New magazine to boost open-source revolution

A few years ago, when you mentioned open-source software, most people in South Africa, aside from Slashdot readers—probably the world’s most savviest technology community—would have had no idea of what you were talking about.

Open source refers to any software whose code is freely available for users to look at and modify. Linux is the best-known example; others include Apache, the dominant software for servers that dish out corporate web pages.

Due in part to the high-profile launch of Mark Shuttleworth’s new Ubuntu operating system, more and more ordinary computer users are realising that there is life after Windows. To help them on their way, a new magazine, Tectonic, will be launched in March.

The new magazine is the brainchild of Alastair Otter, who also runs the Tectonic website.

Why a magazine?

“I have always dreamed about starting a print magazine and we thought, now is the time.
We hope it will make our business profitable,” Otter told the Mail & Guardian Online on Wednesday.

“There is a revolution going on. I think open source is the most important development in the IT [information technology] sector since the internet,” said Otter.

“Open source is changing the way companies in propriety software [paid-for software] are doing business. It allows us to develop software within Africa and programs that cater for our needs. Now we don’t have to go overseas and spend a lot of money on propriety software.”

The magazine will not just preach to the converted. It is also aimed at students, the government and bright-eyed new users.

“The open-source community will have the internet as their main platform for their forums, but with our magazine we want to bring the communities together and cater for all of them.

“We want to stick to the open-source philosophy, which means that we want to enable people to learn new skills and techniques. We want people to learn about open source,” said Otter.

“I picture a magazine that has information for new users of open-source software on the first few pages, and interesting features for experts and professionals towards the end. We will not be too intimidating, though.

“The developer market in South Africa is quite big and a lot of local creators of software are looking into open source. We want to provide these experts with an informative magazine.”

Can it make money?

“Our website has been online for four years and we have grown substantially since the start. We now have about 20 000 readers a month.

“Over the past few months, we have seen more and more traffic on the website. We think there is a market for a magazine on open-source software.

“My partner and I have jobs on the side. As soon as the magazine becomes successful, I will drop everything else,” said Otter.

“I do not think the magazine will take away readers from our website. I think it will rather draw more online readers. The magazine will strengthen our brand.

“It is very hard to be sustainable as a website. Local advertisers are still reluctant and it is hard to generate enough revenue in order to keep the business going. I still don’t get paid for the work I do,” Otter said.

First issue

The first issue’s cover story is about Shuttleworth’s Ubuntu project.

“What is amazing about Ubuntu is that Shuttleworth is paying the best open-source developers in the world, who have designed an operating system that is very capable and distributed freely around the globe. “He is putting so much money and knowledge back into the community.

“It is very impressive to see what the Shuttleworth Foundation is doing with open-source software in the Eastern Cape. He is stimulating education in science and mathematics through the use of open-source software.

“Projects like these are what open source is all about, and we want to write about that. But it is not just Shuttleworth. There are a lot of smaller projects that are very meaningful for [the] education and development of South Africa and Africa and we also pay attention to them. 

“For example, take Translate.org.za. These developers have translated operating systems and programs into local languages. They have also developed a translation tool that can be applied to other open-source software.

“This allows South Africans to use software they need without buying expensive translations. And the big overseas companies would probably never develop these translations because it is too expensive and there is not enough profit gained from them.

Tectonic magazine will cost R15 and will initially only be available through subscription.

“The first edition will consist of around 2 000 copies, but we expect this to rise in the future.

To subscribe to Tectonic magazine visit Tectonics.co.za/mag/

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