Can open source close the digital divide?

Can open source close the digital divide?

Summary: This may be an even better question. Is open source necessary in closing the digital divide?


Francis RavenThis 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 Initiativesince 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.

Topics: IT Employment, CXO, Open Source, Software

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  • Free newspapers available on every corner..

    And yet only the tiny minority see any value in them, much like open source software.
    • Free Newspapers represent a big market

      To which you might respond, "unlike open source software," if you're to be snarky.

      But the fact is that free papers are read, and they do eat into the markets of "paid" newspapers.

      However, one important point. "Paid" newspapers only pay for their distribution costs. Even in "paid" newspapers, the costs of getting the news, printing the news, etc. are borne entirely by the ads.
  • open or free???

    I'm not so sure that the two are wed together. I
    think that we all would benefit from open source
    software, since that would permit tinkering with
    a program you bought (such as imaging software,
    or some other pay for title) The real advantage
    would be being able to take home patches to my
    program from school, and use them to gain
    advantage in the workplace--creating an added
    value to the graduates of a particular school.
    For instance, Autocad has some rendering issues,
    that continually vex us all. If the program was
    open source, we might be able to find a solution
    to the problem (in our humbleness)just out of
    frustration, and since it's what we do. We paid a
    lot for the software, and should be at least
    given the chance to fix it (although with a
    closed source OS, it's going to be difficult to
    figure out the whole truth) To say all software
    should be free...........I don't think so.
    • That's a good point, and on the application side

      There is more to open source than just saving money on the purchase end.
  • Poor people in poor countries

    Prefer illegal bootleg Windows over "free" alternatives. Hmmm......
    • The Source on That

      is Michael Robertson, formerly head of, who said it during a visit to China last year.

      It's his belief, based on his observations.
  • Yes

    "Can open source close the digital divide? "

    Yes, and its not just a question of upfront costs for an end-user.

    The greatest digital divide is in IT education and knowledge.
    Billions of people have not had access to development tools
    because their cost made them prohibitively expensive. This is
    the true empowerment that comes from open source, projects
    like the GNU compiler collection (gcc).

    Of these Billions of people, many thousands perhaps millions
    have for the first time an opportunity to learn various IT
    technologies, and view code from some of the most talented
    programmers around. These people, for the first time, have an
    opportunity for an IT career.

    Some countries are using the new freedom to encourage a
    domestic IT sector.
    Richard Flude
    • Some Brazil

      I just wanted to say a little something about one thing we're
      doing here in Brazil (I'm not Brazilian, but I work here for a non-
      profit called CDI whose mission is to close the digital divide).

      As the government strokes the open source community, the
      open source community is finding ways to train marginalized
      people to become open source consultants and programmers.
      We at CDI hope to help this rising generation of consultants and
      programmers to generate income by helping Brazilian
      businesses and the government to find the efficient, secure, and
      inexpensive solutions offered by open source software.