Mark Shuttleworth knows how to build communities and he knows how to make money. It turns out the two go hand in hand.
As he suggests in this article, the traditional software world forces customers and the countries that give them citizenship into a consumer, dependent status. Open source does the opposite, ennobling and enabling these same users. The result? Economic development:
...[T]he goal for any country, including South Africa, should be sustainable economic growth, part of which is derived from the contribution made from a technology perspective. "In this context it is wealth creation that matters, since the former will potentially generate high-quality jobs," [Mark Shuttleworth] adds.
"The strategies proposed should be seen in the context of the transfer of economic power from the west to the east that is underway, and the emphasis on a strong and effective regulatory structure, but one that does not stifle development, i.e. legislation concerning open standards, followed by regulatory competition, as has been the case with cellular telephony in many countries," he notes....
Shuttleworth feels that skills development is the current number one constraint in turning software into value, since the biggest software technology shift that has been seen is the move from licensing to the provision of services associated with the solutions.
Open source is for countries and companies that want to own their future. Proprietary software is for those who want paternalistic vendors that "always know best." An oversimplification, and an incorrect one, you say? Perhaps, though it's hard to get past the reality that proprietary software puts customers in a disadvantaged, dependent status vis-a-vis their vendors.
Those software users can argue that they aren't worried about being dependent, as I might argue with many of the applications I use on my desktop. For certain things (music, documents, etc.) I care very much that they be open source and open standards, and so I either use open-source programs or convert my files into open formats. But for others, I just don't care.
But for a country to build its software economy on someone else's IP is irresponsible and a recipe for long-term dependence. No country should suffocate its future on short-term ease.
Open source offers a way to build a software economy from the outside in, taking outside code and making it fit the requirements within one's country. Proprietary software is a way of shipping cash to a foreign vendor, with no backup plan beyond support and maintenance. Open source doesn't mean a country/company can't buy from outside, foreign vendors. But it does mean that whatever skills are developed on the open-source software will be useful even if one drops the vendor, because one can disintermediate the vendor from the software purchasing equation.
Mark is right. South Africa and other nations should import (and export) open source, such that they can develop their own software economies. It's the best long-term sustainable plan.