while giving more wealth to their own people.

  5. Frank Porter
    May 22nd, 2008 @ 9:25 am

    What on earth is going on here? Microsoft offering free advice and a paternal shoulder to lean on? I do not think so. The entire Open Source movement represents a monumental threat to mega corporations such as Microsoft.
    I have been in the IT industry since the late 60’s and have seen the dissapearance of Control Data, Ahmdahl, Burroughs, General Electric, Honeywell and many many other then “household” names in the industry. All followed one path, the path of devine righteousness of the superiority of “their” systems be they operating systems or procedures.
    If there is a god surely He/She will send Microsoft the way of the other dinosaurs. I am sick to death of code which simply does not work, of clumsy fixes which cause other problems and numerous “undocumented features” of Microsoft products
    Go South Africa prove Matusow wrong, but please do it well an d do it quickly

  6. Dwayne Bailey
    May 22nd, 2008 @ 1:03 pm

    I’m still waiting for Vista to support all 11 official languages… while FOSS has for about 5 years now. I guess its the little things that allow consumers to adapt FOSS to their needs.

    I would agree with Jason’s opinions on mandated technology policy, but only if their was a level playing field. This does not exist and government does need to intervene to ensure that change actually happens.

  7. Jean-Marc Liotier
    May 22nd, 2008 @ 8:07 pm

    > “Deep dev of the core OS” was not likely to happen in
    > South Africa where students were “still grappling with
    > coding skills”, says Matusow. They are “not going to dive
    > into the inner workings of Linux”, says Matusow.

    Matusow apparently doesn’t understand OSS either – or makes it seem that way. Why he thinks that “going to dive into the inner workings of Linux” is necessary for participation in the free software ecosystem is beyond me : there are plenty of other valuable contributions such as translation, documentation, quality assurance, forum moderation, community development or teaching users. And the open nature of free software means that the technically inclined can start with simple superficial modifications to get acquainted with the technology – and later grow into more substantial projects as competences grow through toying with the tools.

    Will the Microsoft FUD ever end ? Ridiculous comments such as Matusow’s paint Microsoft as a desperate animal.

  8. anonymous
    May 22nd, 2008 @ 8:07 pm

    Dwayne Bailey Says :
    “… government does need to intervene to ensure that change actually happens.”

    Affirmative action?

  9. Robby Pedrica
    May 22nd, 2008 @ 8:07 pm

    Matusow needs to get a life. You’re insulting us by saying that there’s no understanding or development here. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that there’s a large no. of SA companies on the world stage with home grown products – Ubuntu anyone? UWC’s KEWL framework? etc … We’ve turned heavily to open source in the wake of high prices for commercial software, and started developing our own. Just because we’ve moved to alternatives due to commercial vendors’ profiteering, doesn’t mean we don’t understand – Microsoft have shown their misunderstanding of OSS continually. Pretty rich coming from a commercial vendor who took 9 years to decide that OSS was actually a factor in their game and is now scrambling to protect a market that is dying.

  10. TexMan
    May 22nd, 2008 @ 8:38 pm

    I learned programming (bash) on a Suse Linux box in college. After that I was able to teach myself php, perl and eventually javascript.

    I think Jason Matusow is out of touch with noobs. Oh, and my partner in my programming class was from Kenya. He learned faster than I did. Perhaps Jason Matusow is under the impression that “Africans” aren’t capable of learning anything other than microsofts garbage.


  11. Daniel
    May 22nd, 2008 @ 8:42 pm

    Mark Richard Shuttleworth (born 18 September 1973) is a South African entrepreneur who was the second self-funded space tourist and first African in space. He is now best known as founder of Canonical Ltd. and for his leadership of the Ubuntu Linux distribution. He currently lives in London and holds dual citizenship of South Africa and the United Kingdom.

    Read: A SOUTH AFRICAN is the guy who founded Ubuntu, probably one of the greatest Linux distros (or if you won’t concede that point, one of the most popular) to hit the open source community.

  12. ismail
    May 22nd, 2008 @ 8:52 pm

    Crazy, MS is smoking some serious crack. There is a ton of innovation happening in Africa. And we have been hacking away at linux very first versions of slackware! while the US is only catching on NOW to mobile sms/IM we have had it for at least 3 years!

  13. E Gant
    May 22nd, 2008 @ 8:56 pm

    Wow, I agree this is so racist. What is wrong with Microsoft? Are they so desperate at losing out to other people’s attempts to free themselves that they have to resort to racism?

    If Microsoft really supported African students coding endeavors, they would in fact recommend Linux and OSS as that is the best way to get proper coding experience. This Microsoft shill is as crazy as he is racist, and he thinks we are too! Shame!!

  14. Malcolm Simpson
    May 22nd, 2008 @ 9:18 pm

    Incredible – a ‘director of corporate standards’ pontificating about SA government policy?! Methinx that while there is considerable room for improvement in our policy machinations, we need look no further than the US (and most of its global sycophants, which we must guard against being considered a part of) to understand that what this fellow says, must clearly be ignored and/or treated with the contempt that it deserves…

  15. alex(SA)
    May 22nd, 2008 @ 9:20 pm

    I agree with Jason Matusow, its a very clear message that the government does not know and unfortunitely understand how to benefit from open source software or what it even means, but there are South Africans among us who are real developers…

    The thing is that SA’s developer communities, are not recognized by goverment…

    Thats why statistics will show differently…

    SA is still struggling with the fact to accept freedom in the business world… due to pressure of success by bigger companies, that makes it impossible to develop OS’s to put into the public market… hard work and no money for it… people struggling to make even a few bucks just to survive.. but anyway back to the main topic…

    SA have a linux distro… IMPI linux, and ubuntu was discovered by MARK SHUTTLEWORTH from SA but was not developed in SA, it was developed in the USA…

    There are also many SA’s people working on a distro or 2 that i know of.. and will be launched soon… AKA ALEX

  16. peter johnson
    May 22nd, 2008 @ 9:20 pm

    Wow, what a bunch of lies, just more FUD from opponents of OSS.
    These kinds of pronouncements by “experts” make it so much more difficult to implement any OSS and/or Linux because this type of misinformation is what is commonly communicated to CEO/CIO level people.

  17. unbelief
    May 22nd, 2008 @ 9:36 pm

    Wow, this guy is going to be the next Microsoft PR sacrifice. They will offer his head on a plate and say this racist nonsense is not corporate policy. Just wait.

  18. Kalvis Jansons
    May 22nd, 2008 @ 9:44 pm

    I am glad to say I am using Ubuntu, and don’t have any Microsoft product in my house. Let us hope that sales of Microsoft products drop world wild as a result of these stupid comments.

  19. Peter
    May 22nd, 2008 @ 9:49 pm

    Aside from Matusow’s other gaffes, he spouts this gem:

    Matusow says that he is “against all technology mandates, and this one is no different.”

    Signaling a preference for open source software is not a mandate for a particular technology, it’s a directive to purchase software which can be modified, examined or left as it is, as the purchaser wishes. It’s much more about control and freedom, than about making a technological choice. South Africa’s government is trying to get the most value and flexibility for their software money, and that sounds to me like a perfectly intelligent thing to do. After all, Microsoft is not the only software supplier on the planet.

    Matusow doesn’t seem to understand much about the software needs or development capabilities of the country he’s speaking about. I’d be wary of taking advice from someone like that.

  20. Jack Sampson
    May 22nd, 2008 @ 9:57 pm

    Seems most Nigerians only want to learn the O/S so they can get on line to SCAM and steal from people so therefore, I don’t see what the big deal is.


  21. buu700
    May 22nd, 2008 @ 10:11 pm
  22. jon
    May 22nd, 2008 @ 10:28 pm

    Did anyone here actually even read the article?

    People will only hear what they want to hear.

  23. Bob
    May 22nd, 2008 @ 10:35 pm

    In response to this post by Jack Sampson:

    Seems most Nigerians only want to learn the O/S so they can get on line to SCAM and steal from people so therefore, I don’t see what the big deal is.


    Thats like saying most americans want to learn the O/S so they can steal from the Media Companies. There are a few bad apples everywhere. All Nigerians are not the same just like all americans are not the same.

  24. mich
    May 22nd, 2008 @ 10:40 pm

    Microsoft always was a big impertinent bastard hidden behind cynical smirk, but now reveals its true nature.

  25. Education IT mobile edition
    May 23rd, 2008 @ 3:49 am

    […] other side note: Tectonic reported yesterday on Microsoft director of corporate standards, Jason Matusow’s statements […]

  26. cc2008
    May 23rd, 2008 @ 3:57 am

    I have to say that this company has harboured prejudice against Africa. If he thinks that the South African government is unable to benefit fully from the OSS and the people are not likely ever do deep development on Linux, then what about Ubuntu OS?.

    First IE’s tab browsing, then the search finder that resembles apple’s, what’s next? Are they going to copy apt-get as well?

  27. BenzoL
    May 23rd, 2008 @ 7:05 am

    I did read the article and it gave me a very bad taste. I will increase my efforts to promote Open Source and speed up my move to the open platform. We -in Africa- surely don’t need this patronising stuff from some US self professed guru. MS’s recent bruises in the European warfare say enough about how the world feels about them in “real money”.

  28. Sly
    May 23rd, 2008 @ 7:24 am

    As a Blackman, descendant of Africans and a professional open source programmer, I am absolutely offended by MS. I will be reformatting my boot drives and installing Linux on all of my systems this weekend! A closed source operating system is only valuable in an environment where the USER is expected to be too lazy, ignorant or sloppy to write decent code. So I see this that way plus, plus I see them using this tactic to try and keep hold of the last places on earth that have truly experienced the revolution of OSS, believe me YOU CAPITALIST BASTARDS – Your TIME is UP! most of the planet embraces OSS and part of contributing to OSS is offering code/comments/information to those who do not know. Thus they then know! Whilst you paradigm is one of frustration, ignorance and servitude to a corporate entity that cares nothing about the end user and is out for profit based on IP/CopyWrongs. Peace I`m Pissed…

  29. Sly
    May 23rd, 2008 @ 7:33 am

    To support my statements, please google : Philip Emeagwali … Peace

  30. one
    May 23rd, 2008 @ 7:41 am

    Typical MS FUD. Does he name any example of “turned out to be far more expensive than other commercial alternatives”? No, of course not. Because there are many, many examples of where switching to linux has resulted in considerable savings.
    Here are a few specific examples:,289142,sid39_gci931475,00.html,1000000121,39173557,00.htm

    Etc., etc. There are quite literally hundreds of thousands of more examples…just google “savings using linux”, for example.

    This is typical arrogance and FUD from M$, which unfortunately, still fools easily corruptible politicians and decision makers.

  31. howlingmadhowie
    May 23rd, 2008 @ 7:44 am

    i thought there were a number of points for foss for the south african government:

    1/ to insure that documents would be readable for all time.
    2/ to insure that everybody with a computer and an internet connection can communicate with the government at no extra cost.
    3/ to insure that the government can know what their own computers are doing (no remote kill switch for example)

    all these points were discussed in south africa when odf was adopted. i find them all valid.

    until microsoft can insure the same things, their software is unsuitable for governments.

  32. Eruaran
    May 23rd, 2008 @ 7:57 am

    The average [Microsoft employee] has the brain of a Spider Monkey…

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  34. BobSongs
    May 23rd, 2008 @ 10:34 am

    I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of Spider Monkeys suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

  35. Louis Cordier
    May 23rd, 2008 @ 11:10 am

    In South African as in many other countries we try to solve problems.
    Solving problems cost time and money, using FOSS tools means you just
    have less problems to solve. The best state of affairs is when you
    don’t have to develop the operating system or try and fix its bugs.
    Its better when other people do it for free. That is the power of
    open source software. More and more South African realizes this.

    My vision for South African software development is an army of Python
    (FOSS) programmers, with free education material abound on the internet.
    Google, YouTube and NYSE uses it… it scales.

    Then with proper project management skills such as Scrum
    (from rugby, as in South Africa is the world champions!)

    Obviously running on Ubuntu. It is more than an OS it is a mindset.

    I think the people of South Africa has a plan, maybe it is not written
    somewhere or stated, but we are moving in its general direction.

  36. Chris
    May 23rd, 2008 @ 11:37 am

    Our management decided to switch over to microsoft at a huge cost. (exchange server for 4000 clients) If used linux mail server , it would have costed nothing.
    Microsoft database servers cost an arm and a leg – mysql costs nothing.
    Apart from that, exchange is very unstable. Since they took away the linux front end servers, microsoft got paranoid and took away most of the user’s rights – we cannot even add a new printer, or share a pc over the network.
    All in all, a very bad decision to move to microsoft.
    Linux development in SA non existent? This is Racism.

    We are busy implementing an hpc cluster (microsoft tries to get in the market, but everyone knows that it is too unstable to risk it) – so we decided on open source. Researchers at universities use open source. HPC OS were unix, but now the market has been taken over by linux. I see that microsoft is trying, but their market share is about 0.01%

    Sita is training 10,000 linux students – now is that not a sign that government is serious about open source?
    I do not understand why microsoft does not specialise in gaming – they have a very good gaming platform. Millions of games available for microsoft and the kids love it. And if the system crashes, who cares, you just reboot – may loose a few points while your competitors are still logged on. Please leave the serious stuff for professionals – Linux.

    P.S. Your mouse has moved – please restart your computer to make the changes take effect. Unless you use Linux.

    And guess what just popped up on my screen?

    “Connection to the Exchange server has been lost. Microsoft will try to restore the connection if possible.”

    I hope the system crashes so badly that they kick all microsoft products out the door and switch over to linux.

  37. John Bailey
    May 23rd, 2008 @ 3:04 pm

    Wow… Microsoft must be feeling really scared if they can condone putting out such ignorant patronizing bull. South Africans struggling to lean how to code? They may as well have said that “brown skinned people are not smart enough to use complicated things like computers”.

    One day perhaps.. Western countries will realize that all African countries are not in fact lurching from one famine or war to another, and that there are a lot of well educated and more importantly, well motivated people in the world that are quite capable of working these things out for themselves.

    If this keeps up, what will be the next argument MS brings up? Open source gives you cooties?

  38. John Imrie
    May 24th, 2008 @ 1:04 am

    Microsoft has a big problem with SA. The SA standards body has filed an official appeal against OOXML. This means that the wheals have fallen of all of MS’ spin that OOXML is an official ISO standard.

    This probably also explains MS’s sudden and unexpected love in with ODF.

    Watch out for MS trying to kill ODF from the inside.

    I get the feeling that MS has decided that if it cant have it’s own standard it will set out to destroy everyone eases.

  39. Ed landaveri
    May 24th, 2008 @ 3:30 am

    Matsulow, the only dumbs in SA and the whole world are the ones that swallow your rethoric. You and your organization are afraid because the are waking up to the sounds of freedom! The freedom to tinker an OS or application, the freedom to make it better and the freedom to share it with others/ FOSS is the ONLY way that Africa, Latin America, Asia will achieve real independence. The benefits or gains will stay in their country.

    Mr Saunders permit me to quote (paraphrase) you “Africa (and the Thirld World) needs Microsoft like it needed colonialism.”

    This is the real face of Micro$%!*@ and Matsulow is not different to Ballmer, Gates or Judas Novell. South Africans you are an example to the whole world. Hats off to you!

  40. alex(SA)
    May 24th, 2008 @ 11:07 am

    SA hats off?

    Anyway?! Looks like this discussion more about politics and business wars.. I really think ODFis a good standard… Is brilliant idea and can work in certain aspects…

    OOXML is also just a standard, why fight about it, is there some secrets to tell us ..

    Why not combine the two’s best points and create a OOXDF .. hehe

    People complaining here about what Matsulow said in the SA… Matsulow is completely right, SA’s people dont understand OS’s some work for years on a Desktop machine and still cannot burn a CD… scary facts but it is true, i am South African and i see it probably ever day of my life…

    So how do you expect people to even develop an OS if peoples knowledge holds them back… Only some of us try to…, and we will surprise people in the future with new kinds of ideas and solutions… SA’s just have trust in MS solutions in certain aspects… Due to the Wild Wild South type of business war going on in SA… making time and effort… the main problem..

    But anyway some people here bubbling about SA, I wonder how many are living in SA?

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  45. KenyanMonk
    May 26th, 2008 @ 8:10 am

    I have no doubts that Jason Matusow is just playing the tired old Microsoft game. Its high time for the change to govt’s IT policy to shift to FOSS and while it may be progressive and take a while, it will happen eventually. Microsoft is just scared at the prospect of seeing huge state structures go the open source way. Here in Kenya huge state coroporations are already migrating desktop users to open source, leave alone the fact that a great proportion of backend systems in Kenya run on Unix……… Maybe tis time for Ms to think becoming open source too….am sure they dread that thought………………………

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  48. Computerden
    May 28th, 2008 @ 6:09 pm

    interesting read. typical microsoft though

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  51. tfosorcim
    August 12th, 2008 @ 4:20 am

    You South Africans are SOOOooo dumb; dumber than a box of rocks.
    Don’t believe it? Just ask Microsoft.
    (Lessee now: (1) Ubuntu is a VERY real threat; (2) VRT (see #1) developed by a South African; (3) …Naawww, no way…)

  52. Jenago
    November 12th, 2008 @ 12:02 am

    Does any one really believes that the SA Government got onto the open source wagon because of the technical or financial merits thereof? B.S. Take this possible scenario: The SA Government and SITA got onto the open source band wagon to get back at MS who threatened hefty penalties because of pirated MS software. Then there are a number of role players who could not get MS to pay backhanders. With open source backhanders become so much easier to handle. New players in the market were carefully coached (even in Maputo) in how to use open source not as as a benefit to the Governmnet but to line the pockets of the new IT roleplayers who has no IT experience, but HUGE corruption, manipulation and “politicking” experience. It is like most “transformation” projects in SA. Designed to benefit a few at the expense of the masses… Where in the world would you get CIO’s of government departments enjoying regular extravagant vacations with “friends”, who fortunately lands very lucrative open source deals with them, despite being the most expensive?? Only in the SA! Forget about technical or financial merits of open source or proprietary software. That is not the point at all. It is who is the easiest to manipulate and line the pockets of corrupt officials who gets to write the stategy… In that open source has unfortunately aligned itself (unwillingly but non the less) with real “winners” in the Sa Government. … and off-course this is just a possible scenario. Just as possible as “equality before the law for politicians and most members of parliament.”

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  54. Charles Oertel
    December 13th, 2008 @ 8:41 am

    Oh wait – what happened to last year’s FUD from MS about ‘you get what you pay for’, and that OSS cost savings imply a lack of quality?

    Now, it seems, the Microsoft products cost less than OSS. Back at ya Microsoft! I’d rather pay more to run OSS than put up with the insulting, unreliable rubbish that is Microsoft software – after all, you get what you pay for!

  55. Tyrone Shoelaces
    June 27th, 2009 @ 6:15 am

    Microsoft is still losing tons of money on the XBOX division.
    The company’s cash cow are Windows and Office.

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