This may be an even better question. Is open source necessary in closing the digital divide?
This question does not come out of the blue. Increasingly, governments and interest groups are focusing on open source as a way to enable mass participation in the connected world.
Corrected 6/29/05: The Digital Divide Network, a project of the Education Development Center in Newton, Mass.,
has been working this problem for six years, and has run addresses this problem in an interview with John Stanton of the NonProfit Open Source Initiative since 2001. Intern Francis Raven (it's cruel to call him an intern, given his master's in philosophy and research position at IP3 Inc., not to mention the nifty suit, but that's the title he lists on the Web site) explores Stanton's strategy for this in a recent article on the site. (It's so recent the date stamp is August 1, 2005.)
Mainly, Stanton talks about developing case studies, educating organizations on the value of open source, and providing an Open Source Cyber Cafe (OK, a laptop running Linux) to sell the proposition.
Here's the key point from the interview:
Free and Open Source Software is important because it can help NPO's and CBO's stop spending valuable resources, which could and should be directed elsewhere, on software. Proprietary software, software produced and marketed with restrictions on its use, is never really owned by the organizations that use it. For example, an NPO generally cannot legally give its workers copies of proprietary software to use at home. Schools cannot send their students home with the software they use at school, and students aren't allowed to copy proprietary software to share with friends. Free and Open Source software renders these kind of concerns a complete non-issue. It's really a very simple and elegant solution to an artificially created problem.
Is this political boilerplate or the God's honest truth? I leave that to you as a question, and to proprietary advocates as a challenge.