May 21, 2011

A South African IT solution

Apparently the rate of software piracy in Africa is double the global rate.  On a related note, Becca notes that IT problems, particularly viruses, are endemic in the school system here:
Viruses spread like wildfire here in South Africa as I'm sure they do in other places with similar conditions (where technology is very prevalent but not very well understood). It seems like it's a constant battle to keep the computers at our schools free of viruses which are mostly spread by USB sticks. Whenever the administrative assistants get together for a workshop or to submit data about the school, they come back with new virus from other administrative assistants. Some people are more concerned than others and follow the directions we give for checking their USB sticks and computers and can usually keep their computers pretty clean, they have to be extremely vigilant whenever anyone else uses their computer. Others don't seem to mind wiping their hard drives clean and reinstalling Windows every few months and just throwing away (or if they know how reformatting) USB sticks.
I imagine this is about as likely as the world ending today, but since switching to Linux Mint, I've thought the South African school system could benefit hugely from a mandatory switch to some kind of Linux distribution (probably an older one, since a lot of computers here are a bit dated).  It would take some work at first, but as Becca notes, there is a huge amount of time and money wasted reinstalling operating systems, cleaning viruses and USB sticks, and rewriting virus-destroyed documents.  Often when schools can't get their systems to work, they hire techs to come over, sometimes hundreds of kilometers, to fix things.

These people, by the way, can be rather unscrupulous.  One thing my friend Justin noticed was a particular company would set up a computer lab at great expense, and install Windows Server 2008 without entering the product key.  The lab would work great until the 30-day trial period elapsed, then shut down.  The school officials don't know the right questions to ask, and the company then gets to keep a $1029 piece of software to sell to someone else.

Linux, on the other hand, is completely free and supports every piece of hardware one is likely to see in a South African school.  It's basically immune to viruses and malware, and most distributions come with a good software toolkit: OpenOffice, a browser, an email client, etc.  What's more, Ubuntu, the most popular Linux distribution, is supported by a company owned by South African Mark Shuttleworth (also the first African in space, by the way).  He would be more than happy—proud even, I imagine—to help the government switch over to a far superior operating system for a fraction of what it is currently costing them to maintain the Windows-based IT structure.

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