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Obstacles

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Obstacles


Lack of Awareness

This is probably the most significant factor hindering FOSS adoption in Egypt.

FOSS is quite simply not visible. End users do not know that there is such a thing as Mozilla/Firegoat. It gets worse; the concept of Internet Explorer as an independent entity which has alternatives is rare. This kind of misconception is not endemic to Egypt, but it is exacerbated by the almost absolute platform monoculture.

Similarly, there is the inability to separate the operating system from the physical hardware conceptually. Windows is the computer. This leads to charming notions such as Linux being something you install over windows.

Part of what has been generating awareness of FOSS as a viable alternative in Europe and North America has been the support of large companies, most notably IBM with their interesting Linux marketing ploys. This is not conducted here in Egypt, partially because the awareness problem extends into these companies. It is perhaps also felt that it is not worth pushing Linux in Egypt because the market is not there. Chicken and egg.

People, additionally, are deluded into thinking that what they have works. If the computer crashes, this is because computers crash and not because the OS is buggy. If Outlook is busy redistributing viruses, this is the virus author's fault and not the e-mail client architecture. If Exchange is a beast to set up, this is because e-mail servers are beasts.

People are not aware they have a choice because the alternative is not visible.

There is also a severe lack of awareness regarding the importance of the code being open.


Misconceptions

Five primary misconceptions can be identified. Several of them are not specific to Egypt, but are mentioned nonetheless since they are factors.

They are, in no particular order:

  1. Free Means Worthless: This misconception exists at pretty much all levels from end user to government and enterprise.It is closely related to `what's the catch' syndrome.
  2. Linux is Difficult
  3. The Liability Myth: This might not be too much of an issue outside of true enterprise-class entities due to piracy. One does not expect liability coverage with pirated software.
  4. Linux Arabic Support is Poor: This is the most optimism-inspiring misconception, since it implies that the person/entity has either tried linux or knows someone who has. In either case, the misconception implies that the awareness deficiency here is not that severe.
  5. The Alternative is Free: Piracy is rampant in Egypt and not only at the end user level. Effectively, this levels the playing field price-wise with FOSS. The price tag of FOSS is a key selling point; Joe Average is easier to motivate financially than ideologically.


Poor Availability

The relative ease or difficulty of obtaining FOSS is a factor not only in deployment and adoption, but in visibility also. Let us assume that Linux is the most frequently sought after FOSS product.

Linux can be gotten either in physical media or through an internet download.

Physical media requires distribution points and these exist but are sparse and ill-advertised. There are perhaps two or three shops carrying Linux, but these are exceptions. The LUG maintains a distributors' list; this is a list of volunteers in various locations with contact information whom you can get in touch with to obtain copies of linux. Needless to say, even if this list were operating smoothly (it isn't) it is hardly a solution to the availability issue.

Internet downloads are not a solution in a country where telephone lines are not yet ubiquitous and where DSL is still in its infancy. One does not download the latest three-CD Mandrake distribution over dial-up.

See section sub:Improving-Access for a proposed solution.


Lack of Requisite Infrastructure

Non-end user adoption of FOSS requires several things which don't exist.

The pool of available FOSS-skilled labor is too small3. If an enterprise is aware of, for example, the plentitude of excellent FOSS enterprise and business-class software and wishes to deploy one such item, it will most likely not be able to find someone to deploy and run such a thing. Proposed longer-term remedies are in section sub:Infrastructure-Building.

Additionally, there is no institution-backed liability coverage for FOSS, or it is not visible enough. The business will want a supplier to sue when the database eats all the historical data, and you do not get this when you download and install postgresql, for example. Of course, part of this is related to the business overestimating the extent to which existing software suppliers are willing to assume liability (covered in section sub:The-Liability-Myth).


Inability to Perceive Viable FOSS Business Models

This is primarily an issue at the government level and the development-oriented business. There is a strong impetus to export at the governmental level, and domestic software output is not exempt from this; there is the perception that FOSS means zero price, which is not true. One effect of the anticipated dominance of FOSS is the commodification of software which, when taken at face value, works against government efforts to boost revenue from software exports. In reality, this is far from certain; `exported software' could translate to programming tasks outsourced to Egypt which would make the development task an in-house affair and thus exempt from the GPL requirement for redistribution of code. In any case, this point is likely to be a complicated one to tackle.



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