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Free Software for Developing Countries 101

Mindphunk writes "I just stumbled across this paper which "makes the political and ethical case for the adoption of free software by Community Aid Abroad and other members of Oxfam International". Some really good content including that UNESCO is handing out Linux in Latin America. There's some interesting comparisons - especially like the "baby milk" and GM [genetically manipulated] food analogies."
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Free Software for Developing Countries

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  • You obviously didnt catch my sarcasm.
    The point (though maybe not obvious) was the people who are in dire need of help arent the ones who need computing power. The upper class of people don't the kind of programs that the world agencies are trying to promote. The are already well off.
    I get the impression that these programs are being promoted as helping the "poor" not the already "rich" in the 3rd world.
  • You are wrong on all counts. URBAN areas in most developing countries have telephones, electrities and even some computers(in offices mostly). Thus Linux could most certainly be of use.

    Check your facts before you post.

  • My girlfriend has been in Gautemala for the past two weeks doing aid work. In most small towns of guatemala, all that is available are community phones. Now, without an internet connection, I personally wouldnt get a lot of use out of my computer. A major driving force behind computer use is the ability to communicate with others. Without the ability to communicate with other people outside of their town (that they'd be able to do normally) i dont see the availability of computers as being a big help to them. Now, in cities where phones are available, and business is done, computers could help. But i think that until more sparsely populated areas are provided the appropriate facilities, computers there will be rather useless :)
  • Why do you think the rest of the world makes a big deal about what the US does? It's because everyone has high hopes, and high expectations.

    <ANALOGY type="NBA Baskteball">
    When the US fails to pay heed to the UN, it's in a sense like Shaquille O'Neal's failure to make 75% of his free throws.

    It doesn't matter how much you do, because when you're the best out there, all the people watching you will find something to fault you with.

    The US's critics will always find it easy to neglect how much money the US does give to people and organisations worldwide (remember to look beyond government as well), how many US troops are stationed worldwide, and how many foreign students the US educates each year. All they'll do is whine about how "stupid" or "ignorant" or "arrogant" the Americans are.

    Oh, and regarding open source supremacy.. keep in mind that

    1) Red Hat is a US corporation
    2) Linus Torvalds has made his home in the US
    3) Richard Stallman has made his home in the US for some time.
  • One point that seems implicitly obvious here but hasn't yet been explicitly stated is that having the source code not only empowers developing nations to use software but it actually empowers them to better understand and become involved in the development process. I have personally found that this is of great personal benefit as I am a young college student and before I found out about open source I had no idea what a "real" large scale software system was "supposed" to look like. Where else would I have learned to write "clean modular code" if it hadn't been for the GNU coding standards?read-read-read other peoples' source...isn't that the best way to learn?If someone in a third world country were very dedicated all they might need is a an old 386, the linux source and maybe the kernel hacking howto and... *voila*...suddenly a new kernel hacker is born! Even if they never became anything like a hacker guru it'd be better than a life making low grade wing nuts by hand.

    This is one of the less mentioned benefits of open source software; the increase in the speed of education. People can not only NOT reinvent the proverbial wheel several times but they can also study that wheel and learn how it works for themselves...eventually building better-faster-smoother-running wheels and sharing the resultant technological growth with the rest of the world.

    The very nature of the open source movement allows developing nations to enter the software arena without having to overcome the heavy initial investment already made by the technological terrors of the wealthy west. Don't sell OSS short; having that source code available doesn't just mean we'll have better software than MS; it means we'll actually understand software better than MS. It means we know more than they do. This has got to be the way for third world countries to claim a share in the future.

    Knowledge is power.

    Hooray for sharing information.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The US has long thumbed its nose at the UN and international laws. Because of American dominance of the world economy the rest of the world could never do much about this. That is starting to change, not because America is losing it's lead, but rather because you can only bully someone for so long before they snap. The Anti-UN sentiment in America is largely associated with right-wing types, Republicans opposed to world government out of irrational fears based on silly superstitions (Christianity). A lot of these sentiments are spread through mainstream media, which contrary to stereotype is FAR from liberal.
  • If the costs of internet access are a sign of a third world country, then count Australia in. A lot of ISPs have stopped offering any kind of unlimited access because of the telco costs they have to pay.

    Just when I thought the internet situation in this country was getting better, down the toilet it goes :-P
  • "Wake up, you dumb Libertarians. I'm sick of reading your ignorant crap."

    I couldn't have said it better. Thank you.

  • ...let the populace "pirate" the software
    -well...that's not very bright of them. sure they manage to get them "addicted" to theirs company's closed platform, but they can't control it.

    ...same rationale followed by crack dealers and cigarette manufacturers who give out some amount of product
    - by small % only. if you try it the first time and got really sick when using it, you probably won't use it again. you just follows your peers. if you are currently use DOS, and most of your friend use plan 9, think who gonna change?

  • a computer that doesn't need a mains electricity supply, much like the Bayliss radio.

    This wouldn't be too hard to do. Hook up a battery (or batteries) with the handcrank to charge them up, and then you could use APM or something so that the computer could tell you to get off your ass and start cranking again... (This is where you need a gullible but physically strong friend)

    This would help the adoption of technology in the areas that otherwise just wouldn't get it.
  • I think more people should work on donating to schools. I don't care if it is where you are or overseas. I personally am working on a project to give old computers to people in Thailand. They have to provide monitor, keyboard and speakers themself. I provide computer, P75 or higher. I promote Linux but they can provide alternet OS themself. I wish more people would help others. There are a lot of people who need education and want it. Why deprive them when there are others who waste their future. Rob

    I would prefre laptops in the long run.
  • There is already a solar panel charger for laptops but it is expensive.
  • > Lacking proper electricity supply, working
    > telephone lines, not to mention computers

    These and other barriers will disappear rapidly if technology continues to improve at historical rates.

    The cost of a general purpose computer can be driven almost arbitrarily low. Right now I see two major issues. Good solid state storage (disks) doesn't scale down well (disk costs $10/GB, but try buying 100MB for a dollar). Various new technologies look likely to fix that, e.g. probe storage*. (Probe storage is one example of why ICs are so wonderful --- they scale down really well.) The other problem is displays. There is a need for a very cheap, passively lit display. The "electronic paper" work might fit the bill.

    Likewise, power consumption can go way down. A passively lit screen will really help. It should be reasonable to run a device from solar or muscle power.

    The hardest problem is connectivity. Obviously it has to be wireless, at least locally. Then a big problem is that transmission fundamentally requires a lot of power. There are some complementary approaches:
    -- broadcast content from satellite
    -- "ad hoc" networking; individual units cooperate to forward packets, to reduce the required range
    -- some central wired infrastructure serving base stations
    -- sneakernet with batched data

    I'm confident the hardware will appear. Perhaps a tougher problem is to produce software and content to make these things useful. We're going to have to redefine "ease of use". I'm sure we can at least produce a useful library (with video for the illiterate).

    Hey, IPO zillionaires! Here's a chance to do something good AND cool!

  • > Having suitably-equipped machines with access to
    > the Net is one. Cheap unmetered Net usage is
    > another. And of course these two conditions
    > predicate a whole slew of others, such as
    > telephone infrastructure, electricity and water
    > access, and so forth.

    See my post above. Also, computers don't need water.

    > What was that quote from the Unix-Haters'
    > Handbook? 'Linux is only free if your spare time
    > is worthless.' I think this statement is
    > probably even more applicable to other countries
    > than it is to the West.

    The quote was from Jamie Zawinski. Your last statement is completely backwards if we're thinking in finanicial terms; if you're poor, it's much more worthwhile to spend an hour figuring out a problem than to spend money on another product.
  • As I remember, Lucent Technology and some other concern will be wiring Africa to provide high speed internet.

    My love goes out to my brothers and sisters of Eritrea. I miss you.
  • by twilight30 ( 84644 ) on Saturday November 20, 1999 @04:17PM (#1516118) Homepage
    The basic problem with your response is that it misinterprets the quandary. You are right when you say that IMF loans are being used incorrectly. However, they most certainly are *not* being used to further 'Keynesian' policies - how many of these loans support generalised welfare? Shelter? Unemployment insurance? The problem is that IMF and World Bank (you might as well throw the EBRD for good measure) both act to entrench *monetarist* and *classical liberal* policies (cf. Milton Friedman - and an aside to /. editors: It's not 'Friendman!').

    I would agree that the imposition of Western labour laws *without* additional cultural memes (democratic practices and freedoms, a civil society amongst others) would be a mistake. But if you suggest that the US government is solely power-politics-oriented and does not pay much attention to economic affairs, then I would say you've made a gross oversimplification that doesn't hold together at all. I would argue that if anything corporations are much more indirectly dangerous than governments are - they're subtle fuckers, and they love a good scam when they see one.

  • by pb ( 1020 )
    Anyone catch the "NSA Secret OS Hooks" reference?

    I wonder if the author knows something we don't, or if he's quoting the same speculation on slashdot earlier. Anyhow, he's right that real Free Software doesn't have that problem. (above and beyond regular ol' Obfuscated C. :)

    And yes, having the Operating System, a significant percentage of the cost of a PC, costing nothing is definitely a good start. Being able to use donated or refurbished PC's is also good. IIRC, ELKS has this as one of its project goals. (since there are x86 computers 386 still being used in the rest of the world, get them to run something sorta like Linux)

    Of course, I hope this is changing nowadays, but a computer is still a computer, and I'd much rather have a Commodore 64 than no computer at all. :)
    pb Reply or e-mail rather than vaguely moderate [].
  • by Breakfast Cereal ( 27298 ) on Saturday November 20, 1999 @04:24PM (#1516120)
    Let's see, privatization has done such a great job in Russia. Since adopting the economic policies that the IMF forced on them, the Russia's economy has shrunk to a third of the size it was ten years ago.

    Privatization has done such a great job in Mexico. What a wonderful way for a corrupt government to give away its taxpayers' assets to its cronies and get accolades from the international community. Gee, I wish I thought of that, but then again I'm not a third world despot propped up by Wall Street interests so I guess it wouldn't matter if I had.

    And yes, those $1/day jobs are so good for Indonesia, now that forcing their economy open to global corporations has destroyed small farmers and manufacturers. A $1/day job is better than no job at all, but its the IMF's policies and a corrupt, U.S./Wall Street supported government that destroyed the local economic systems.

    Corporations aren't the problem, you say. But it's the corporations who want all this stuff. The notion that Corporate America wants a free market OR a fair market (which IMHO aren't necessarily the same things) is the naivete of someone who's just read Atlas Shrugged. The US Government is evil? Who do you think runs the US government? The corporations! They have for years. Now put down your copy of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (it's not worth reading anyhow) and take a good long look at who funds our elections and who pays for lobbyists.

    Wake up, you dumb Libertarians. I'm sick of reading your ignorant crap. The people who you want to run this country are already running it (and the world) and they're obviously doing a piss poor job of it.
  • 'Computers don't need water' - Yeah, I know. I was extrapolating outwards: computers need people to operate them; if people are going to operate them they'll need (thinking prosaically here) to use toilets every so often... ;)

    As far as JWZ's statement goes, I didn't mean it in financial terms at all. You're right about the time spent aspect. And you're correct, I should have clarified this statement much more than I did.

    What I meant was to implicitly ask the question, 'How much training on how to use Linux is being doled out together with the CD-ROMs?' Granted, NGOs and UNESCO are not likely to just donate software and then just walk away. But using the OS can't be taught all that quickly, no?

    Thanks, roca =) You helped me to clear up some confusing bits.
  • I would assume the cities with more people in them would tend to have better communications (and thus more people :), so you can help a large amount of the population initially, and worry about the rural areas after.

    its somewhat like dsl/cable modems, if you imagine the providers are altruistic rather than capitialistic.... they will roll out in the centers of large population to help the most people first, then go to the rural areas.

    also other people have mentioned wireless net, which doesn't effect the necessary electricity issues, but would help with communication
  • Yes, the upper class will benefit more than the poor, I will not argue with that. But the economy as a whole will be enhanced and everyone will benefit from the increased productivity.

    Thats the same system that works in the West or so I have been led to believe. Michael Dell makes billions, and I get a cool computer. Everybody is happy. Same principle here. The rich benefit more but the effects 'trickle down'(Yes, its Reagan) to the rest of society. Capitalism at its finest.

  • They announced [] on 10 Aug 99 that they would be donating hardware and software to Latin America through UN Development Programme.

    Developing Countries to Benefit From Collaboration Among the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Corel Corporation and

    Ottawa, Canada -- August 10, 1999-- Two Canadian information technology (IT) corporations announced today that they are donating computer software, hardware and services worth over a million dollars to UNDP's Sustainable Development Networking Programme (SDNP), an initiative born of the Earth Summit that helps developing countries gain access to information on the environment and sustainable development through local and regional information networks. The donation will help strengthen computer and internet capacity in developing countries where SDNP operates. The two corporations are Corel Corporation, an internationally recognized developer of award-winning graphics and business productivity applications, and, a leading manufacturer of computer appliances and thin servers using Linux, UNIX and Intel platforms. The SDNP supports information networking programmes in some 40 developing countries and trains nationals to operate and participate in them. The contributions by Corel Corporation and will strengthen the information and networking systems in these countries, and expand the contribution SDNP makes at the local level -- whether it be in helping to quickly access information on disaster relief in Honduras in the wake of Hurricane Mitch or finding rare matching blood types to save lives in rural Pakistan. Beginning this month, will provide their Linux-based NetWinder group servers to a number of local SDNP programmes, which will facilitate the use of the Internet and intranets in these countries. "Participation in this initiative reinforces's role in the international field," said Michael Mansfield, president of "It is also very rewarding to know that our technology is assisting in making a positive impact on sustainable development while we help to provide cutting edge information technology to developing countries. " Corel Corporation will provide Corel® WordPerfect® Suite 8 for Linux® in several languages to the 40 developing countries along with Corel's Linux distribution (presently in development); and the WordPerfect® Office for LINUX® suite, which is expected to be available in early 2000. "It gives us great pleasure to bring our state-of-the-art technology to these developing countries and to aid in their sustainable development efforts," said Dr. Michael Cowpland, president and chief executive officer of Corel Corporation. Eimi Watanabe, Director of UNDP's Bureau for Development Policy, underscored the importance of such partnerships between UNDP and the private sector. "The global challenges we face in promoting development that is sustainable and more equitable are immense," she said. "Access to IT can make a significant difference. This kind of public-private collaboration can trigger mobilization for change at the individual, community, national and international levels."

  • When you say "soon", what do you mean? I don't see that happening for at least 50 years, which is not very long from a historical perspective perhaps, but certainly long to us mere mortals.

    The UN has a difficult enough jobs as it is : being the government of the world is not trivial : let's concentrate on stopping bits of the world from fighting each other first.

  • It's a pretty interesting take on the accuracies / inaccuracies of people's view of technology in S.America, has some points I hadn't thought about before.

    S. America is not the entire South (one politicized word I think I'll adopt for now), but many of the things he says probably apply just as much to poor Africa, poor Asia, poor Eastern Europe, poor ex-SovUnion states, etc. (I say poor to distinguish from those parts of these places where relatively free markets have made this sort of topic less necessary, like Singapore, parts of South Africa, etc.)

  • I am very happy to see that this idea is in the minds of people. I know that when the founders of computing began to develop the first computers they were not thinking "let's make a buck" I think its safe to assume that they had a much more social concept in mind. It is unfortunate that ideas like these are not standard practice. I may be to big of a dreamer, but computing and development for the sake of mankind is a wonderfull concept and practice. I only wish more people agread.
  • The developing contries have poor infrastructure (this is why they are called developing contries). Lacking proper electricity supply, working telephone lines, not to mention computers. This idea is hardly much help.
    It's a nice idea, but that is also all it is.
  • This is another thing that Linus mentioned during his keynote speach at comdex, the fact that countries not as well off as us are adopting open source. Using open source enables a lot more freedom and less dependance on corperate software. Spreading this kind of technology to people who in the past couldnt afford it helps them to catch up. Another reason why free software is so adoptable to foreign countries is (as Linus mentioned) that there is more support for things like internationalization and seeing as the code is open, anyone can modify it to fit the users needs.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Yeah, you might regard this as a farce, but, let me tell you: To us living in the 3rd world, this might be the only chance to catch up with youy guys in the developed countries. If you think commercial software is overprice, try an imagine what it would be like to buy this software when you make 500 bucks a month. Yes, we dont have the great infrastructure you guys enjoy but thats not not our fault, Remember its american, canadian and european companies who have been bribing our government official in trying to land a contract that makes up for the lost revenues caused by increased competence in the home countries. To us, OSS is, even if a lot of people down here do not realize it yet, our only chance to jump into an information society. We dont have the time to go thru the learning curve you guys went thru. Next time you open your mouth, be sure your tongue is properly wired to your brain and this brain of yours is on!!! Cheers!!!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Im glad to hear this is happening. I was wandering if anyone knows of any organizations that donates computers to projects outside of the United States for eductional use. I am looking for computer donations for a rural school in India. This is a nonprofit group that has built an all girls school (mostly for the lower caste) with great facilites and dedicated teachers. The plan is to get about 20 pentium class machines running linux. These girls lack any type of formal education. The goal is for them to learn the basic skills (reading writing math) and also delve into the sciences and hopefully computers (these donated computers would be the first in the town!!). If anyone has any info or could help please email me at and I would be happy to send more formal information on the project.
  • Computers were actually developed in the 40s as war machines. Calculating missile trajectories, code cracking, etc. There wasn't a "social concept." It was a matter of figuring out how not to be the first to die in a war.

    The industrialized world wasnt ready for SQL,MSWord, the GIMP when we were still developing. We were too worried about how to get work, getting a 40hr work week etc... There needs to be an infrastructure in place which will support computing. What good is a computer to a 3rd World farmer who can scarcely read let alone have electricity to power a computer. I can see it now, "Hey I can't read, but I can use this GPS to follow my oxen as they plow my field."

    If the "1st" world wants to help the "3rd" how about starting elsewhere, like the basics. Then hook them up to PCs...

  • Wow, someone who thinks like me.

    It has always been that the greatest innovators thought this way. However, all too often they are not successful. It's the business people who capitalise on great ideas and screw the little guy in the process who get the "kudos."

    I have always admired those who went out of their way to help people in need.

    In other words, I prefer humanism over hedonism.

    My beliefs are quite strong in issues such as these. I refuse to work for oil companies even though they are one of the only industries where I live. My last job was designing improved automotive safety systems (occupant sensing). I was glad to be part of it. It gave me kind of a warm fuzzy feeling inside. The fact that the technology, Kinotex [], is also being used on the space station is just a cool side-effect and a distant second in my mind.
  • At the UK, at some Universities, we have a thing called the "Milkround", where large companies come and give presentations to persuade you that you want for them. Several Milkround presentations by Nestle have been disrupted by activists protesting about the whole baby milk fiasco.

    Is it possible that, by analogy, in the next few years we'll see geeks staging similar protests at Microsoft presentations to complain about their use of closed standards? :-)

  • by Anonymous Coward
    You forgot about the rest of the 1 billion people still left in india :(
  • The parable holds true. The objection to Nestlé's distribution of milk powder is partly that it encourages dilution with polluted water, but mainly that it robs mothers of their self-sufficiency: the ability to breast-feed.

    While the distribution of free software may seem misguided, when there are more immediate issues to address in the world's poorest countries, doing so provides people with the means to empower themselves through technology.

    The promotion of shared technology is at the heart of most aid agencies' work: the provision of food, clothing and shelter may be more visible, but that's usually a last-ditch attempt to stave off a human disaster. If we're happy to encourage the building of wells and schools, and training in agriculture and manufacture, then why not computers?
  • Ever notice how 'libertarians' spout such incredible horseshit?

    I personally would like to see libertarianism wrested back from the US rabid right. I'm so fucking sick of hearing how we need to liberalise everything under the sun. If these boys had their way they'd sell you the air you breathe, the water you drink... oh wait, that *is* what they do!

  • "Indians get paid very well (IMHO all too well) in the United States.." etc., etc.

    Thanks for letting us know about the white hood you wear. Been to any cross burnings lately? I wonder why you posted as an AC?

    Do tell, how do naturalized US citizens make "gross government reforms" in India? How do programmers on work visas which ties them to one job at a wage that is at the discretion of the company they work for with little leverage make "gross government reforms" for a government of a billion people?
  • by paynter ( 8696 ) on Saturday November 20, 1999 @02:51PM (#1516150) Homepage
    The New Zealand Digital Library project [] has been involved in similar projects, for similar reasons.

    We have made web-sites, and created CD-ROMs, for collections like the United Nations University documents and the Humanity Development Library (both available at the URL above), and some ongoing work for the FAO. They like our "Greenstone" software because it is GPLed (and excellant, fun-to-hack software, but that's another story).

    The GPL means Greenstone is free in both senses: it is available at no cost and can be passed on to people who can't afford to license commercial solutions; and it is free-speech free, which is consistent with the aims of organisations like UNESCO.

    Someone mentioned that it is pointless giving software to developing nations, because they have no computers. The real headache is that many people are slightly better off than this - they have computers, but they're lousy 286s running windows 3.0, and your software has to work with *every* version of windows from then on (we develop on Linux, and run on all-sorts). And it's network software - a lot of people lost a lot of sleep over that, let me tell you, before they finally rewrote the early Windows networking... but i digress.

    Disclaimer: I work on the NZDL project, but have done little for this software.
  • I wonder why they're giving away RH5.1? Relatively speaking, it's ancient. Since many apps require newer versions of libraries, etc, I would think it wouldn't be terribly easy to get by with something so old. And since newer versions of RH aren't any more expensive (all they have to do is get a cheapbytes disc for a couple bucks and dupe it - or just buy them all), why can't they by giving away something newer? Don't get me wrong, this is a great idea overall - it just seems a little odd
  • A move from Belgium to SA.
    While down here, I continue my "regular" job. The advantage of the Internet business is that one only needs a phone line to be connected! So I can fairly easily just continue working from here. My intention, however, is to set up a real company in South Africa, that is fully equiped, and where we can offer Internet Services. To this end, I have been conducting negotiations with Telkom (the national, government owned phone company), and some Internet Access Providers. This week, after 9 months of negotiations, I finally got an offer that was very interesting and met my demands.

    -"That sounds great" I said, "So when can you install this?" -"Install this? I'm sorry, Sir, but what do you mean 'install this?' Do you mean you actually want that permanent internet connection?" -"Well, of course! Why would i bother asking about it if I didn't want it! Is there a problem?" -"Oh no, Sir, no problem. We can have that installed for you in 2003, Sir."

    -"I beg your pardon?" -"You see, Sir, we don't have the infrastructure yet to implement this in the area you are living, as it's mainly a residential area. If you would find some other businesses that need the same, we may be
    able to speed things up for you, Sir."
  • by / ( 33804 ) on Saturday November 20, 1999 @05:20PM (#1516154)
    So called software "piracy" is obviously an option for those unable or unwilling to purchase
    software, and indeed it is a common choice throughout the South, where copyright law is
    often poorly enforced. But this places users at the mercy of the law, increasing their
    vulnerability to those rich and powerful enough to use it to their own advantage. Also,
    development organisations themselves are vulnerable to enforcement in their home
    countries, so they can not support or encourage such practices.

    And this is exactly what the software companies are banking on.

    If you notice, though companies like Microsoft, do occasionally make some noise about rampant IP abuse in third-world countries, the companies rarely do anything real to try to prevent it. The reason is the same there as it was here ten years ago: let the populace "pirate" the software, get hooked on the company's closed platform, and then when there's a critical mass of addicts who are far enough along that they actually have the money to pay for the software, step in and start enforcing copyright laws. This is the same rationale followed by crack dealers and cigarette manufacturers who give out some amount of product for free at the beginning in order to get an addicted population who is then beholden to them for their fix later.
  • I love the way Libertarians complain about how the world 'liberal' was supposedly appropriated from the Classical Liberal types, and yet they do not seem to remember their five-finger discount on acquiring the word "Libertarianism" itself, which originally meant (and in Europe, often still means) "socialism without government".

    Now that's Libertarianism I could support. It's funny, I used to be a "Libertarian" in the sense of the U.S. Libertarian Party (I even held a position in the local branch--not hard, I had a pulse), and now I'm older and wiser and still tend to support Libertarianism--only now in the correct, socialist-anarchist meaning of the word! Funny how life has these little ironies.

    My, this is way off topic. OK, U.S. so-called "Libertarian" think tanks like the Cato Institute are largely responsible for the neoliberal economic meddling of the IMF. Distributing Linux to the third world may help these people see the productive power of non-hierarchical cooperation among free individuals, and thus act as an antidote to the kind of nonsense they're getting from the industrialized countries. There, I'm on topic again. Whoopee!
  • Wow- interesting comparison! Actually my point was that in visa situations, if you didn't have a good idea of the living costs in the region you were going to work, then it was easy for your future employer to screw you over. Since you can't just go out and find a new job without going through the visa process again, and you don't usually get raises after just a month or 3 (or 10) of working, then you are stuck until renegotiations. Here in Silicon Valley, the capital of outrageaous cost of living in the U.S., I know people who have gone through this due to HR people not giving very accurate pictures of the living situation.
  • Electricity, phone lines and computers might be less available in developing countries, but they do exist. Free software is a great step in the right direction. By not having to pay for software, the total cost of computer use is brought down. Plus the efficiency of Linux and other OSS projects lets people do more with older cheaper hardware. By giving good software to developing countries at little or no cost can do quite a bit to help spread computer use and get these countries into the information age.
  • I remember all of the liberals in America claiming Trickledown economics was a failure. They claim the rich got richer, and the poor didnt get as rich (or something like that ;) )
    True Michael Dell pees dollar bills, but you live in a home/apartment, have a job, and can read. Can you say the same about the non-rich in the 3rd world?

    You can't have it both ways....

  • Sooner than you think. I see it in less than 20 years. If you throw a frog into boiling water, he'll jump out. If you slowly turn up the water on him, he'll burn before he realizes.
    The Kyoto environmental accords are a big step. If you remember, they assign "credits" to countries based on their annual pollution output. Industrialized nations, the United States in particular is heavily penalized, while the former Communist and developing 3rd world are exempt from this policy.
    Not taxation you say? Ultimately taxation becomes a redistribution of wealth.
    For each company that leaves the United States for another, that's fewer jobs, less collected income taxes for the US, less sales tax collected etc.
  • You are downright silly on two counts:

    (a) is generosity inherently communist, or do there exist generous capitalists ?

    (b) are you saying that generosity is an inherently bad thing ? Or is it merely a bad thing, because it is "communist", and therefore "bad" ?

  • I think here (I live in Buenos Aires), open source has some unusual problems:

    There's no such thing as "propietary software". Nobody pays for their windows, or MS Office. Maybe big companies do, but all small and medium business, and especially home users don't. When you buy a computer, you get it with a pirated windows installed.

    There is no good internet. Local phone rates are _very_ high, and the international comunications are monopolized by some company (Telintar), because of some 'transition' law (the gobernment managed comunications until 7 years ago). I installed Debian on a box yesteday using dselect, only because I can pay $125/month for a cablemodem. And connections to outside Argentina are very slow and crowded during the day (even with cablemodem).. It's very difficulr to find a place to buy CDs to iinstall linux (at least close to me)..

    I remember that professional programmers were _very_ lame, until we got internet (around 1996). Linux would be great..

  • When digging through published UN reports on technology transfer, "how to modernize your nation in 12 easy steps," etc., I was quite suprised to find repeated references to and endorsements for the FSF and the GNU project, as well as some BSD stuff.

    This was all in the pre-linux age, mind you.

    It is the position of the UN, the IMF, and the World Bank that software development *for local consumption* is a darn good way to kick start a high-tech econcomy. Some old machines, a GNU development suite, create a market and the direct foreign investment will come with their reams of fibere optic they can't wait to lay.

    I mean, this is what South Africa's doing right now. Their economy's still in the shitter, but at least they're getting some cool infrastructure from the outside.

  • I believe you have a point there, but still, how much would it help? Wouldn't it just make the linux culture look more like some guys that just don't make enough money themselves? I think any protests should be more peacefull, than some of the protests you have seen against things like animal experiments and such.

  • As everyone knows, US has been discreetly thumbing its nose at UN. I personally noticed an anti-UN sentiment rise in US public, and I frankly am not surprised -- if US is indeed the superpower it considers itself to be, the gut reaction of many US citizens is "What the fuck do we need UN for?"

    Of course, my personal take on this is that ignoring UN will actually lead to steady diminution of US political influence in the world (not that that would be such a bad thing, mind you).

    OK, back to the topic. The reason I am saying this, is because I am seeing interesting paralleles between US/UN relationship, and commercial closed source companies and OpenSource. Just like US, if the commecrial software providers don't shape up in terms of their social agenda, they will simply lose relevance, despite the fact that such a move will benefit them in the short run.

    Add to this the fact that a huge number of major closed software companies are headquartered in US, and you will suddenly realize that we are living through the major shift of political scenery, an emergence of a New World Order almost -- an order that is based on principles subtly but radically different from dog-eag-dog ones that has been in evidence so far.

    Vivat la liberté! (or something like that)


  • by binarybits ( 11068 ) on Saturday November 20, 1999 @02:56PM (#1516171) Homepage
    I hate it when people make posts like this, because they have the right conclusion for the wrong reason.

    I don't think our government should be giving out loans, and it certainly shouldn't be forcing other countries to do damage to their economies to get those loans. In general, the economic politicies of the IMF have done more harm than good, and countries would be better off without IMF "help."

    But with that said, I am bewildered why you would be opposed to countries that "deregulate markets, privatize state run industries." This is precisely what these countries need to do if they are to develop economically. History and economics have shown us over and over that state-run industries and regulations are detrimental to the economy.

    Furthermore, the idea that corporations are "exploiting" workers in countries with "lax" labor laws is nonsense. You don't want these people to work at those jobs. What alternative woould you suggest. The whole point is that these countries and their people are dirt-poor. How do we help them by denying them the only jobs they can get? If we were to impose US-style labor laws on third world countries, the result would be that it would cripple those countries' economies permanently. The fact is that those countries don't have the resources to provide jobs at US-level wages and in US-level conditions. The reason that these people choose to take these jobs is that they are the best they can get. How would you be helping them if you "protect" them by forcing them back onto the unemployment lists?

    "Corporations" are not the problem. The US government is. Certainly, corporations sometimes lobby for some of these actions, but the government is still the ones with the power. What is needed is for our government to stop sticking its nose into every world conflict, to stop propping up dictators and assasinating leaders they dislike, and to stop using IMF loans to impose stupid Keynesian policies on third world economies.

  • I can agree your point of view, when it comes to what we should focus on, but still, computers are very efficient for, for example, communication. You can, as a farmer, get in contact with family, goverment offices, and other people. You could, ofcourse, use a phone instead...

  • Sure, the Internet started as a way for the DoD to have a comms network that would survive nuclear war, but researchers saw so many more advantages.

    While it is true that in a number of underdeveloped areas things such as clean water are far more important than computers, there are millions of people around the world (including in developed countries) who can benefit from cheap computers.

    If you believe that access to information is empowering, then the more people with unencumbered access to information the better. At the present point in time the most efficient way to provide information access is through computers.

    The other area where computers help in developing areas is to support aid agencies. Computers are great at assisting in the streamlining and automation of processes, opening the opportunity for aid agencies to reduce their administrative overhead and channel scarce funds to helping those in need. As an expample, I would expect that community health centres can benefit from computerised patient records, or at least through having statistics on those that have been helped.

  • This may come as a surprise to the majority of slashdot readers, but computers can be used for things besides Surfin' the Net and listening to MP3s. They can be used to track inventory, manage financial accounting, design things with CAD, and more! They can be library catalogs, medical records archives, and cash registers.

    You know, when the first computers were in use, there was no network of any kind to hook them together, and nobody had even thought of online pr0n sitez. Yet people still had uses for them. Amazing, isn't it?

    So I would say that people in the third world could definitely use computers. And if you think every single person in the third world is a dirt farmer who lives in a hut, you need to be smacked around a bit with the clue stick. The third world includes some very large cities with electricity, phones, highways, factories, schools, television, and all the other things that you'd expect in most major cities. These are the people who could use free software.

    And correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't Miguel de Icaza (of GNOME fame) from Mexico? Granted, Mexico is further along than much of the world, but how many useful free software contributions are we missing out on because talented people haven't been exposed to the technology?
  • (a bit off-topic at first, but bear with me)...
    The American distrust of centralization of powers (not counting the UN) is part of the "spirit" of Americans. In historic terms it goes well back into the revolution (King George vs the Colonies), through the civil war (State's rights vs Federal govt) and past WWI. (One of the reason's we didnt join the League of Nations is because the Senate had the foresight of not wanting to get involved in European affairs). Admittedly, there has been a resurgance of this anti-UN sentiment in recent years. Why? The UN has tried to become the World Goverment, which is not in it's charter. Soon there will be direct taxation of people by them. Many American's now realize that we have our own problems, and we can take care of them ourselves, without some omnipresent guiding hand of the Blueberries.

    How does Open vs Closed Source software affect US status on a global scale? It doesnt. The United States doesnt write software. It's companies do. Another nation can heavily tariff American products thereby limiting it's use in that nation. (Example American cars in Japan).

    I for one would not mind a dimished America on a global scale. We get our noses into the world's conflicts because of some "assumed" role because of our leaders' hubris.
    I'm done. :)

  • Well, electricity is common in Guatemala and the rest of Central America, even in small towns. (And usually reliably but not always. In San Pedro Sula, Honduras, it goes out for a couple hours a day.) Even though geeks may find it hard to believe, computers ARE useful without phone lines. sure, communication is great. But if we can get these people computers and start teaching them how to use them, they'll be ready for the communications part when they get the proper facilities.

    I have a third cousin that works in Coban, Guatemala, and she gets E-mail there. I'm not sure about PPP. Coban is a decent sized town, though not huge. It's a 4 hour bus ride from the capital.

    I have been to places with no electricity (mostly in rural Nicaragua), but those people probably aren't quite ready to become Linux hackers yet....
  • Actually, the biggest component of Internet costs in the so-called Third World is the International Bandwidth cost - since the Third World ISP also has to pay the foreign telco (usually AT&T, Sprint, MCI) on top of what they pay the local telco (like in my case the Philippine Long Distance Telephone [] Company. Compared to that, hardware costs and local line costs are negligible.

    - anonymous coward @ ph

  • by Lemmy Caution ( 8378 ) on Saturday November 20, 1999 @07:44PM (#1516185) Homepage
    This really isn't true. I work throughout Latin America, and there is plenty of good infrastructure. There is also pretty good penetration and distribution of PC's. Here are some of the problems:

    1. Pricing of connectivity. Most internet service is metered. That is starting to change - in Brazil, Universal Online has moved to undercut AOL. However, connectivity charges are still higher down here (I'm in Caracas at the moment) than up in the states.

    2. The quality of education in Latin America, while still much better than the GNP's of these countries might suggest, has been slipping over the past couple decades, and schools can't pay for talented educators who make better money in foreign companies or overseas. It's one of a number of vicious circles that are all a product of the fact that the US still controls a massive proportion of the world's resources. The drive towards reduced public sectors, and increasing corrpution in the public sector that is left, has dried the revenue base of the educational infrastructure in most Latin American countries (this is especially tragic in the once excellent Argentine system.) Also, the politicization of the universities continues to be a problem, as in the UNAM strike in Mexico.

    3. The previously mentioned Nestle Milk syndrome, associated with the above-described crisis in education funding. The prestige of American software companies and the associated aura of success make the penetration of free software, and the move from a consumer to a producer mindset, difficult.

    Here are some advantages and strengths that this region has, too:

    1. Latin America is not simply reducable to the 3rd world stereotypes. Much of the population is much better educated than you might expect, and in many places the populace is taught better critical thinking skills than in the US.

    2. Latin American has always held engineers in great esteem. "Ingeniero" is a proudly-held prefix, like "Doctor" or "... Esq." The brightest and best are as likely to enter technical fields as they are law or business.

    3. There's the leap-frog effect, which allows countries to skip intermediary infrastructure, and, for example, bypass copper wire for fiber optic. Brazil is leading in this.

    4. Communalist cultures - information sharing is much broader (despite the myths here, you really are more on your own in the US even in the Linux culture). CyberCafes are a frequent fixture, which allows members of a community to share access to (usually low bandwidth) connectivity on old machines for a very low price. As such, communities are able to teach other things like linux.

    5. The BSA is cracking down on piracy throughout the region. Piracy campaigns are part of US software companies' sales strategies - they LIKE finding lots of software being pirated, because they can then often cut a deal for a huge settlement. Often, software companies will get in bed with major industries and government agencies to target antipiracy campaigns against politically unpopular sectors (Ah, even silicon valley joins in the plunder of the continent. The more things change...) However, the market here, unable to afford the nominal prices of things, is starting to jump ship proactively. I hear a lot of people in surpringly high places talking about linux.

  • by pb ( 1020 )
    Processor speed isn't everything, my man. I'll be using this K6/300 for at least another 6 months, and my mother is relatively happy with her P133 for a while yet. I've got an old one running Linux that I don't use much, but it's still functional... And a 286, too. :)
    pb Reply or e-mail rather than vaguely moderate [].
  • What the hell are you talking about.

    What % of the indian population lives/works in the US?
    Something on the order of 10^5/10^9.
  • by twilight30 ( 84644 ) on Saturday November 20, 1999 @03:29PM (#1516188) Homepage
    I would like to mention here that developing countries often are disadvantaged both in relative and absolute terms in comparison with the West. This is relevant in that infrastructure is often lacking when considering Third World concerns. I believe that while using free software in this manner is no doubt A Good Thing, you often have to presume a great deal for this method of intellectual diffusion to work.

    Having suitably-equipped machines with access to the Net is one. Cheap unmetered Net usage is another. And of course these two conditions predicate a whole slew of others, such as telephone infrastructure, electricity and water access, and so forth.

    From what little I remember of my polisci courses, most of the disparity with regards to industrialised countries vs their developing neighbours has historically resulted from the siphoning-off of natural and human resources from the South to the North, under the rubric of imperialism, colonisation, and decolonisation. While the argument has been made in recent decades that 'leapfrogging' intermediate stages of development should be possible by southern nations, it has only been with further integration into the Western-dominated system that some countries have been able to prosper. This argument was perhaps most cogent with the Asian Tigers' hypothesis of ten to fifteen years ago. OK, so far so good.

    But, [and you know there has to be a 'but'] this thesis of leapfrogging has a problem. I would argue that as worthy as giving away open source stuff is, it just simply is not enough. Too many things are taken for granted for the statement of 'Giving away software outside of the West is no question a great idea' to be effective. Take everyone's favourite OS. It's not quite there for normal desktop use. Still. In order to get it to normal usage one still has to spend a lot of time figuring out how to use it. What was that quote from the Unix-Haters' Handbook? 'Linux is only free if your spare time is worthless.'

    I think this statement is probably even more applicable to other countries than it is to the West.

    I would be interested to see what the Association for Progressive Communications [] would make of all this. They comprise a network of ISPs dedicated to spread and enhance Net-enabled communications between NGOs, ordinary citizens and the UN. They were responsible for handling telecom services during the Rio Summit and other international conferences.
  • Now if only something like this had happened back in my country in my teenage years... I'd have died to get software that comes with source code, for free! I remember wishing for the source code to so many programs so that I can learn from them and add features that I thought would make them better. But the only thing I could do back then was merely to disassemble easier parts of simple programs and try mucking around a little... now if I had open-source software back then, it would have been like heaven!

  • You make the all too common mistake of assuming EVERYONE in a developing country is a farmer. As someone who has lived in Africa for 20 years I can assure you this is not the case. Believe it or not, there are doctors, lawyers, modern businesses, goverment agencies etc. Sure, they are not as big as in the west, but they can definitely afford a PC. The "average" American can't afford a 100 node Beowulf Cluster of Pentium IIIs. Does that mean that America doesn't need them? Course not. Same thing applies here.

    Yes, Linux is pretty much useless to the ordinary farmer, but it could be damn useful to the country as a whole, significantly reducing costs and allowing local consultants to handle contracts that would normally go to the likes of Microsoft or Oracle.

    To conclude: Maybe the farmer won't use Linux, but his son could start a local distro and customize Linux for the local market and sell it to goverment agencies. The goverment could save millions of dollars per year and nurture the local IT industry by not relying on Western software that much. His daughter might encounter Linux at University and became a well paid kernel guru without leaving the country (The "brain drain" is one of the biggest problems in developing countries).

    All of these scenarios are highly realistic and not pipe dreams based on my experiences. Just because people don't have the same opportunites, it does not follow that they do not desire the same things out of life. So no lame "They need to concentrate on food first!" type of comments, OK?

  • Ok, so we hand out free software to Third Wrold countries... hasn't anyone considered that the people who can afford computers in these 3rd world countries are also the ones who can afford the software? I'm sure those Somalians would have a difficult choice between food or that nifty copy of MS Office.
  • It is always encouraging to see efforts to improve the conditions of thrid world countries. However, free software by itself, can do very little. I believe one of the most interesting developments (although now very new) is wireless networking.

    I know that Pakistani internet users have to pay huge fees (for lower middle class, atleast) just to make voice phone calls. It costs about $15 (last time I checked) to have internet access for 5 hours/A MONTH! Wouldn't a completely wireless network (spread spectrum or whatever), which bypasses POTS dramatically bring down costs and allow more people to use the internet.

    If more people have cheap internet, even more will buy computers...a feedback loop of sorts. There is the question of hungry people buying computers. From an economics point of view, easy availability of internet breaks down communication barriers and leads to more effective markets (I know, VERY simplified).

    Another big problem is that of local interfaces. for example, ubiquitious internet is not possible unless user interfaces and content in local languages is available. Technically, it is even more difficult for people who have non-roman alphabets (for example, national language of Pakistan, Urdu is written in the opposite direciton of English, has different character shapes depending on where in the word it apprears...etc., tec.).

    All in all, there is great potential.

    Rather crude analysis but contact me if you are interested in this more:
  • > ...the fact that countries not as well off as us are adopting open source.

    And the irony will come when the "developing" countries surpass the big rich USA in information technology, because the USA was more interested in keeping certain stocks high than in keeping its technology high.

    It's October 6th. Where's W2K? Over the horizon again, eh?

The solution of this problem is trivial and is left as an exercise for the reader.