South Africa now has its own variant of Linux, the open source operating system that is becoming a serious challenger to Microsoft: it is Impi, developed over a period of two years and now launched by open source grouping The Impi League.
Ross Addis, technology consultant at MIP Holdings, chairman of the Gauteng Linux User Group, and the driving force behind the new Unix variant, or distribution, says the inspiration for Impi came from the ideal of providing an integrated, multilingual, professional and innovative open source solution to the local market.
The development is in line with the government's adoption of open source computing in South Africa, which helps to develop and keep IT skills and expenditure within our borders (www.oss.gov.za).
"Impi is a highly stable, virus-free, cost-effective business operating system. It is not about simply releasing a Linux distribution we can call our own; it will also encourage local innovation and spur growth in IT skills, especially in the growing open source segment of the market," says Addis.
"Impi is a gift to South Africa from the open source community. As it is pure open source software, anyone can download it for free, use it, modify it and do with it as they please, as long as they comply with the underlying licensing conditions."
Based on the Debian version of Linux, the distribution is available at www.impi.org.za; plans are in progress to provide a box set of the software in the near future.
The distribution's first act in support of local innovation sees Cubit, an open source financial application developed in South Africa (www.cubit.co.za), bundled with Impi. As the product is released under an open source licence, the source code is available with the application and users are allowed to modify it to suit their specific needs.
Addis says the current release of Cubit matches the functionality of a proprietary application such as Accpac, but at a far lower price tag, as the product is free of charge. Future plans can be gleaned on the Cubit website.
Impi is also bundled with core business applications, including Mozilla (www.mozilla.org) for e-mail and Web browser, and OpenOffice, a full office suite (www.openoffice.org) including word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software. OpenOffice can open and save files in existing Microsoft Office formats, along with its own file formats.
"Another first for Impi will be its support," Addis says. "This is the first Linux distribution to be released locally with a 24-hour support line. However, in true open source tradition, most other Linux distributions will be supported, not only Impi Linux. Calls will be charged by the minute." (See www.impi.org.za/support/)
To tailor the operating system further to local requirements, work will begin on including South Africa's 10 other official languages, using translations carried out by the Translate.org.za project, which is sponsored by the Shuttleworth Foundation.
After that is complete, The Impi League plans to take Impi into the rest of Africa, localising it for each language and culture as they discover the benefits of open source computing.
"To date, all the work done on customising the distribution and all the money spent has remained within the borders of South Africa," states Addis. "We intend to follow this pattern with all future development and to initiate skills transfer programmes to raise local technical capabilities. Our goal will also be to assist in educating local corporations on what Linux is and the real benefits of open source software - as opposed to the FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) being spread by proprietary software vendors.
"The Linux and open source movement is only beginning to take shape in Africa," Addis concludes. "The development and release of Impi proves we have the ability to stand our ground when it comes to IT and we certainly don't have to play second fiddle to anyone else."
A number of people and companies have thrown their weight behind the project: Francis Viviers was the primary creator of Impi; and Cubit, MIP Holdings and Internet Solutions have been instrumental in providing resources and infrastructure.
About the Impi League
The Impi League, is a group of individuals, companies, LUGS and associations who have interests in getting South Africa its first Linux distribution as well as nurturing the wide-spread adoption of open source software in Africa.
Ross Addis, The Impi League, 082 493 7510, firstname.lastname@example.org
Karen Breytenbach, FHC Strategic Communications, (011) 608 1228 email@example.com"