Enabling Voice in the Remotest

Can FOSS drive a person's passion? Well that may be it since a man once driven by the passion for music is lead today by the far-reaching impacts of FOSS.

“I just had lots of spare time to explore and play with FOSS and now its whole new story for me, I believe FOSS is mostly driven by interest”, shares Francis Boon, an Oxford University graduate in chemistry working with Oxfam GB engaged currently as a Deputy International Support Manager, “At Oxfam, my remit is to ensure that all of our 150 field offices have a high level of support available” he quotes. He does this by coordinating standards across the 8 Regions of Oxfam's operations in conjunction with the Regional IS Managers and their IT Officers. “I embarked upon FOSS as a partime hobby but today it is part of my major ICT intervention efforts and I have worked in the remotest regions of Uganda training locals on FOSS!”

Francis has also engaged with Inveneo on certain occasions, an organization that brings Wi-Fi to Rural Areas in Africa deployed using FOSS. “My role at Inveneo has been developing solutions for enabling voice communications in the remotest regions of Uganda and have helped develop Inveneo's thin client voice terminal device. “I have really had a great experience with FOSS, it is a great technology, has good networking features and is very appropriate for widespread practical usage and you can only benefit from its real value when you get this technology on the ground in the most remotest or disadvantage regions of the world and with very small costs as compared to proprietary alternatives”.

Narrating his experiences from Inveneo while he was in Africa, Francis shared that, “Its really cost efficient to deploy FOSS but sometimes even the price of deploying such low-cost technology can also increase where there is less or no access to power. Making available alternate forms of access to power like solar battery or bicycle generated power can increase costs of the total FOSS solution in focus”.

On a question about the One Laptop Per Child OLPC project, Francis said OLPC can only be successful where it is brought in to complement existing infrastructure, “If a certain region does not have any access to the Internet for miles and miles, having OLPC there would be of lesser value to anyone.”

Regarding alternative ways to promote FOSS by Donor agencies and International NGOs Francis believes that, “From an observation point of view, a major percentage of such organizations still and will have little FOSS focus or implementations since they are receiving huge software donations by Proprietary Software giants like Microsoft and Cisco. Why? Companies like these have a strong focus on developing and sustaining markets in the developing-world countries and they will mostly tend to maintain their interest by donating their software products so that they can continuously be used to hook on people to their products even in countries where the cost of licensing has always been more than their incomes.”

Despite such efforts by the proprietary corporates, Francis optimistically believes that there still are limits to how much such a practice may survive since FOSS being driven by interest encourages people that have a desire to use technology and alternative ways will always be explored to use it opposed to proprietary software, its only a matter of realizing the impact of FOSS”. Supporting his perspective, Francis said that, “If one uses FOSS in a corporate or business environment, they first save costs and that cost can be directed towards scaling up an IT project, tailoring solutions according to local needs and strengthening other areas that may otherwise be deprived due to budgetary constraints. For example, such savings can strengthen Human Resource and increase the potential scope of Trainings”.

Francis also carried out a demonstration of the voice terminal client he had developed for Inveneo at Asia Source and believes its time to bring Inveneo FOSS and Wi-Fi access solutions to South East Asia for common benefit.

author: Fouad Bajwa

* Article is also available at:"http://wiki.asiasource2.iosn.net/index.php/Interviews:Francis_Boon"