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Download The Codebreakers from APDIP website (in OGG, WMV and M4V)

Software for Development: Is Free/Open Source Software the Answer?

UNDP APDIP FOSS E-primer series

International Open Source Network (IOSN)

Home > News 10 August 2006
Major FOSS documentary now available from TVEAP

Images from The Codebreakers

TVE Asia Pacific has recently acquired the distribution rights to a major global documentary film on free and open source software (FOSS).

Titled The Codebreakers, the documentary investigates how developing countries are using FOSS applications for solving real world problems in sectors such as agriculture, education, healthcare, nature conservation and disaster management.

By adding The Codebreakers to its global catalog of development films, TVE Asia Pacific is making this documentary available to broadcast, civil society and educational users in the world’s largest region.


“Somebody said recently that a modern operating system is far more complicated in terms of the number of components it’s got and the number of interactions between them than say a jumbo jet…and what we are finding is that, this may be perhaps the real significance of Open Source is that these are things now that are so complicated that even vast smart intelligent well resourced software companies like Microsoft are buckling under the strain…and my guess is that what we may find in relation to Open Source is that for many kinds of complex software products Open Source is the best way to do it.”
- Dr John Naughton, new media columnist for The Observer, UK, interviewed on The Codebreakers

The film’s scope is truly global: case studies have come from Africa, Asia Pacific and Latin America – as well as Europe.

The film also interviews a number of key persons in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector. This includes Richard Stallman, a founder of the Free Software Movement, Nicholas Negroponte, Director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab and Kenneth Cukier, IT Correspondent of The Economist magazine. IT industry leaders from global companies such as Hewlett Packard, IBM, Intel, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems are also featured.

The Codebreakers was originally shown on BBC World as a two-part documentary in May 2006. It was produced by One Planet Pictures and and commissioned by the UNDP Asia Pacific Development Information Programme (UNDP-APDIP).

UNDP Asia Pacific Development Information Programme (UNDP-APDIP)International Open Source NetworkInternational Development Research Centre (IDRC)UNESCO

Kofi Annan and Nicholas Negroponte launching One Hundred Dollar Laptop in November 2005Its production was co-sponsored by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada, UNESCO and the UNDP’s International Open Source Network.

Free and Open Source Software contains ‘codes’ that can be used, copied, studied, modified and redistributed without restriction. These freedoms that are for all – developers and users – are highly significant to the developing world as FOSS increases access, ownership and control of information and communication technologies.

“One can consider Open source software a lot like generic drugs, the analogy fits,” IT writer Kenneth Cukier is quoted in the film as saying. “In the case of Open Source software, it’s a lot less expensive and for that reason, it’s essentially the same product it does the same thing on a computer -- but it costs less.”

The adoption of FOSS presents opportunities for industry and capacity development, software piracy reduction, and localization and customization for diverse cultural and development needs.

The film briefly traces the origins and evolution of FOSS over two decades. Highlights:
In 1984, Richard Stallman, one of the original computer whiz kids, questioned  the commercial software companies actions and started what he called the Free Software Movement. He also defined the four freedoms of software.
In 1991, a 21-year-old Finnish computer programmer, Linus Torvalds, developed the core of the FOSS operating system - and called it Linux. This has become the bedrock on which FOSS advocates have built their movement.

In spite of its political appeal to advocates and activists, a vast majority of computer users still don’t realize the fundamental difference between proprietary and open source software. This is indicated in a random vox pop style mini-survey where many respondents simply had not heard of FOSS.

The film notes: “Free Open Source Software may not be known by name but indirectly, anyone who sends an email or uses the Web is using Open Source all the time as the ‘gears’ of the Internet – web servers, mail transports and FTP servers – are nearly all open source.”

Images from The Codebreakers
After looking at many case studies from different sectors and countries, the film lists a a number of reasons why FOSS may make life easier for the digitally deprived:
There are no up front costs and therefore no need to be tempted by pirated software;
Geeks and non-geeks can create virtual communities to invent new software;
Service charges can be the same or steeper than for proprietary software, but in the developing world where skilled labour is relatively cheap that is less of a problem; and
The adaptability of the software also means the programme can be written in local languages, the vast majority of which are not are not catered for in off-the –shelf software

"Does that mean Foss will be the bridge across the digital divide?” the film asks as it concludes, and poses the answer: “No-one can say for certain. But what is certain is that the evangelists for free and open source software will not stop singing its praises.”

The Codebreakers
Duration: 40 minutes
Language: English
Countries filmed in: Brazil, Ecuador (Galapagos Islands), India, Malaysia, Namibia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Tunisia
Director: Maximillian Jacobson – Gonzalez
Executive Producer: Robert Lamb
Produced by: One Planet Pictures, UK together with

The Codebreakers is available under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 license. To view a copy of this license, visit

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