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FOSS4G2008 coming to the Southern Tip August 28, 2007

Posted by grimmeister in Geoinformatics.

A couple of weeks ago, South Africa was awarded the Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial Conference for 2008. It will be hosted in Cape Town in September. This is really good news and, I feel, a bold decision from OSGEO. I believe, for the first time, they will be moving the conference away from the core developer community of FOSS4G.

However, the timing is great to bring it to SA because of rapidly increasing interest and investment in FOSS, driven by stated government policy to prioritise its usage. There seem to be three drivers for this: a perception of reduced cost; the importance of FOSS in bridging the ‘Digital Divide’; and FOSS’s role in increasing innovation and ICT literacy.

To me, the latter two are the themes that will enliven FOSS4G2008 in Cape Town, though there will without a doubt be much carping about costs. South Africa has a little bit of a tradition of innovation in the geoinformatics/ GIS space – off the top of my head I can point to Danie Krige of kriging fame, PlanetGIS and the ReGIS software, parts of which were later incorporated into Autodesk’s products. It would be interesting to know of other GI innovaters/innovations originating from SA.

The general reality on the ground in SA is the strong dominance of ESRI. This in and of itself is not a *bad thing* exactly, as the ESRI software is pretty darn good, but one effect has been the creation of a nation of ‘ArcView jockeys’, who know what buttons to press without necessarily understanding anything of what is happening under the hood. With exceptions, of course, it is really a mentality of “let ESRI understand what needs to be done and we will just buy the software/extension/script/service pack”. Convenient, yes; innovative, no; expensive, certainly – the dollar stretches a long way in SA. Well, hopefully FOSS4G2008 should help to perk up a few minds locally to the ocean of potential lying in the FOSS4G stacks.

As for the FOSS4G2008 overseas punters , well Cape Town is really rather nice. The effect of such a statement on a Capetonian is a bit like the effect of telling a Vancouverite the same thing. Cue spluttering indignation… Whatever. There will certainly be some interesting sights, sounds and experiences to be enjoyed. I hope it turns out to be a very hands-on, fun and enriching conference.




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