I am a Linux enthusiast who would like to see a higher Linux/OSS profile in Zambia. To that end, I have been hatching various ideas related to setting up a Linux User Group, and was surprised when I was directed to this website.
I know that some attempts have been made at promoting the OSS community:
- ZLUG on Dgroups, which is a closed mailing list clearly not fulfilling the function of a LUG.
- Linux counter, which is a fairly dim illustration of Linux use in Zambia.
Both of these sites were quoted in a recent edition of the UK magazine Linux Format, in which several Linux users in Zambia complained about the representation in a previous issue that Linux in Zambia was nonexistent.
I was going to propose launching a LUG or OSS community in Zambia, based around a Wiki website and a GNU Mailman mailing list, but of course my plans should be revised in the light of the existence of CodeZed.org. I have several possible improvements which I would appreciate if this community could consider:
- The existing site is hosted in the USA, as far as I can gather. Zamnet has already committed to offering hosting and a domain name should such a site wish to be hosted in Zambia, and I believe it would be better to have it hosted locally. Any opinions?
- A mailing list (at least one!) is the core feature of a LUG or open source community. It has to be free to join (i.e. no “moderator approval”) and welcoming to newbies.
- A regular, algorithmically-determined (“first Tuesday of every month”) real-world meeting is important. This should always be in the same place and should be kept come hell or high water to avoid discouraging new users.
- You should take advantage of “international benevolence” in the sense that there are companies out there that can be plied for money and books to support OSS education. I am currently looking into this.
- The website needs a clearer layout (as well as a clearer description, because as it currently stands no search engine will ever realise what this site is about). In terms of layout, there should be sections about people in the group, activities of the group, businesses willing to provide services in OSS, success stories of using Linux, and where for new users to begin. That is why I would advocate the use of a Wiki, in the format used on the Ubuntu wiki. I don’t believe you need a forum (a mailing list serves the purpose, and has archives if necessary) and blogs are overkill for the type of content relevant to the community.
- There are several other projects which I have considered which may or may not be useful, such as making available lists of people willing to give talks on OSS (perhaps to schools), starting via-email mentorship schemes for members who wish to advance their skills in things such as sysadmin or Perl programming, printing and distributing CDs (as mentioned on this site), and establishing a group library.
- This is not something I have the answer to, but in a country like Zambia with such a small pool of IT talent, starting an open software development business is a tall order; what low-cost, short-term return “wedges” (business opportunities) can be offered to people wanting to use their skills but not wanting to start with hacking the Linux kernel?
- Charities exist in various places (such as the UK) which exist solely to recycle old computers and send them to developing countries. It would be great to see the Zambia LUG/OSS community becoming a focal point for such distribution in Zambia, and attempting to counter the “bait-and-switch” tactic employed by Microsoft in Zambia.
I don’t mean to wade in and take over, but I would like to see a more dynamic presence. As milnerma has pointed out here there is a question mark over whether a demand exists for customised software in Zambia, and the answer right now seems to be No.
I believe this situation can be improved (reversing may be another story altogether) by giving industry a place to find out about local OSS expertise and a place where students can discover for themselves how to drive the software without having to fork out for M$ training. The biggest advantage of free software in Zambia is that it is free, but there is going to be a steep learning curve involved in its adoption.
You have the opportunity, in the Zambia OSS community, to write the book on how developing countries can grow open source industries. I hope I can help out with that.