Award-winning author and lecturer Michael Parenti made the argument that the Third World, the poor countries that are seen to be behind in terms of development and advancement, are not actually underdeveloped, as many assume, but they had been over-exploited. The reason behind the downfall of the majority of the countries on the planet can always be traced back to brutal colonialism that allowed richer countries to take advantage of another nation’s resources, leaving it in ruins. While that’s the political, socio-economic aspect of the issue, I think the same could be applied to technology, and its use in the third world.
No one can deny the increasing market share of open source technologies over the past few years. More and more regular home users are realizing the benefits of working with free software, and things can only get better. However, in many developing countries, such as Egypt, the open source trend has not caught up as one might have expected.
When proprietary software is expensive, and is a real pain to get support for, you would think that poor nations as the Land of the Pyramids would opt for the open source applications that are free, perfectly legal, and ever-improving. The reality, however, is the contrary. Very few names earn unconditional acceptance more than Microsoft and HP. Any entrepreneur would happily pay ridiculous amounts of cash for the satisfaction of knowing that he or she is using Microsoft products, therefore, the best. Any technical person, regardless of his or her particular field of expertise, would strongly urge the upper management to invest in HP hardware, because it is by far the best and most reliable.
Even when it is abnormal not to use open source software, Egyptian companies, small and large, invest in brand names. For example, almost all hosting packages are on HP servers running Windows Server, with Microsoft SQL databases. That means that a company pays for an HP server, and instead of installing Red Hat Linux with Apache for example, they pay for a Windows Server license. And instead of using MySQL, they pay for Microsoft SQL. Suddenly, they’ve gone from cheap hardware with free software, to over-priced hardware, with unbelievably expensive software. Makes no sense whatsoever, but the Egyptian companies are ecstatic nonetheless.
Hosting is only one of the issues. Very few people would dare to give Linux a chance, hardly anyone would consider using open source alternatives to commercial products, and almost no one realizes how much money is being wasted for nothing. On an individual level, like most other developing countries, illegal copies of software are widely available and unanimously accepted.
So why do big companies like Microsoft and HP enjoy so much success in poor countries? Well, there are several reasons. On the one hand, many are simply unaware of the benefits, or even existence, of open source tools. On the other hand, educational institutions teach students to work with brand names, and so college graduates don’t know much better. Add to that the companies’ strategies in carrying out advertising campaigns to create the illusion that if a company works with a name that is not like theirs, they would be risking too much for anyone to handle. It is a sad story, and the future does not look too bright.
With the constant expansion of information available on the web, the curious ones out there are bound to think outside of the box, and go open source. However, for effective results, there needs to be government intervention, promoting free, legal software, and preventing big names from implying false information. Not only on a software level, but also on a hardware one. Many individuals compile there own personal computer for home use for dirt cheap, but then companies, even small ones, pay providers huge sums of money to have HP desktop computers for all of its employees. Extremely inefficient.
Unfortunately, Egypt is but another poor country taken advantage of by giant corporations in the technology realm. The Egyptian companies are not far behind because they are underdeveloped, but rather because they have always been over-exploited. However, with the spread of the web, the digital colonization is doomed to extinction, thus it is only a matter of time until open source becomes the way to be.