Chapter 6: Open-source Software and the Digital Divide: Opportunities and Constraints for Developing Countries
INTRODUCTION Although there are other ways of gaining access to the Internet than by computers (the most prominent of which is perhaps a cable set-top box using a television and a special keyboard),1 it is on the former that users overwhelmingly continue to rely in order to connect themselves (via one or other form of telecommunications) to the World Wide Web. To this extent, therefore, the issue of computer access needs to feature prominently in any attempt by developing countries seeking to overcome the huge digital divide that separates them from the rich countries. And, in a context where the price of a modern computer in the developed countries would be affordable by only a small minority in the Third World, this means inevitably that it is necessary to focus heavily on all available means of reducing the costs of operating these products.2 Partly because of the difficulty of dealing with such a large focus in a single chapter and partly because it seems so obviously relevant to the task of effecting a reduction in computing costs, we concentrate below on just one such policy tool, namely, open-source (free) software. Following a brief description of what the open-source movement entails, we then turn to examine the opportunities it affords and the constraints that need to be overcome if the opportunities thus identified are actually to be realized. THE OPEN-SOURCE SOFTWARE MOVEMENT As exemplified most clearly by the Windows operating system produced by the Microsoft Corporation, ‘Proprietary software is software...
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