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July 10, 2006

Ubuntu in Ethiopia: Is free such a good deal?

DSC_0002My ongoing struggles with Ubuntu have got me thinking about the free, open source software movement in general.

And the main thing I have been thinking about is - is paying nothing for your software really such a good deal in Africa?

Opensource champions often say African computer users should use their software because it means they can avoid the exorbitant fees charged by Microsoft, Adobe and friends.

But this assumes that the choice for African computer users is between expensive proprietary software and free opensource software. The reality is that they have a third choice - cracked, pirated proprietary software.

Here are some price comparisons, based on a visit to Amazon.com and the software shop about 15 minutes walk away from where I am sitting.

Quark Xpress 6.1
Amazon $699 (ETB 6,091) - Addis software shop $4.60 (ETB 40)

Photoshop CS2
Amazon $609 (ETB 5,307) - Addis software shop $3.44 (ETB 30)

Adobe Creative Suite CS2
Amazon $1,119 (ETB 10,448) - Addis software shop $9.18 (ETB 80)

The Movies, a PC game
Amazon $39.99 (ETB 348.50) - Addis software shop $5.74 (ETB 50)

So the Ethiopian computer user can choose between paying nothing for an open source graphics package like The Gimp, or saving up 80 Birr to buy Photoshop CS2.

For 80 birr s/he gets to learn how to use the most popular graphics package on earth - a skill that could land him/her a job with one of the high-paying NGOs or UN organisations scattered across Addis. (Most of these international organisations have IT departments that limit their branch offices to a list of authorised software, almost all of it from Microsoft). Or for nothing, s/he gets to use a package that is very cool and opensource, but totally obscure.

I know which way I would go.

(And, no, I am not accepting orders for cracked Ethiopian software from anyone back home. Although, if you want the Creative Suite, you could pay for a flight, come over to buy it yourself, stay in the Hilton for a night or two, and still come out with a profit.)

Posted by aheavens at July 10, 2006 9:07 AM