Bringing open source to Soweto

15 August 2005

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research held an open source day in Soweto on Saturday 13 August – the first of its kind – to introduce the benefits of open source computing to the area.

Open source is a model of software development and distribution that is widely touted as a solution to the problem of the digital divide. Open source software is usually distributed freely, and the open development model means that the software can more easily be translated into local languages.

“The aim of the workshop is to formally expose people to open source and let them see how they can incorporate the open source model into their current business offerings,” Ntsika Msimang of the Meraka Institute’s Open Source Centre said ahead of the event.

The institute aims to foster a network of open source specialists capable of sharing their expertise in the community.

“For example, if a local school is running open source software, they will have the services of an open source specialist on their doorstep,” said Msimang. “As such, more jobs will also be created.”

The National Institute for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of Offenders (Nicro), which currently runs a well equipped computer training facility, has been earmarked to house the Meraka Institute’s first satellite Open Source Centre in Soweto.

Nicro will partner with Dipalo, a non-profit organisation providing affordable training in computer literacy courses and computer hardware assembly to underprivileged youth, to provide open source training.

But Msimang added: “Disturbingly, our message is getting through to everyone but women and underprivileged communities.

“The irony is that open source seems to be engineering its own digital divide. The idea of creating satellite centres is to reverse that trend by targeting the communities that we deem are the ultimate beneficiaries of bridging that divide.”

Building satellite centres also falls in line with the UN-funded initiative to extend the reach of open source benefits to regions in the continent where the software has not yet made an impact. That initiative is being spearheaded by the Meraka Open Source Centre.

A similar centre is being planned for the HP i-Community centre in the Mokgalakwena district of Limpopo.

Source: Council for Scientific and Industrial Research

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