I noticed that Ghana came up and I wanted to make a few comments since I
am based there.

On 3/14/05, Edward Cherlin wrote:

> On Tuesday, 8 March 2005, Don Slater wrote:
>> If Windows XP were sold at the price it usually commands in pirate
>> markets, it would be perfectly OK.
> Not really. There is no practical way to get Windows into local
> languages. The only way Microsoft allows this, apart from doing the
> development itself (Don't hold your breath) is for a government to take
> out a license, contract out the development work, and then hand the
> results back to Microsoft to sell. This is not realistic for more than a
> few major languages.

There is not a huge demand for local language applications right now. I
am not for example, aware of a local language newspaper, though from
time to time, one sees local languages being quoted in the press,
however, these are expressed in an "English" encoding, since the
characters required are absent from most fonts.

It could be that there is not a huge demand because the capability is
not well integrated with the operating environment, but I would place
more weight on what is seen in the press. Radio is an entirely different
matter where the demand is very strong for local content. Local language
usage here is usually an oral affair outside of the academic

> So doesn't it make just as much sense to pressure M$ for the equivalent
> of educational licences, or simply donated software? The demand would be
> for a more appropriate pricing structure, and would be similar to
> demanding that drug companies allow or produce very cheap generic
> versions of drugs that are essential to lives in poor countries.

There are two problems that I see with a more appropriate pricing

1) The additional volume from dropping prices to affordable levels may
well result in substantively lower revenue. This is not a situation that
I would expect the companies to respond to unless they have to. Free
software may provide the necessary motivation.

2) No one is interested in a stripped down or crippled version of
"standard" software. People mostly want what works, what "everyone else"
uses. Specialists or hobbyists may say otherwise but they don't make up
the majority or even close to it. If a company could sell its product
under an "appropriate pricing structure" and still make money, it may
result in unwelcome pricing pressure.

To add to that, I would say the issue of licensing is irrelevant. I
think that people use the software and get it any way they can and I
consider it a reasonable practice given the local cost of licensed
software and local salaries/revenues. In return, they put up with
inconveniences due to not being properly licensed (such as Windows
Update access) and that's a decision that costs them less.

The companies are able to sell their product at prices higher than what
the majority of consumers could afford in order to maximize revenue.
Those who use unlicensed software help to ensure that the market share
of illegal proprietary software remains high. In this light, one can see
unreasonably high prices as an inducement to ensure illegal copying is
part of the culture of computer usage. Later on, technological measures
can be used to prevent actual unlicensed use (such as encountered when
installing Microsoft AntiSpyware)

> This is Microsoft's strategy in taking over Digital Partners and
> engineering a merger between Digital Partners and the Grameen Foundation
> USA. The Gates Foundation gives away hundreds of millions of dollars
> worth of software (if-sold value) to prime this market. The FOSS
> movement gives away far more software, but our if-sold value is $0.
>> I tend to get worried (particularly as an ethnographer) when I
> So you should appreciate the value of local language support.


"Indigenous Knowledge is a Red Herring"


for my alternate viewpoint on the issue of local language with respect
to the situation in Ghana.

>> see the word 'only' used in these discussions - there may seem to be
>> only one solution *technologically*, but there are always multiple
>> political and economic strategies, and Linux is 'only' one of these.
> Free Software/Open Source software is not a technology. It is an
> economic and political movement, away from The Tragedy of The
> Anti-Commons. Linux runs on almost every 16-bit or better computer
> architecture, including x86, M68000, PPC, Sparc, IBM 390, ARM, and many
> more, and FOSS more generally runs on every major operating system,
> including the many variants of Unix, Windows, Mac (native and BSD both),
> and a multitude of lesser products.

The confluence between software as technology and software as movement
has caused some mismatch in what values should be. Linux is excellent
software but some of the evangelism behind it appears to be floating in
the air instead of feet planted on ground.

I find it worrying to see the same memes again and again because their
transmission process causes the nuance and balance of an appropriate
solution to a particular problem evolve into blanket statements. I also
find it worrying that it sometimes comes across as more of "This is the
True Way" than "This is the best solution to that particular problem"

>> Linux makes sense for example in India which has the resources (huge
>> population, armies of software engineers, vast internal market, etc) to
>> generate bespoke open source solutions; it makes bugger all sense in
>> small countries like Ghana (where I am doing research at the moment),
>> which do not have these resources

We are trying to build our own internal capacity in Ghana through the
use of Linux User Groups.

I think that it is more important to look at how both volume and
sophistication in the usage of technology can increase in a general way
rather than to look at increases in a specific way. By this, I mean
that, from where we are now, it is a better option to have more people
who can really make use of the technology (which technology, doesn't
matter yet) than to decide to focus on Linux capacity.

While FOSS offers many benefits that should be closely looked into and
harnessed, I think that the problem is not that we are using the wrong
technology, but rather that we are not using enough technology, or not
using what we have more effectively. Promoting FOSS as the magic bullet
won't solve anything here. My personal view is that any increase in
developer skill levels will result in an increase in Linux adoption when
people get the skills and get the curiosity needed to take them on the

> This turns out not to be the case. Rwanda, a much smaller and poorer
> country than Ghana, has created its own Linux distribution in
> Kinyarwanda, the local language. I suggest you do a bit of research on
> the Ghana Linux User Group.
> <http://www.linux.org/groups/2241_Ghana_Linux_User_Group.html>

I am skeptical of local distributions.

I see them as a way of doing technology in the absence of any other good
ideas. Especially because they are based on FOSS. FOSS allows you to
share work with others. As such it makes more sense to roll changes in
to the major distros or into the original sources themselves (local
adaptation is typically a matter of translation) so that said changes
achieve much better propagation characteristics.

I am also a member of the user group that you refer to above. I tend to
agree with Don Slater's assessment and would go even further to say that
research into appropriate use of handheld devices for purposes of
reducing the cost of computerization is very worthwhile, if not the only
way to achieve mass usage of computing devices. Looking at the adoption
of cellphones, I would say that the $100 price point is the correct
magic number. Please take a look at:


for a project idea based on this belief.

>> Their priority is not to take on MS and ditch it because it is a nasty
>> and exploitative multinational but rather to develop appropriate ICT
>> resources. The key demand is *cheap* OS and software; the preference
>> would be cheap MS software.
> The Free in Free Software means Freedom, not just cheapness. You can
> adapt Free Software to your own needs, besides having as much of it as
> you like.

I think this is well understood by now. However, it does not change the
situation where the difficulties are based on solving the problem of
being able to find more people with high skills. Which skills are not
yet important and moreover, when people start gaining these skills, they
will be more readily able to either self train or be trained to use
alternative technology.

> But just talking about cheap: I am running a set of Linux applications
> that cost me nothing but the time to research which ones to install. If
> I had to pay for Windows equivalents, it would easily come to $5,000,
> probably more. I don't have to think about whether I can afford the next
> application or the next development tool. It is not only Microsoft that
> is the problem here.

The people we are talking about typically do not pay for their software.
It's free versus libre.

>> And let's not forget the very expensive overheads of developing the kind
>> of northern hacker culture capable of supporting Linux in small
>> countries like these - it simply does not exist there whereas MS skills
>> are already abundant.
> See Rwanda, above.

I think that Eastern Africa, particularly Uganda, is making very good
progress with adopting Linux. The hacker culture has emerged there
already though it is still small but it is growing and is healthy. I
think the overheads in developing these skills need not be so expensive
and worth investing in. I would not say that MS skills are abundant but
rather that it is easy enough to manage with MS products because they
typically don't take much skill to maintain. Making them work properly
is another matter entirely. Otherwise, it's reformat or reinstall and
that's not hard.

>> I've got nothing against Linux, by the way, though I - like many other
>> people - don't have the time or commitment to undergo the reskilling and
>> retooling it would involve for me to use it.
> That's what you have against Linux. It seems to color all the rest of
> your opinions. You also don't seem to think that you have the time or
> commitment to understand the Free Software culture and economic system.
> I would have thought that professional pride would force you to learn a
> little bit about them.

I don't have anything against Linux either and in fact recommend its use
for many scenarios, even for normal desktop use since it has everything
that the typical computer user needs (except for easy, out of the box
MP3 playing due to legal issues) however, I have issues with people who
can't accept that other people may want their choice, even if its a
proprietary choice. I dual boot between Windows XP and Ubuntu and I'm
happy with that. I wouldn't want either to be taken away from me.

Demanding that someone should invest their time in reskilling does not
sound a reasonable option to me. Linux should become (and is rapidly
becoming) easier to use and maintain. Continuing along said path seems
to be the more reasonable option.

> Anyway, your objection turns out not to be the case. Install Cygwin on
> your Windows machine, and you can try out Linux utilities at leisure.
> Install the Windows ports of OpenOffice, the GIMP (GNU Image
> Manipulation Program, roughly equivalent to PhotoShop), various
> programming languages, and much more. When you have a set of
> applications that meets your needs, and you are comfortable with them,
> then you can try running them on Linux. Mandrake Linux is the easiest
> complete distribution to install. Ubuntu Linux is made rather too easy,
> in my judgement. It leaves out all of KDE, for one thing.
> "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no
> simpler."--attributed to Albert Einstein
>> What I distrust is the presentation of any particular technology as a
>> unique solution to any real world problem. We've been down that road far
>> too many times before....
> It isn't the solution. It's the necessary infrastructure for solutions,
> of which many are needed.

How is it the necessary infrastructure considering that Free software
runs fine on Windows as well? Not all of it, I'll grant, but all the
major (many, many end users) applications run fine on Windows as well
.. To have more and more applications running on either platform is
good. Perhaps one day, we will no longer argue over details such as what
OS is running underneath but instead be free to just install and use the
software that we want to.

I don't mind that some people may want to sell theirs instead of giving
it out for free, but I don't like the Free software mantra that "All
software must be free" because it takes away the choice of the developer
to make their software free or not.

-- G.

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