Linux in areas of low bandwidth

I’ve been meaning to complain about this for a while.

One of the things I do here is help in linux outreach. Getting people to at least consider the use of open source software in their daily work.  I end up helping quite a few people install linux on their machines. Usually Kubuntu, because i am partial to that and make sure I have an ISO of the latest release lying around, but also other distributions. In the office I’d say the biggest distributions are Ubuntu, Debian, Mandriva, CentOS and SUSE.

Back on course anyway, the biggest issue with installing Ubuntu is the fact that you need a fairly substantial amount of internet access to create a proper installation. In order to get basic mp3 support, DVD support, restricted codecs, firefox, Java, flash etc. I need access to a fairly fast internet connection. And that’s assuming that the default packages that come with kubuntu are the ones I(or whoever I am helping install linux) happen to be looking for. Now, the last group of people I introduced linux to are all grad students from the newly formed School of Nuclear and Allied Sciences(don’t panic, they are IAEA funded. We aren’t creating the bomb or anything) and so their software needs tend towards open source scientific and engineering software. And, like most parts of Ghana, bandwidth is minimal and spotty where available. Hence, once linux is installed, there becomes a definite need for localized repositories with all the packages they need on them.

By localized I don’t mean ‘on a server in the same country’ although that would be a start. Imean something more along the lines of a CD/DVD/External hard drive set up as a package repository. Currently I create custom repositories myself following this guide by another Linux Accra member. I’d love for there to be a faster way to do this though. Maybe I should look into creating a tool to automate the custom repository creation. Or does one exist already?
I just wish there was some  awareness on the part of the people who are trying to promote open source in developing countries that bandwidth can be a huge issue here and can affect how ‘free’ something is vs. readily available pirated software.


10 Comments on “Linux in areas of low bandwidth”

  1. nii adom says:

    Having a package repository on CD/DVD really doesn’t make much sense past the installation – simply because of security updates and general updates. maybe an external drive that is connected to an networked computer for updates might work better.
    I think mirroring in country is the way to go. One sync over the expensive international lines and everyone else syncs locally, cheaply and eventually with better bandwidth. I know that this depends on the work of Afrispa, Gispa and the likes and I look forward to the day when there is a 100% peering between local ISPs.

  2. kwasi says:

    Security updates matter more when you actually have a machine that spends time on the internet, and general updates can be sent out on new repository media say, every 6 months?

    I agree that in country mirrors are the preferred solution but there are a few problems with it.

    1. The variability of power and internet access in Ghana is still a lot worse than it should be. Its one of the reasons almost noone hosts in Ghana

    2. The cost of internet access: Even dialup is out of the reach of a lot of Ghanaians, let alone broadband. While the prices are coming down they are still too high. Hence, most of the people we are introducing linux to either have no net access or really low bandwidth.

    3. At the moment, Gispa and Afrispa aren’t where we need them to be. And even when they are, the other two factors undermine their usefulness

    When these issues get fixed it’ll solve the need for portable repositories. Up until then though, any attempt to spread awareness about linux, especially outside Accra, will need other solutions.

  3. odzangba says:

    I’m glad my how-to was helpful, Kwasi, but I’m even more glad that you are spreading the word. We need more awareness about linux in Ghana.

    I won’t go into the shameful bandwidth situation we have here in Ghana. I’m more inclined to take a hands on approach… get these media in as many hands as possible. I have such a DVD in my bag everywhere I go (plus copies of ubuntu, edubuntu and kubuntu). I’ve given out copies to several people and I think the message is catching on.

  4. marcus says:

    I don’t have any advise on this, as I’m working through getting a basic linux setup myself. But I wanted to say I love reading your blog, all the way back to when you were on blogger. We need more black geek bloggers. Hope your week goes well. ttyl

  5. […] Ramblings of an African Geek raises very important issues about Internet bandwidth, open-source software and software piracy in Ghana in Linux in areas of low bandwidth: I’ve been meaning to complain about this for a while. […]

  6. Nell says:

    Your blog is quite interesting, and I was delighted to come across it. It is very nice to find someone in Ghana committed to open source. I agree thoroughly with your December comment about Telecom. We have encountered enormous frustration dealing with Telecom. These are some information sites I’ve been keeping on setting up rural wifi access. I don’t know if these would be of use to you, but I thought I’d pass them on in case you, or someone you know, can use them. You quite likely already know about them, and how useful they may be, or may not be, but just in case, here they are:
    Green Wifi – The Solar Wi-Fi Grid Project A New Way to Serve NGOs and Remote Communities with Technology

  7. kwasi says:

    Thanks Nell, Those are interesting links.

    With luck, Ghana Telecom will get better

  8. keLz says:

    Yeah, like every problem in Ghana the origin spans across a large number of sectors so the cry stays on. But am very happy to see my fellow brothers eagerly patronising Open Source tools. I’ve tried and managed to get a few people to install Linux on the ir systems and they seem enthused to learn the problem with the repositories which was mentioned earlier is a rather big issue but sounds impractical to the average Ghanaian who doesn’t have enuf knowledge about linux or the Open source world. However, I’m working on a project which would aid me to bring a repository here in Ghana (I’m in Accra). However, it is likely it wld be an rpm repository since I’m biased to Fedora & Blag. Anyway, I promise to relay more info when this is completed and would give u the appropriate links when this comes to fruition.

  9. Bennett says:

    ok, now i like all the talk about linux and spreading the word. but has anybody stop to ask why lot of people are not looking the linux way.

    first, i think it because we as Ghanaians have a problem when i comes to change what we should do is to have a group that is if there is any, who will come out with Ghanaian themes that mimic windows so people will find it much more appealing and also enough resources that will aid a first time user. Again the emphasis should be on how fast,stable and virus free it Lubuntu_9_10_Lynxis.

    There should also be access to softwares like crossweave and win4lin. that i believe will be a start.

    finally, why is it so difficult to get a linux programmer here in Ghana. pls let me know if you know anyone that good.

  10. kinkelson says:

    Hello my fellow Techies, like I said earlier the move to a more Open world, and in effect an open Ghana is rather gradual but at least on course. As I said earlier, I’m in the process of setting up an rpm-based repo here in Accra. More and more people in my neighborhood have installed Linux but lack a decent internet speed. We’ve also established a site that would hopefully bring more Linux lovers and tech users to a single location to help us take on more prolific tasks and projects. Join and share your knowledge.

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