Would Government of Uganda use Ubuntu?

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Much of this article, has been shamelessly lifted from Mark Shuttleworth’s Blog because, am not sure if they would read it there, perhaps am over confident that they would read it here! So here it goes…along with my rumblings

Governments are making increasingly effective use of Ubuntu in large-scale projects, from big data to little schools. There is growing confidence in  open source in government quarters, and growing sophistication in how they engage with it.

But adopting open source is not just about replacing one kind of part with another. Open source is not just a substitute for shrink-wrapped proprietary software. It’s much more malleable in the hands of industry and users, and you can engage with it very differently as a result.  I’m interested in hearing from thought leaders in the civil service on ways they think governments could get much more value with open source, by embracing that flexibility. For example, rather than one-size-fits-all software, why can’t we deliver custom versions of Ubuntu for different regions or countries or even departments and purposes? Could we enable the city government of Frankfurt to order PC’s with the Ubuntu German Edition pre-installed?

Who are Uganda’s thought leaders in this case? NITA, certainly, and perhaps UCC who are a major conduit of Government. Hundreds of PITOs and SITOs working in various departments and data centres across ministries, and ofcourse, the Uganda Ministry of ICT. First you have to wonder, if FOSS is mentioned in any official documentation in Uganda.

Or could we go further, and enable those governments to participate in the definition and production and certification process? So rather than having to certify exactly the same bits which everyone else is using, they could create a flavour which is still “certified Ubuntu” and fully compatible with the whole Ubuntu ecosystem, can still be ordered pre-installed from global providers like Dell and Lenovo, but has the locally-certified collection of software, customizations, and certifications layered on top?

Imagine Firefox Mu Luganda, shipping with some kind of Ugandan Ubuntu?

If we expand our thinking beyond “replacing what went before”, how could we make it possible for the PC companies to deliver much more relevant offerings, and better value to governments by virtue of free software? Most of the industry processes and pipelines were set up with brittle, fixed, proprietary software in mind. But we’re now in a position to drive change, if there’s a better way to do it, and customers to demand it.

Mark, go slow, in Uganda, we still have to deal with e-waste, and since we banned used computers, it looks like having computers come to us directly would be a great thing. But then again, this is Uganda, that could take years.

So, for a limited time only, you can reach me at governator@canonical.com (there were just too many cultural references there to resist, and it’s not a mailbox that will be needed again soon ;) . If you are in the public service, or focused on the way governments and civic institutions can use open source beyond simply ordering large numbers of machines at a lower cost, drop me a note and let’s strike up a conversation.

Here are a few seed thoughts for exploration and consideration.

Local or national Ubuntu editions, certified and pre-installed by global brands

Lots of governments now buy PC’s from the world market with Ubuntu pre-installed.

Wow – Government of Uganda, you now do not need a pilot study to pull this off! And as you read below, you realise, we can save years on the learning curve, someone has been there before.

Several Canadian tenders have been won by companies bidding with Ubuntu pre-installed on PC’s. The same is true in Brazil and Argentina, in China and India and Spain and Germany. We’re seeing countries or provinces that previously had their own-brand local Linux, which they had to install build locally and install manually, shifting towards pre-order with Ubuntu.

In part, this is possible because the big PC brands have built up enough experience and confidence working with Canonical and Ubuntu to be able to respond to those tenders. You can call up Dell or Lenovo and order tens of thousands of laptops or desktops with Ubuntu pre-installed, and they will show up on time, certified. The other brands are following. It has been a lot of work to reach that point, but we’ve got the factory processes all working smoothly from Shenzen to Taipei. If you want tens of thousands of units, it all works well.

Again, no excuses!

But Ubuntu, or free software in general, is not Windows. You shouldn’t have to accept the one-size-fits all story. We saw all of those local editions, or “national linux”, precisely because of the desire that regions have to build something that really suits them well. And Ubuntu, with it’s diversity of packages, open culture and remix-friendly licensing is a very good place to start. Many of the Spanish regional distro’s, for example, are based on Ubuntu. They have the advantage of being shaped to suit local needs better than we can with vanilla Ubuntu, but the disadvantage of being hard to certify with major ISV’s or IHV’s.

Well, tis time for entities like the Uganda Center for Open Source Software and the Linux User Group to martial Ugandan FOSS Users and practitioners to rally a National FOSS Project. Examples of Localizations are littered on the Continent, in South Africa, and the Ghana developed OS; as well as the world in Germany’s Munich , in Cambodia or typing in Nepali in India. There are hundreds more, for the simple reason that this is the freedom that FOSS gives. Malleability.

I’m interested in figuring out how we can formalise that flexibility, so that we can get the best of both worlds: local customizations and preferences expressed in a compatible way with the rest of the Ubuntu ecosystem, so they can take advantage of all the software and skills and certifications that the ecosystem and brand bring. And so they can order it pre-installed from any major global PC company, no problem, and upgrade to the next version of Ubuntu without losing all the customization that work that they did.

Security certifications by local agencies, with policy frameworks and updates

A European defence force has recently adopted Ubuntu widely as part of an agility-enhancing strategy that gives soldiers and office workers secure desktop capabilities from remote locations like… home, or out in the field. There’s some really quite sexy innovation there, but there’s also Ubuntu as we know and love it. In the process of doing the work, it emerged that their government has certified some specific versions of key apps like OpenVPN, and it would be very useful to them if they could ensure that those versions were the ones in use widely throughout the government.

Surely NITA would help government to formulate such standards, quite easily…with the help of the FOSS Community, and its wider than our geographical boundaries.

Of course, today, that means manually installing the right version every time, and tracking updates. But Ubuntu could do that work, if it knew enough about the requirements and the policies, and there was a secure way to keep those policies up to date. Could we make the operating system responsive to such policies, even where it isn’t directly managed by some central infrastructure? If Ubuntu “knows” that it’s supposed to behave in a particular way, can we make it do much of the work itself?

The same idea is useful in an organizational setting, too. And the key question is whether we can do that, while still retaining both access  to the wider Ubuntu ecosystem, and compatibility with factory processes, so these machines could be ordered and arrive pre-installed and ready to go.

Imagine the sheer savings that would come with Licensing…for all those computer labs in secondary schools across the country.

Local Cultural Customization

On a less securocratic note, the idea of Ubuntu being tailored to local culture is very appealing. Every region or community has its news sites, it’s languages, it’s preferred apps and protocols and conventions. Can we expand the design and definition of the Ubuntu experience so that it adapts naturally to those norms in a way much richer and more meaningful than we can with Windows today?

What would the key areas of customisation be? Who would we trust to define them? How would we combine the diversity of our LoCo communities with the leadership of Ubuntu and the formality of government or regional authorities? Would we *want* to do that? It’s a very interesting topic, because the value of having officially recognised platforms is just about on a par with the value of having agile, crowdsourced and community-driven customisation. Nevertheless, could we find a model whereby governments or civil groups could underwrite the creation of recognised editions of Ubuntu that adapt themselves to local cultural norms? Would we get a better experience for human beings if we did that?

Local Skills Development

Many of the “national linux” efforts focus on building small teams of engineers and designers and translators that are tasked with bringing a local flavour to the technology or content in the distro. We have contributors from almost (perhaps actually?) every country, and we have Canonical members in nearly 40 countries. Could those two threads weave together in an interesting way? I’m often struck, when I meet those teams, at the awkwardness of teams that feel like start-ups, working inside government departments – it’s never seemed an ideal fit for either party.

What role should Universities play in this maze?

Sometimes the teams are very domain focused; one such local-Linux project is almost entirely staffed by teachers, because the genesis of the initiative was in school computing, and they have done well for that purpose.

But could we bring those two threads together? The Ubuntu-is-distributed-already and the local-teams-hired-to-focus-on-local-work threads seem highly complimentary; could we create teams which are skilled in distro development work, managed as part of the broader Ubuntu effort, but tasked with local priorities?

Yes we can!

Public Investments in Sector Leadership

Savvy governments are starting to ensure that research and development that they fund is made available under open licenses. Whether that’s open content licensing, or open source licensing, or RAND-Z terms, there’s a sensible view that information or tools paid for with public money should be accessible to that public on terms that let them innovate further or build businesses or do analysis of their own.

NITA – you are on top of this, right? Open Data, right? ….yeah?

Some of that investment turns out to be software. For example, governments might prioritise genomics, or automotive, or aerospace, and along the way they might commission chunks of software that are relevant. How could we make that software instantly available to anybody running the relevant local flavour of Ubuntu? Would we do the same with content? How do we do that without delivering Newspeak to the desktop? Are there existing bodies of software which could be open sourced, but they don’t have a natural home, they’re essentially stuck on people’s hard drives or tapes?

With the local talent available here, you bet on that, there’s BLOC sitting on hard drives in Kampala! Time to think about Sharing? yup!

Serious Food for Thought indeed, would my government consider using Free and Open Source Software?

I wonder…

2 thoughts on “Would Government of Uganda use Ubuntu?

    mmarion said:
    April 19, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    Speaking as one employed by the government, i wonder the same thing, u see because our government is not in the business of saving money, anything that is tagged “free” does not get an audience (experience). On a related note i was told that NITA is coming up with an Open Source Policy, whether that is still the case remains to be seen. I guess we need to pick lessons from other governments that have give it a go, it is the only way we will know that it works anyway, sitting and twiddling our thumbs will not work. Let us the ICT and civil society raise up and take up this “fight” with the government. Let us engage them. The NRM website was developed using drupal an open source product (they probably don’t know that) and since it is the ruling party we can start there. BTW to all my govt friends, we can still pay the millions if that’s what it takes but we will have better and efficient systems. Thanks for sharing this Brian, i will b sure to share it with my departmental colleagues. Very insightful piece

    mmarion said:
    April 19, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    Speaking as one employed by government… i wonder…anything tagged “FREE” does not even get an ear esp coz they are not in the business of saving money as we all know but maybe we need to “sell” it differently. Am informed that NITA is working on an Open Source Policy that is a step. I believe the ICT communities and civil societies need to rise up and take up this “fight” with the government, show them the advantages and preach the success stories of countries like Mike puts it ” it is not a one size fits all”, if our govt realizes that packages can be custom made to suite their specific needs we would have won half the battle. This is real food for thought, thanks Brian for sharing this, i will be sure to share it with my Department.

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