This past week both leading newspapers and the Business Daily have run stories highlighting a peculiar trend among certain Kenyan businesses who are opting for open source software primarily to escape the long arm of the law.
As IPKenya announced late last year, software giant Microsoft through its East and Central Africa Regional Office here in Kenya together with the Kenya Copyright Board (KECOBO) embarked on an ambitious “Buy Genuine” Campaign aimed at both creating awareness about the dangers of software piracy, how to spot pirated/counterfeit software as well as urging businesses and other software users to acquire genuine software licenses at reduced rates and enjoy other additional benefits.
The first leg of the Buy Genuine Campaign was a 30 day amnesty period whereby the Copyright cops would cease carrying out arrests, raids and seizures so as to encourage users to come forward with their bootleg software and seek to regularise their licenses. This Amnesty period ended in early December last year and since then the Copyright Board and Microsoft have come back with renewed vigour:
“Several businesses suspected to be dealing in unlicensed software and computers have been confiscated and charges brought against the infringers.” – Nation.
“Microsoft East Africa and Kenya Copyright Board (KECOBO) have in the past months intensified war on pirated software, raiding several businesses suspected to be dealing in unlicensed software and confiscating computers and instituting legal action against offenders.” – Standard.
Well, you get the drift.
So in light of this ever-looming danger of the copyright cops come knocking, the newspapers are now reporting that these users and businesses are now turning to open source software, which are freely available to the public. Ubuntu appears to be the operating system of choice for most users who claim that it is the closest alternative to] Microsoft Windows. The software which is based on Linux is sponsored by Canonical Limited, a Britain-based company which distributes Ubuntu free. Some businesses like internet cafes, companies and other commercial offices have already switched from Microsoft to open source software. Some computer shops no longer sell computers with software pre-installed in them unless it’s an open source.
IPKenya has noted this peculiar trend and is reminded of the common saying: “Cheap is expensive”. But in this case, one may ask if cheap is expensive, what about free? Using open source software must have its own costs attached to it. Imagine if we all went to work one morning and found that our computers had been reformatted and Linux was installed, as a cost-cutting measure for instance. How many of us would be able to use Linux in the same way we had done on Microsoft Windows?
Meanwhile, Business Software Alliance in their annual report 2010-2011 estimated that 79 percent of software installed in Kenya that year was pirated. In the same period it was estimated that this vice cost the economy Kshs 85 million. Through increased and widespread crackdowns and awareness initiatives, KECOBO and Microsoft are aiming at reducing piracy to about 49% from 79% so as to be at par with other industrialised African nations like South Africa and Mauritius.