Software enables us to use computer hardware as well as connect and communicate in ways that drastically change the way we work and play. For users of software in developing countries, the adoption of software solutions and Information and Communications Technologies as an enabler for social and economic development, is severely limited by financial constraints. CIOs today are divided in to two groups: the first one being the one that has the budget and capability to test and implement a new technology infrastructure; and the other being the group that is bound by financial constraints. There is, however plenty of software choice that brings good value for money for both these groups.
Just to brush up the basics, there are various forms of software available and these differ from another in the way they are developed, distributed, modified and licensed. The most prominent categories of software used around the world are:
a) proprietary software
b) F/OSS; and
c) a combination of the two.
Most proprietary software licenses impose various forms of restrictions on usage. These restrictive licenses carry high per-computer or per-user costs.
An alternative has emerged in the form of Free and/or Open Source Software simply known as FOSS. FOSS is software that can be used, copied, studied, modified and redistributed without restriction. This freedom extends to both developers and users and is highly significant to the developing world as FOSS increases access, ownership and control of the ICTs. It provides a framework for the usage and sharing of intellectual capital in a way that is applicable to many areas of both social and economic development. The adoption of FOSS presents opportunities for capacity development, localization and customization for diverse cultural and business development needs.
FOSS is no more a buzzword for the Pakistani IT Industry or our local CIOs. Technologies such as the Linux Operating System, Apache Web Server, Asterisk VoIP/PABX Communications Server and technology platforms such as Java or PHP are widely used in the Pakistani IT industry as well as within general business commerce and industry technology infrastructures. Where it comes to budgetary constraints, easier entry into the market, high availability infrastructures, and enhanced security and enterprise wide solution architecture, Open Source is always on the priority list. Secondly, FOSS has helped to evolve a local 'skills development' opportunity due to which organizations can develop, retain and support an in-house skills development life cycle.
Backtracking the steps of the Penguin
OSS originally made its way into Pakistan between 1999 and 2004 through a 2-tiered approach. At the very top, there was intervention created by the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications (MoITT) and at the other end of the spectrum, grassroot level intervention by various voluntary community initiatives initiated by members of the civil society. These include the Pakistan Linux User Group (LUG), the Free and Open Source Software Foundation of Pakistan (FOSSFP), the Ubuntu-Linux Pakistan Team (Ubuntu Linux User Community), the Linux Professional Institute (LPI), and the Computer Society of Pakistan's Special Interest Group on OSS.
In 2003, the MoIT set up a Task Force for Linux and as a result, the Open Source Resource Centre (OSRC) was established in Islamabad by the Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB) in January 2004. The center promotes FOSS in the local IT industry and also conducts training. Other public sector institutions such as the Pakistan Computer Bureau have since joined the FOSS bandwagon, taking on the task of training some 4,000 government officials on various IT skills.
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