Notes from my talk at ICT association of Malawi


Who I am , Where I work

Free and Open Source Software in Malawi


Practical Examples

Definition of Open Source? Forget definitions, I am going to tell you why open source is important to your life.

Open Source software = Community

Open source software is superior to other forms of software because of the communities that are available to those that use it.

I will be repeating this theme. It is about the community.

Some practical examples of Open Source software.

Firefox is a web browser. It is better than Internet Explorer. Sure it has tabbed windows, and a great search box, and a lot of other things that have already been added to the next version of internet explorer. It is free - which is great - but so is Internet Explorer. Why use it then? Community!!

Because Firefox is free, and because all of the source code is available, it is very easy to customize firefox. A huge community of software developers have come together to create extensions, which make the browser do all sorts of things the original author never dreamed of.

This means simple things like displaying the time from different cities around the world in your browser, or controlling your mp3 player from inside your browser.

But it also means powerful things. The firefox community has developed an extension called adblock and adblock updater which automatically removes advertisements from just about every web page on the interent. When bandwidth is a precious thing, like here in Malawi you do not want to be wasting your time downloading ads. Thanks to the Firefox community, web pages can load in just a fraction of the time they otherwise would have.

I saved the best extension for last. It is best because it illustrates just how accessible these communities are. Soyapi Mumba is a software developer here in Lilongwe. He developed an extension called SearchWith. With it, you can select select text on any web page and instantly send that text as a query to google, or look for an entry on wikipedia, or a number of other things as well. It was created here in Malawi, and it has been downloaded over 10,000 times. Soyapi's extension proves that you don't need to work for Microsoft, or live in Europe to create software that will change the world.

Perhaps you have wondered why anybody would create software and give it away for free? Well now you can ask Soyapi. My guess he will tell you that it was fun, he learned a lot, and he met some interesting people in the process.

I will briefly list some other software titles that you might be interested looking into:

OpenOffice. Free Office software. Does everything that MS Office does and does it better:

Mysql. Sqlite. PostgreSQL.

I haven't mentioned the L word. Well I am mentioning it now.
Ubuntu Linux is mature, easy to use, and wonderful. Try it, you will like it. At Baobab, we all use Linux, everyday for just about everything we do, and we love it.

Wordpress is an open source blogging tool. It makes it easy to create beautitful websites.

You want another definition? Open Source = opportunity.

Once upon a time there was a country. People had been using computers in that country for some time, but they were mostly something used by various companies and organizations to do business related tasks. Some people in that country used the internet, but it was mostly something used to forward jokes to their friends. One day, some very clever people realized that the internet could be used for more things than had ever been imagined. These clever people started creating websites, some good ones, some bad ones. Many of these people got very very rich.

Jayant Kumar Gandhi, a former software engineer in New Delhi, is one of hundreds of thousands around the world on Google's shadow payroll.

In his spare time, Mr. Gandhi runs a free computer help website and recently began running ads by Google on his homepage as part of Google Adsense, a program that pays website publishers for advertising space. When visitors click on the ads on Gandhi's site, Google makes a small profit from the advertiser, and in turn, pays a percentage of that profit to Gandhi.

Such clicks can translate into pennies - or dollars - a day for a Web publisher. "I had no intentions of using it for more than a week," Gandhi says. "I didn't believe the stories that Adsense paid decent money. I ignored them as a marketing gimmick."

But Gandhi's Adsense profits have exceeded his wildest dreams. He now earns about $1,000 a month from the program, the same salary he previously earned as a software engineer. His new income has allowed him to leave his job and return to school. "Today I am able to sponsor my higher studies because of Adsense," he says.

There is hardly any local content about Malawi on the internet. This is a tremendous opportunity. I lived in the United States when that country discovered there wasn't much local content available on the internet. It was an exciting time. I had friends who dropped out of university because they were already millionaires. Malawi has not yet had its internet boom, but when it does people will become overnight millionaires. I don't hear anybody thinking about how the internet can be leveraged in Malawi.

Talk about Kumbali Web Lodge website. Talk about map of Lilongwe.

For the past 5 years of my professional career I have been using open source software to make my living. Your bosses like to save money. People like to help each other. Companies will pay you to develop open source software. If one of my employees saved the company 1 million kwacha by using Linux for the company mail server, he would be the one getting a raise and a promotion. I don't doubt your business is any different.

Repeat Open Source is community.

Talk more about community. Mailing lists, IRC.


Kumbali Lodge in the news

So here in Malawi, Madonna is staying at Kumbali Lodge - the same Kumbali Lodge whose website ( I put together a few years ago! Madonna is stirring up all sorts of news with plans to adopt,
and save Malawi, yadda yadda yadda. But the big news is that the website I built, photos and all are popping up all over the net - USA Today, Hello Magazine. Not bad!

Madonna in Malawi

Madonna arrived in Malawi yesterday. In their never ending quest for purpose, celebrities (Brad, Ewan, Angelina) seem to be discovering that sex, drugs and rock and roll only take you so far. Instead a deep lasting purpose can be eked out by serving others.

Check out Madonna's Malawi web site. It has some really beautiful pictures of Malawi and the children here.