Free and open source software is steadily growing in popularity in Kenya as firms move to cut costs and achieve more customised technology solutions.
Many companies particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have adopted free and open source software (FOSS) to power their systems in the wake of increasing costs and shrinking IT budgets.
Adoption of FOSS is also seen as a promising solution to software piracy in countries like Kenya.
Globally, software piracy is blamed for the high cost of commercial software. In Kenya, estimates show that 80 per cent of the commercial software is pirated. Faced with legal action, many operators of cyber cafes have migrated to the Free Open Source software, whose source code is available for modification and is often free.
Enock Kiprono, the CEO of Fenesi, a tech start-up that offers internet solutions, says the increased adoption of FOSS has a lot to do with the cost element. “One of the main reasons why piracy is so rife not only in Kenya, but in Africa is the prohibitive cost of off-the-shelf registered software,” he says.
“A typical management information system (MIS), for example, will cost you millions of shillings depending on the size of the organisation. This is without taking into account other costs of hardware configuration, customisation, support and the overall time it will take set it all up,” he said.
Mr Kiprono said many web developers are using FOSS to design internet solutions for their clients not only because of the cost effectiveness, but also for convenience.
“Many web designers nowadays will go for open source resources like Joomla, PHP or Wordpress because it offers more control to their clients in terms of content management,” he said.
“If you want to migrate to another domain, for example, you can easily move all your content including comments to the new address. This saves the inconvenience of having one’s content scattered over two or three sites,” he said.
It also easier to configure and customise at the back end, allowing users to manage their own portals once the website is up and running. Clients can make their own changes and update the information as and when they want.
“Most of my clients upload their own content and this has reduced the fee on websites development for clients because in the past you had to pay someone to upload the content for you every so often,” said Mr Kiprono.
Linet Kwamboka, a software developer, says many developers prefer to use open source resources because it provides them with the opportunity to do more.
“Most of your clients will ask you for very specific customisation and as a developer you have to give them what they want. It is easier to create such customised solutions using open source,” she says.
In the past, most users took issue with open source software like Ubuntu because it was considered less user-friendly. This has, however, changed because of the increased number of programmers ready to offer online assistance and tweaks making it less complicated.
“There are a lot of online forums for coders from all over the world where you can log into one of them if you have a problem, state the query and someone writes you a code to get it sorted”, said Ms Kwamboka.
“Open source is also relatively lighter and can run on most hardware systems.
This means SMEs can save the extra costs of having to purchase equipment with high specifications and this reduces the overall capital expenditure,” she said.
However, open source software has its challenges. “Off-the-shelf software solution like Microsoft guarantees security. However, for open source, the source codes have gone through many hands and the company which promotes it will give you a disclaimer that they are not liable for any security breaches,” Ms Kwamboka.
Lack of trained personnel in the Kenyan market to offer open source solutions also remains a challenge.
“I have had situations where a web developer approaches me for a job, but he has only done courses like HTML, Visual Basic ... but if you ask him about Joomla or Apache you can tell he has never heard of them and yet these are the skills required, he said.