The decision by government to adopt a Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) policy may be a significant boost for open source software, but a general lack of awareness is threatening its extensive use in South Africa.

“Many potential users are not aware of the benefits or capabilities of OSS,” says Frost & Sullivan analyst Lindsey McDonald. “These include the potential to customise it for any purpose and the availability of the source code to all users. Additionally, there is a perceived lack of support for OSS software.”
While this is true in some cases, McDonald adds, a growing number of companies are also offering OSS support and customisation services.
Overall, market participants need to challenge the view that OSS is simply for technology enthusiasts, she says, and its practical benefits should receive more attention. Focusing on the strengths of OSS rather than the alleged weaknesses of proprietary software would be a positive manner in which to promote the use of OSS.
Frost & Sullivan has just released a new report – South African Open Source Software Market – which finds that both the public and private sectors will benefit from the expansion of OSS, as the cost reductions realised will not only encourage the start up of new businesses, but will also allow the government to channel resources to much needed areas such as healthcare and education.
Says McDonald: “OSS provides South Africa with an alternative to the costly applications of proprietary software vendors.The government’s adoption of the FOSS policy is a major driver for this market, as OSS will be used at all levels of the government where it is comparable to, or more suitable than, proprietary software.”
Furthermore, she says, OSS allows users to enhance and customise applications according to their use. There is a high level of collaboration among OSS developers and the government policy should serve to further increase collaboration in this market. This in turn will result in the development of applications uniquely suited to the South African environment.