ECTEL Workshop on Open Source Software in St lucia
- Hi everyone
It might be interesting to contact ECTEL to run a similar workshop here
would have been perfect for SFD, but it could be interesting as a follow-up
Or we can follow their plan and host a workshop along these lines ourselves
To: Participants of ECTEL Workshop on Open Source Software; 19 October 2007,
Please find attached, the following documents relating to the workshop on
Open source Software, to be held in St. Lucia on Friday 19 October 2007:
§ Draft Agenda
§ Paper prepared by GOPA Consultants
§ Details of Administrative Arrangements
9:00 a.m. Welcome Remarks - Managing Director, ECTEL
9:15 a.m. The Role of ECTEL in Addressing Matters Relating to Open
Source Software - ECTEL
9:45 a.m. Open Source Applications: General Overview and
Demonstration - GOPA Consultants
10:30 a.m. BREAK
10:45 a.m. Presentation on Open Source Application in the Education
(Martin Walker St. Lucia)
12:00 p.m. LUNCH
2:00 p.m. Proposals for Extending the Use of Open Source Software in
the Eastern Caribbean - Wesley Wharton, St. Kitts/Nevis
3:15 p.m. The Way Forward: Policy Recommendations and Implementation
3:45 p.m. Conclusions and Recommendations
4:15 p.m. Close of Workshop
Telecommunications and ICT Development Project
Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority
P. O. Box 1886
Vide Boutielle, Castries
Support document for ECTEL meeting in ST Lucia 19 October 2007-10-16
Lets talk about FLOSS
In 1985 a computer programmer named Richard Stallman changed the way
computer programs were distributed.
In order to use software needed to develop his own system, Stallman was
required to agree to certain licensing schemes, which barred him from
sharing the software with other programmers who wanted to benefit from this
Stallmans idea was to share computer programs in a radically new way.
For Stallman software had to be freely available for any purpose; allow
users to examine the source code to see how it worked; allow users to
distribute the program to others; and permit users to improve the program.
To overcome the dilemma he faced, Stallman created the GNU General Public
License (GNU GPL), marking the starting date of the Free / Libre Open Source
Software FLOSS movement.
GNU, GNU is Not Unix, was the name of the project, a free distribution of
the operating system of a computer he was working on at the time.
How can this more-than-20-years-old way of thinking exert an influence on
the present development of a state-of-the-art ICT industry?
How can something that is free become a driver of economic diversification?
And what does it have to do with the Caribbean?
To answer those questions some explanation is necessary.
Usually, when buying a computer, certain software comes with it, and certain
software has to be purchased separately, depending on the purpose for which
the computer will be used. The software comes in a box, we pay, we install
it and we use it. If the programme does not entirely perform as required or
if some functionality is missing, we have to wait until the developer makes
a new version, called an update, available. Failing this, we have to find
our way around the obstacle.
Larger systems used by corporations allow some changes in the behaviour or
functionality of the software, but someone must be employed or hired to
All this is detailed in the End User License Agreement, EULA, we usually
accept without reading.
FLOSS and the GNU GPL take a very different approach.
The use of the software is free.
If some functionality is lacking, you are allowed to look at the source code
and, if you have the skills yourself or know somebody who has them, you can
write extensions or enhancements to the program.
You must fulfil one requirement only: send your enhancements back to the
original programmer, or to a clearing-house like authority, which will check
that your enhancements do not introduce errors or conflict with other parts
of the program. After the approval, your code - and this is the beauty of
the method - then becomes a part of the whole system, making your
enhancement available to anybody who uses the system.
That is the essence of FLOSS. Programs are widely available with source
codes that can be viewed and changed by almost anybody who wants to.
By applying this methodology, free software is developing and evolving
continuously, sometimes through the collaboration of more than 1000
programmers around the globe, creating new software, or improving existing
Some of these programmers do it in their spare time, some are employed by
corporations like IBM or Google, and some are independent programmers.
Whoever can contribute to the success of the project is invited to write the
enhancements and send them to the clearing-house.
Can this methodology create software that is recognized world-wide? Indeed
it can, as shown by a few examples.
To a large extend the Internet runs on FLOSS, for instance the BIND
(Berkeley Internet Name Domain) name server that resolves web addresses to
Internet Protocol (IP) numbers, the Apache Web server that serves most Web
sites, the GNU/Linux operating system that drives large companies like
Google and Amazon, and the MediaWiki software that powers Wikipedia are all
free for anyone to use, change and redistribute.
And on the end-user side the most popular web browser Firefox, the mail
client Thunderbird, and the Office suite OpenOffice are also originated and
maintained through the FLOSS approach.
It would be difficult to find a single business, area of research, or field
of education area where a FLOSS system is not present.
Around and through FLOSS an entire industry has emerged utilizing, since the
software itself does not generate a buck, diverse business models.
So, how do you make money with FLOSS?
Income is generated mostly through services related to the software, such as
consulting, installation assistance, maintenance, and training. None of
these services are free; hence they provide the financial incentive for
developing the software further.
And herein lies the financial opportunity for the Caribbean. Why is that so?
For two reasons a) by saving money and b) by creating a service environment
based on FLOSS systems developed and maintained in the Caribbean.
Let us examine in more detail these statements.
Undoubtedly, licenses for so-called proprietary software cost money. Either
as a one-time expense at the time of purchase, as recurring costs in the
form of maintenance or support agreements, or as updating costs, if the new
versions are available and demanded by a changed environment, whether it be
new hardware, a new version of the operating system, or data exchange /
compatibility issues with other programs or users.
Of course, those costs only occur if the software is not pirated or
otherwise illegally copied without honouring the rights of the original
Under FLOSS those licensing costs do not exist. As mentioned already the
usage of FLOSS systems is free. Hence, in contrast to paying licensing fees
to a foreign company without economic impact to the local/regional market,
FLOSS systems could be used and the saved money would be spent on employing
local experts to train, maintain, or enhance the otherwise free software.
In the Caribbean, governments are the largest spender when it comes to
software applications. Hence the way funds, in the form of taxpayers money,
grants or loans from international donors, are utilized determines whether a
local service industry and expertise can be instigated.
Reducing or eliminating license costs, and building a base of local
consultants for future projects and the sustainability of present projects,
and - it is to be hoped - reducing development costs, will ensure that more
money will remain in the local economy, and thus achieve the goal of
increased economic activity in the IT field.
Or, to put it another way, saving money does not mean saving money, but
spending the same money in areas that contribute to the economical
development of the community.
How does this work? And what is required to utilize the FLOSS methodology?
It all starts with the needs and desires of individuals to enhance
productivity through the usage of Information Technology (IT) and in
particular by automate workflows and processes through the introduction of
Assuming that the required software does not exist, a programmer or a group
of programmers would write the software application according to the
specification given by the customer.
The easiest way forward, Initially, is to use FLOSS platforms like GNU/Linux
as the operating system, Apache Web Server as the distributor of the
information, MySQL as the database system to store the information, and PHP
as the programming language.
All of these components are FLOSS and can be downloaded from the Internet.
Since legions of open source developers maintain these components, we simply
use them as is and apply the recurring updates that come through the
Internet without additional costs. Such a system is called LAMP (Linux,
Apache, MySql, PHP) and it is a very popular platform for state-of-art
software applications, which are essentially a database and a front end for
the user to enter data and retrieve the information. LAMP systems are
already web based with all the advantages that that brings in a more and
more Internet based communication. Prominent examples of LAMP installations
are systems like Moodle (a course management system for Education Providers,
deployed at UWI), sugarCRM (a Customer Relationship Management system),
youTube (a video sharing patform), or Facebook (an online community)..
To give an example, lets assume that one of the Caribbean countries has
received funds to establish, lets say, a Health Information or a School
The respective Government could utilize those funds by employing a group of
local programmers to create a system, which would be released under the GNU
General Public License.
The programmers that did the initial work on the system would be paid for
After the system is released to the Government, it would be made available
free of charge, as determined by the GNU GPL, to the other Caribbean
countries that may have an already up-and-running IT agency with permanently
employed skilled programmers, or may have funds to contract local developers
who would work on enhancements on the Health or School Management
In the case of the skills set not being already available, programmers can
educate themselves by looking at the source code and therefore will be able
to contribute to the constant development of the system.
Since this system was released under the GNU GPL all enhancements must
instantly be made available to all other countries evolving into a research
and development system of collaborating programmers, trainers, and
consultants located around the, region releasing itself from the dependence
upon a single source.
Because this proposed method produces software geared to the conditions in
the Caribbean it is not difficult to imagine that the same products could
work in other countries around the world with similar conditions, thus
enabling the export of services and ideas. This in turn would mean more work
for local consultants and a chance for local government to contribute to
development in other parts of the world.
A parallel could be drawn with the law community where several individuals
from the legal fraternity have worked abroad promoting solutions implemented
in the Caribbean.
Ultimately FLOSS provides a chance for economic development if free is
understood as in free speech and not as in free beer.
Correctly-channelled funds can fuel a Caribbean software industry operating
within the region and working for the region.
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