The Spanish city of Barcelona just announced a few days ago (https://www.itwire.com/open-source/81377-barcelona-plans-move-to-open-source-software.html) that it has successfully completed a pilot project of moving 1,000 desktops of municipality employees from Microsoft Windows and MS Office to free/open-source alternatives, Ubuntu Linux (www.ubuntu.com/desktop) and LibreOffice (www.libreoffice.org).
The question is why countries like Bangladesh, which are much less wealthy than Spain, are not making similar moves to replace expensive Microsoft software with free/open-source alternatives.
The simple fact is that there is almost no awareness of the real cost of Microsoft software in Bangladesh, as software piracy is so commonplace. Every market has shops stocking pirated MS Windows/MS Office DVDs; so the public can be forgiven for thinking that these are practically free of cost.
However, a simple web search would reveal that Linux can save about $100 for each MS Windows license, and LibreOffice can save $200 for each MS Office license on every computer. So, altogether, free/open-source software saves at least $300 per computer.
The likely final savings will be many times this if we include the cost of frequently-pirated Adobe Photoshop at an additional $20 per month, or $1,000 per computer over the course of four years of use.
Fortunately, there is a free/open-source Photoshop alternative called Gimp (www.gimp.org). The actual cost of pirated software prevalent throughout Bangladesh is thus over $1,300 or Tk100,000 per computer, or around two or three times the hardware cost. This would be a prohibitive expense if people actually had to pay it.
Now that Bangladesh is becoming a middle-income country, our widespread software piracy is unlikely to be permitted for much longer. Bangladeshi law already makes software piracy illegal.
Enforcement of the law has been overlooked until now, but will not continue forever. Especially with Bangladesh continuously lobbying US trade authorities for lower duties and tariffs for the exports of its ready-made garment factories, it is only a matter of time before American companies, such as Microsoft, insist that their intellectual property rights be enforced as a prerequisite for better trade access.
The number of computers running free/open-source software in these organisations already totals over 1,000. Other big companies have also come to me for advice on free software migration
Multi-national companies like Microsoft and Adobe generally tolerate violations of their intellectual property rights in poor countries for the simple reason that policing software piracy through courts is expensive. Unless a country is wealthy enough to provide significant license revenue, it’s not worth pursuing for software license fees.
However, as Bangladesh becomes wealthier, it becomes more attractive for multi-national international property rights holders like Microsoft to pursue court cases against software piracy.
Such lawsuits against big companies which pirate software is definitely coming. This is why some organisations like Kazi Farms Group, the Dhaka Tribune newspaper, Deepto TV, and Central Womens University have already replaced all pirated software like MS Windows, MS Office, and Photoshop with Linux, LibreOffice, and Gimp.
The number of computers running free/open-source software in these organisations already totals over 1,000. Other big companies have also come to me for advice on free software migration, and are currently in the process of migrating an additional 20,000 desktops to Linux, LibreOffice, and Gimp to avoid software piracy lawsuits.
There is actually only one big barrier to free/open-source software adoption in Bangladesh; namely lack of awareness of the capabilities of LibreOffice, Gimp, and Linux.
In the absence of any real exposure to these free/open-source softwares, users are apprehensive that it will be difficult for them to abandon the MS and Adobe software that they have used for years.
This is actually not an issue. Our migration experience so far has shown that it takes the average user only 15-20 minutes to learn how to use LibreOffice/Linux, as these have been designed to be user-friendly and are very similar to their proprietary equivalents from Microsoft.
One hopes that Bangladesh will now take steps to move to free/open-source software, just as Barcelona has.
Zeeshan Hasan is a director of Kazi Media, the company behind Deepto TV. He is also the managing director of Sysnova.