Open Source South Africa

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Last fall, the government of South Africa announced that it was adopting Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) and Open Document format (ODF) as official standards for government communications.  South Africa’s moves are adding further momentum to the global trend among governments and other institutions to adopt open standards. South Africa joined such countries as Brazil, China, Spain, India and Malaysia, as well as municipal and regional governments in other countries (Massachusetts and New York here in the states), in using open source as a way to encourage efficiency and effectiveness of governance, to cut IT costs, foster the development and competitiveness of their national software industries, and as means to compete worldwide.

Mark Surman, executive director of the Mozilla Foundation, writing at his commonspace blog, links to audio of a talk given by Aslam Raffee, chairperson of the South African government’s OSS working group. Raffee was speaking at last week’s Open Everything Cape Town event where he gave an update on the transformation and discussed the challenges that they have encountered. “We’ve done very well in terms of setting policy, but very poorly at implementation,” he said. “We’ve got to fix that.” Surman summarized by saying the government is on track to have all departments have ODF capability by the end of the year; Microsoft is integrating ODF into Word; and the government’s document management is likely to be open source.

I guess it’s not surprising that some challenges remain, however, including the need to convince certain government entities to embrace openness. There is a certain amount of reticence remaining among the bureaucracy. And apparently South Africa lacks skilled open source developers.

Hmmmm. Sounds like an opportunity.

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