Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Plight of Ubuntu Users in Developing Countries

A landline telephoneImage via Wikipedia
Ubuntu is named after a philosophy focusing on people's allegiances and relations with each other. The Linux distribution was created by a South African to help the poor in South Africa and the whole of Africa. Sadly, most Africans are excluded from using Ubuntu because of a package choice Ubuntu made years ago.

Now, I'm not African or living in Africa: I'm a U.S. citizen living in . I don't have any first-hand experience with this situation other than the similarities between the state of rural African connectivity and rural Thai connectivity (which is surprisingly similar). I have, however, heard people around the world complaining.

Internet penetration in Africa is a paltry 6.7% of the population, compared to 27.7% outside of Africa. Moreover, Africans have very limited broadband options due to infrastructure.
Most African countries now have commercial DSL services, but their growth is limited by the poor geographical reach of the fixed-line networks. The rapid growth of Internet access has therefore been mostly confined to the capital cities so far. The introduction of mobile data and 3G broadband services is changing this, with the mobile networks bringing Internet access to many areas outside of the main cities for the first time.*
 Most Africans (both now and in the future) who have a choice of connectivity (many have no choice) have two connectivity options: dial-up and 3G data. Both of these methods use ppp to connect. Many parts of the world, including some developed countries, have similar options for connecting to the Internet.

Shockingly, Ubuntu dropped wvdial and gnome-ppp -- the command-line and GUI ppp connectors, respectively -- from the distro years ago. In order to connect to the Internet, most African users must therefore connect to the Internet (see the problem?), download the appropriate packages, and configure their dial-up or 3G connection. Just about anyone who has used Ubuntu knows that it's not particularly capable out of the box without Internet access. (Edit: Jono Bacon says that 3G connectivity is included out of the box. I don't doubt him, but all the howtos I have read used ppp. 3G must be a new addition to NetworkManager.)

So ... what was gained by dropping these two packages? Space on the CD.
What was the price of excluding most of Ubuntu's target market? 250K bytes of space on the CD. About 70% of the size of Gwibber, the Twitter client set to be included by default on 10.04.


  1. January 13, 2010 9:55 PM


    Actually we have the same issue in the UK for a lot of people, in our case many people use USB ADSL modems to connect, including me.

    This invloves downloading the (now free) firmware, and downloading a few other dependencies in order to connect.

    I now have a usb stick with all needed files on to make this easier.

    I should also note that if you installed a DVD distro, i.e Fedora, Mandriva, Opensuse, etc the DVD versions will contain the packages you need to connect..

    I would open a bugreport/brain storm on the Ubuntu site as it is crazy you can generally connnect eaiser via wireless now than through dial up.

    Good post !

  2. January 13, 2010 10:04 PM


    There are already a dozen or so reports on Brainstorm. The sad thing is that most of the requests for better dial-up are met with several comments like "I say let them have windows It is wasted time to make legacy hardware a big focus. While we're at it lets add increased support for zip disks! sorry but -1" or "Get broadband, luser!"

  3. January 13, 2010 10:14 PM

    Sadly Ubuntu and Linux in general is for those who can afford the commercial products. Because there was a time when I wanted to switch to Linux and I downloaded lots of distros. I discovered that I couldn't add apps without a fast internet connection. tried downloading apps at work and taking them home. U know what I faced "dependency hell". That's most pple in Africa are stuck with pirated Windows. By the way I am in Africa, Malawi.

  4. January 13, 2010 11:00 PM

    I use Ubuntu with a 3G broadband modem and didn't download any extra packages to configure my 3G connection, and I've been using it since Ubuntu 8.04.

  5. January 14, 2010 12:38 AM


    Sorry that I've been misinformed. All the 3G tutorials I've seen involve PPP.

  6. January 14, 2010 5:40 AM

    When I heard that they were dropping Dial up, I was OUTRAGED... to build a brand on Desmond Tutu
    's name -- Circle of Brothers/Friends, and then throw the third world, developing nations UNDER the BUS?

    A free OS, that runs on old hardware -- and turns it back into a typewriter w/ a TV attached.... "Circle of Friends" yeah -- If you have cable... too bad for the rest of you...

    Particularly w/ climate change... to deny low bandwidth people access to the net -- which is what computing is all about now -- While building your BRAND on an African word, and Desmond Tutu's International Good will... and then "F" You....

    Cultural Vultures at their worst. Disgusting. Buy an Ubuntu hoody, Fck Africa

    The flip side -- if they keep easy dial-up config, and then compete w/ iTunes - and gave 10% to Desmond.... They could be HERO'S in the Open Source Universe.

    Tim Bernyer Lee is BIG on internet in Africa -- Does Ubuntu plan to take the freely given genius and effort of HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of people, and use the Heart of Men like the Tutu, and the Dali Lama, and USE IT FOR THEIR OWN PERSONAL GAIN?

    I hope not.

  7. January 14, 2010 6:07 AM

    The people of Haiti certainly could use this right now during this tragedy.. Where is it??

  8. January 14, 2010 6:12 AM

    Developing nations such as Haiti right now need badly to have dial up modem access.. Please keep dial up modem access..

  9. January 14, 2010 6:16 AM

    ubuntu fail

  10. January 14, 2010 11:02 AM

    Ubuntu still ships pppconfig as far as I am aware which will solve this, and Network Manager provides 3G connections out of the box.

  11. January 14, 2010 12:00 PM

    Thanks to all who commented.

    Jono, I appreciate your input. I actually didn't know that NM had gotten decent 3G support recently. I've updated the article to reflect that. NetworkManager support for phones is stil about 50% on this page ( ), and those are almost all Nokia.

  12. January 14, 2010 12:03 PM

    even tho i do not profess to understand anything about software programming, i will still weigh in on this controversy armed with the little knowledge i have.
    in selecting the name "UBUNTU" which means "i am because you are" and limiting its' access to a privileged few seems like flagrant hypocrisy.
    we can do better than this, people.


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