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Usage of Open Source and Proprietary Software in Ghana

By Wayan Vota on October 27, 2010

As part of FOSS Advocacy in West Africa and Beyond – (FOSSWAY), Worlali Senyo recently captured key findings in a comparison of Proprietary Software (PS) and Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) usage in Ghana. Below is a summary of his findings.

Most people use Proprietary Software

The study showed that in the desktop environment Windows OS dominated by as much as 84.7% whiles Linux OS constituted 11.9% followed by 3.4% for Unix OS of respondents. It was observed that the reason for Windows OS dominating is because desktop computers bought came with Windows OS pre-installed. Other reasons where attributed to the ease of use and availability of applications, and technical support.

Yet these are not always legal Windows licenses. There is a worrying trend of wide use of pirated PS, especially Microsoft Windows and Windows based applications. In actual fact some users in Ghana think that all software can be downloaded and shared for free.

Differences in Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)

The study asked respondent to rank key setup-cost factors (software licenses, hardware, technical support, and training for staff) on a scale from 1 (least) to 5 (most) and it emerged that hardware cost contributed significantly to overall set-up cost ranking 4 for PS and 3 for FOSS. Software licenses where less significant in their contribution to set-up cost for FOSS ranking 2 compared to PS which ranked 4.

On technical support FOSS was ranked 3 whiles PS ranked 4. Finally, Training was ranked 3 for both PS and FOSS. Although the study did not include specific questions on piracy, the research team gathered that software piracy was high especially amongst individual users.

Challenges to FOSS use

The major challenge the study identified was the absence of any FOSS policy in Ghana and the existing procurement policy does not clearly stipulate terms for procuring software. It is interesting to note that in the Public Procurement Act, 2003 (Act 663) a software is defined as “something you buy a license for” which basically saying means we do not consider FOSS.

Users still have the perception that FOSS solutions are complex to use. Another dominant challenge cited in the study is the lack of support for FOSS solutions. Others include compatibility, too frequent updates and too many OS types.


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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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4 Comments to “Usage of Open Source and Proprietary Software in Ghana”

  1. Ghabuntu says:

    Windows is the dominant force here (I’m a Ghanaian), to help change the tide, the focus must be on getting internet cafes to switch their setups to FOSS. If a cafe with 10 computers serving 200 clients a day, that means for everyday, you have 200 people who get exposed to the use of FOSS. Guess what the ripple effect of this will be

  2. Wayan Vota says:

    You make a good point on educating the public on the existence of FOSS. But first you need to get it in the cafes.

    Re-read the article and note where users see FOSS solutions as complex to use and lack support. If you can streamline the usage and deliver quality support, you can win over the cybercafe owners. They are not usually interested in Proprietary vs. FOSS. They want software that works and makes them money.

  3. Open source software will continue to grow in Africa, but not at the pace that many OSS evangelists would like to. The problem with FOSS is that its currently promoted by technical experts with little or no marketing experience.

    Open source products like linux used to be difficult to use, but this has changed with the likes of Ubuntu creating a look and feel similar to Windows or a Mac environment.

    Governments in Africa need to take bold steps, but the best approach would be to undertake a baseline survey that would compute the inventory of all government software equipment. Based on this data, its possible to forecast cost savings, if a choice is made to migrate to Open source. Many countries both in developed countries, have migrated to Open Source.

    Its important to note, that migration to open source should not be confused with total elimination of the windows operating system, as this is not practical. Specialized software packages that dont run on linux, makes it impossible to eliminate windows on the desktop. The availability of packages like wine, that allow you to run windows based applications on linux, are not entirely successful.

    Universities have a role to play, since these are the next IT managers, who make the final decision.

    A comprehensive ICT policy with affirmative action for open source is needed by governments.

    The Ghana study is good, unfortunately, very little data was published, there is no mention of the number of users interviewed, survey questions, etc. The Ghana paper could be a good source for researchers as secondary data.

    I hope Wayan can share the paper

  4. Bidossessi Sodonon says:

    I would like to suggest a change of focus in FOSS marketing.
    While it seems to make sense to target governments for policy-making, I believe a bigger case can be made for targeting SMEs.

    Deploying FOSS comes in two brands:
    1.backend products (Servers)
    2. frontend products (Desktops)

    I have experience in migration to FOSS for both at the SME level. and all of my experiences have been great successes.
    FOSS on servers has very powerful advocates, typically in the SMB server section (think Zentyal or CleaOS). They lack exposure.
    Many UC (unified communication) schemes are suddenly possible without breaking the piggy bank. This also needs to be highlighted, because companies want that (they saw it at their german partners’s offices, and though it was cool), but don’t know they can have it, easily.
    The case for FOSS on the desktop is arguably the hardest to make, but, IT CAN BE MADE, on the assumption that the overwhelming majority of day-to-day SME computing is spreadsheets, presentations, word-processing, web-browsing, fat-client-based emailing. These are brilliantly covered by FOSS desktop OSes.
    In my experience, what happens when this bridge is crossed, is that FOSS suddenly starts to market itself (hey, no viruses, my machine is fast, I don’t need to defragment, etc…)