South Africa Open Source campaign launched

Saturday saw the launch of an R18 million (US$2.5 million) campaign aimed at promoting awareness of Open Source software (OSS) in the South Africa (SA) market. Launched by the Shuttleworth Foundation (TSF) and its partners, Hewlett-Packard Co. and the CSIR, the Go Open Source campaign will run for the next two years, and, says TSF founder, Mark Shuttleworth, is the first of its kind in the world.

"Global momentum towards Open Source is tremendous," says Shuttleworth, "So I am very confident that this is a trend that will continue to dominate the software industry for the foreseeable future. My hope is that we can position SA at the front of that movement, to give our economy the maximum competitive advantage, but, in the long run, it is up to individuals and businesses to make their own decisions about their ICT strategy. I aim to make sure that everyone in the country knows about Open Source and how to take advantage of it, it is then up to them to decide how to move forward."

Says Thomas Black, Open Source program manager at TSF: "Go Open Source is about raising awareness of Open Source in SA. TSF has been trying to promote it over the last two years, but found that the lack of awareness was a big problem. So, a year ago, we decided to launch a marketing campaign, in partnership with other local companies who have also been trying to promote it."

The project consists of two main lines of activity - the first is a PR and marketing campaign to get the Open Source message out there, Black says. "Traditionally Open Source has not been marketed because it is non-profit, we want to be the marketing arm of OSS. We hope that increased awareness will lead to an increase in skills and usage."

Marketing activities will include a national radio campaign and a national indoor and outdoor advertising campaign, to inform people that Open Source is available and that people are successfully using it. Go Open Source will provide free Open Source CDs to anyone in SA who wants them, as well as in-depth educational materials, white papers, and case studies. Go Open Source is also launching an 0860 number and an on-line user group for information and support.

The second major activity, says Black, will be an informative television series providing the finer details on OSS -- such as what it is, how to access it and how it can be used in the home or in a business.

The campaign is being funded by the sponsors -- each is contributing R2 million per year for the next two years. TSF is contributing R3 million per year, and Mark Shuttleworth is contributing R2 million a year personally, providing a total budget of R18 million. Black says the campaign hopes to source additional partners and budget going forward.

"The more companies we have working together to communicate this message, the faster we will make a significant impact in the country. That said, now that we are operational it will be a matter of consensus between the existing coalition members as to whether we want to enlarge the group," Shuttleworth notes.

Despite the widely held opinion that Linux is not quite user-friendly enough to have broad appeal, Shuttleworth believes that the SA public is more than ready for it. "I think that SA end-users are more than ready for Open Source software. Those who are already computer-literate will find it easy to use Open Source tools, and those who are just starting will be able to learn much more effectively if they get access to the software in their own language, at no cost."

"We will have been successful if, in two years time, every South African who uses a computer, or who wants to use a computer, knows that they can get all the software tools that they need for computer literacy free of charge, together with the right to share those tools and to improve them, as they see fit," he concludes.

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