Monday, 31 December 2012

2012 was simply amazing...

I entered the year 2012 as a random web and software developer. As usual i was still struggling to blend my life as a second year student of Methodist University College Ghana and my life as the founder of a software development start-up Oasis Websoft.   Oasis WebSoft was developed with the idea to provide web and software solutions here in Ghana and beyond. It was almost three months since I had  left my job as the lead software developer @ 9ja Mini, a start-up by a good Nigerian friend of mine which  aims to bring all social chat apps to one platform via a mobile and web app.This is a small documentary we shot during one of our late night hackerthon at 9ja Mini   -
     My year started off with the official launch of Anansi web browser which i developed with two of my good friends namely Aaron and Gyanta.The beta version of the Anansi web browser became a quick success and we have since had 3,678 downloads on softpedia  In 2013 we will be releasing the full version with a Chromium engine  The picture above is a picture of me ( in red ) Displaying Anansi web browser to my friends on my university campus and demonstrating how it works for the first time in November 2011.
    After the launch of the web browser i wrote a Java Matrix Library  that includes calculation of determinants, matrix multiplication, addition, encoding ,decoding ,cipher ,Gauss Jordan and echelon of a matrix.I wrote it in the Java programming language and can be run on Mac OS X, Windows and Linux.Our first method calculates the determinant of a two by two sized matrix.It was quickly adopted by Softpedia and added to their database of software programs for the Windows operating system. I did this project as part of my contribution to the open source community.
      In march I was awarded by the Free software and Open Source for Africa (FOSSFA) in Abuja Nigeria as a Guido Sohne fellow in recognition of my continuous use and support for open source technologies such as Linux,Fedora and Drupal, and for having a technological vision for Africa just like the late Guido Sohne. I posted a blog post about my award and the late Guido Sohne called Guido Sohne is my role model.
      We also launched and deployed Anansi Operating System ( Linux Distribution ) which we built with open source technologies like Suse and Kiwi. Currently we have released the complete source code here   We have embeded all the basic softwares and system wares that will enhance your desktop connectivity examples are wine-devel package,apache2 package, audacity package,libreoffice-base package,anansi softwares,netbeans-javaparser package plus many more. With the help of more code contributors we hope to add a bundle of educational tools targeting our educational system in Africa and possibly with a local language  ( Swahili and twi etc. ) keyboard layout and localisation of some of these educational tools. 
       Other software we also launched were Diabetes web app (It is a simple web application that allows you to know your diabetes status. ) , Anansi Calcpad is a handy application we developed in tandem with Seafire Software that allows you to perform basic calculations in a familiar interface. The software also allows you to take notes in the Story Pad view.You can access Google Reader from the application’s menu (the News Aggregator View) in order to read news. We also deployed our first mobile app called  Anansi app . It mobile app that is a social news blog that delivers latest news and information from CNN,TechCrunch and Oasis WebSoft  plus you learn to also code via my you-tube channel. Download now from the Windows phone market place.
      Finally my company joined forces with other African developers to develop and launch Africapp. A pan-African mobile application store that aims to serve the growing need of mobile users in Africa and Diaspora.
       My company was nominated for the 2012 Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship (AAE) due to our exceptional entrepreneurial achievements. I am currently featured in the November issue of Forbes Africa Magazine dubbed “Mark Zuckerburg of Accra”. I was given an award by Methodist University's Student Representative Council for being the University's Achiever of the Year 2012 and also featured in my school's home page I was also interviewed on Ghana's The Be Bold show
I also did some key note presentations. My major one was at the first ever IT Leaders West Africa Summit  held in Ghana. I spoke on engaging with mobile technology. I also did a presentation on Building the African Web for Mobile @ Mobile Monday. 
      My start up company grew from a small software company into providing web and software solutions to companies as well as individuals in Ghana and beyond. Some of our clients include MVP Hair  , Odoom & Associates, LLC ( USA ) and African Economic Development Plan ( USA ) 
I concluded the year by helping the Barcamp Ghana team, Google Ghana and Ghana Think foundation organize Barcamp Accra in my university .Barcamp Accra assembled Accra stakeholders , mentors and youth together in one building. The theme was “Removing fear of failure as a start of success. Check our photos from the event here >>
     My predictions for next year is to grow our revenues , expand our online teaching school , employ and train a few more people. We also hope to advocate the use of Free and Open source technologies to  boost economic growth and reduce poverty through mobile, web and software solutions in Ghana and the rest of Africa.Hard work will always beat talent :) Although I do not expect to finish my work within this life time , i will do my best and let God handle the rest. I want to thank each and everyone who believes in my vision.God Bless you all and in 2013 we will continue our good work.   Happy new year :) #TeamOasis 

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

My Guest blog post on Start Smart at Entrepreneur's Corner

I like to describe myself as a technology enthusiast and aspiring entrepreneur. What I’m currently focusing on is the development of apps to help solve everyday problems in Africa. The apps I’ve developed thus far include mobile, software and web apps.

As an entrepreneur I think there a number of things that can determine whether you succeed or fail. For me, some of the things that have helped me along the way have been:

My faith- The life of an entrepreneur can be particularly stressful, and I’ve found that my strong religious background has been a great source of support for me.

My mother- She’s been an amazing role model for me. Throughout her career she’s challenged herself and sought new opportunities. She’s also been extremely supportive of me and encourages me to be creative and optimistic about the work that I’m doing. As a software entrepreneur this has been extremely helpful, I’ve learned to become comfortable with experiential learning. I love trying out new technologies and learning new ways of doing things

 Welcoming failure and feedback- Failure is a part of every learning process and being an entrepreneur involves opening yourself up to learning all the time. Making mistakes pushes you to find ways to find the most appropriate solution. In addition to making and learning from mistakes feedback is very important. As entrepreneurs we often make the mistake of assuming that everyone around us, including our potential consumers will see our vision the way we see it. Remember the customer is always right so it’s important to gather feedback early on.

      Stay motivated and creative!
-          Raindolf 

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Agonies of an African Programmer: Part 2

Working as an independent mobile, web and software developer in Africa can be a trying experience.  Africa for so long has being recognized by the world as an agricultural continent and for the past decade many software developers ( African Code Kings )  are working tirelessly to prove that we are also a technological nation by building great websites , mobile apps and softwares that aims to solve our problems on the ground. This does not come at a cheap cost. We live in an environment that tech equipment cost 2-4 times than what it does in Europe and the USA, where technical books are almost nonexistent, where there are no credit cards to purchase from Amazon.( We have been blacklisted from paypal ). 
In Africa there is a problem, people still think Technology comes in a box like a camcorder, computer, laptop, iPad and so on..Let's all visualize technology as a process and something we are going to build ourselves here in Africa. I have listed below a few of the agonies myself and most developers go through as African Code Kings.

Infamous "load-shedding" -- a practice of cutting off electricity to whole sections of the city in order to conserve power in Ghana. They never mind that you need electricity to work and you need to work to eat. Nowadays things are much better - they just cut off electricity without any warning whatsoever or the power fluctuates crazily and the electricity corporation thinks that is entirely normal. With this load-shedding factor you should be rest assured that most developers cannot meet their deadlines.

High Internet Cost
Internet bandwidth has being my major problem since I decided probably six years ago to venture into software and web development. Internet bandwidth in Africa is sold exactly at the same rate as phone credit vouchers. It is so expensive. There is no special package for developers who consume huge amount of data. This telecommunication companies forget that the internet possess a huge amount of informative data that can be used as a powerful tool for boosting economic growth and poverty reduction.

Most developers set up a tech start-up in search for investors to fund their projects. In Africa, most people do not understand the Silicon Valley style of Angel investment and funding, this so called investors perceive technology as selling tomatoes in the market. When they fund a start-up they are looking for the short term profit. For strong developers who do not need this kind of funding they work their ass out trying to fund their personal projects. They end up taking up so many odd web dev jobs that will in turn slow down their personal projects / innovations.

The Salary factor
It takes a lot of guts and zeal for a good African developer to turn down job offers and internships to pursue his passion. Once the money sets in, the developer tends to slow down in his innovations and instead works hard to better the firm or company his working in and to gain more promotions. A web and software developer in Africa earns from $10,000 to $20,000 dollars per annum whereas their colleagues in Europe and the US earns at least $100,000 dollars per year. You could be working hard to build great technologies that can help you rack in tons of thousands dollars when you are a tech-preneur. Next time if you want to be comfortable with such a job, think again? 
I personally turned down a lot of internship and job offers when I came home for the long vacation and I have learnt so much and earned so much recognition for a small I.T start-up Oasis Websoft, I created exactly a year ago. I am currently changing  from being just a developer into a great business man.
Every day I meet great techies who work for huge tech companies but they would have being better off as entrepreneurs building great technologies for Africa. You don’t have to blame them so much; this is Africa where women would hardly marry guys who do not have financial security.

Jack of all trades and master of nothing.
It is difficult to find a team who believes in the same vision for them join a start-up in Africa. You will realize that there are so many developers and startups building similar apps instead of coming together in the spirit of free and open source development to build one great app.
An African developer tries to play all the roles in a company from being the CEO to the company’s publicist. Instead of focusing on one thing and mastering the art. He spends his time mastering all the aspects of a company. It is sometimes good but it comes with its own banes.
It is also great for a developer to understand all the roles but it will be best if he can focus on one lead role and be a master of it. So in one start up we could have a developer, user interface designer, two top coders and one marketing guy

Each month a horde of new programmers, freshly trained out of Universities and professional ICT institutions graduate with impressive looking syllabuses, certificates ,degrees etc. claiming skills in Java, C++, C, Php, JavaScript,  COM, Oracle, SQL, HTML and MS Office. The problem is that, though the syllabus looks good and would be a good starting point for being a software and web developer, these students do not spend time working on their personal projects and instead code for a grade “A” in exams.
Bottom line: These guys are less than half-baked and cannot do productive work.
Those who get jobs afterwards land more technical jobs like computer administrators, hardware jobs and so on. Instead utilizing the methodologies they learnt in programming and so on. Companies who hire them for such job do not realize that these guys can actually build software to make their work a lot easy. It time for Africans to believe that software is actually something we can create for ourselves.

Awards and Competitions.
There's a difference between winning technology awards & competitions verses winning in the marketplace. The sooner African developers and start-ups recognize this, the better.
It is great to participate in code competitions and hackerthons to test your coding skills but it is a different ball game if you want to build kick-ass technology to solve real life African problems and make money along the way.
It is also high time our environment start to stand firmly behind young African men and women developers who are always up at dawn working on something they believe in. It is not enough to congratulate them vocally of their achievements, it will be right if you can support them with your resources be it financially, intellectually, skills set and much more.

The Moral Of The Story
System.out.println (“  It's not easy being an African software developer. Don't give up and always Ask God for directions. Use the right technologies for the right tasks.  The future of the African software industry lies in enabling the scattered bunches of individual hobbyist programmers. Those people who would be coding even if it didn't pay because that is what they like doing. People like that should be given a chance, should be given work to do, encouraged to stick it out. When there are enough programmers around and working as a programmer is a viable occupation that can buy a car and build a house, the industry will have grown up.
Until then, it is dog eat dog -- monkey go work, baboon go chop...

Learn to appreciate the rainbow after cursing the rain. It's just like loving again after experiencing the pain!
 </ Raindolf >

So you want to be a Web African programmer? - Guido Sohne (2003)
The Agonies of an African Programmer – Gregg Pascal Zachary

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Oasis WebSoft Joins Open Invention Network

Less than three months ago, I posted a blog on
Why African developers need to take software patenting seriously? My $2 Million Dollar idea was Stolen. This week my start-up company Oasis websoft joined Open Invention Network as a licensee. We are joining huge technology companies like Facebook INC , Mozilla , Google and GNOME .
OIN is an organization which helps protect the Linux ecosystem by building a variety of defenses against patent attacks. These defenses include both traditional mechanisms, like defensive patent pools, and more innovative approaches, like the Linux Defenders project, which uses a variety of methods to proactively prevent the publication of particularly egregious patents. As a licensee, we’ll have access to OIN resources in case we’re threatened by operating entities with patents, and over time we’ll likely become more involved in providing our own ideas and resources to OIN projects.

Patents owned by Open Invention Network are available royalty-free to any company, institution or individual that agrees not to assert its patents against the Linux System. By joining, Oasis Websoft receives cross-licenses from other OIN licensees, but more importantly, for the long term, it affords us a chance to work with OIN in reducing IP threats to open source development and innovation. This may include a defensive publications program that would make it harder for others to patent work created by Oasis websoft contributors, sharing defensive tactics, and cooperation to minimize patent threats.

This doesn’t mean we’re suddenly enthused about patents in any way, but OIN is doing some good work, and I believe that any protections that they afford Oasis Websoft are on the whole more positive, and outweigh reservations about the patent the system. We are number 283 on the licensees list. I built my company based on open source principles and we are happy to join a great open source movement like O.I.N.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Oasis WebSoft @ 1

My name is Raindolf Owusu and I am the founder and C.E.O of Oasis WebSoft .I coined the name Oasis which means fertile land in a desert because I felt  it was taking Africa too long to be recognized on the world map as a technological nation besides the fact that we have been branded as an  agricultural continent.WebSoft is self explanatory meaning I will engineer the web to work with software. I launched our official website in the early hours of July 11, 2011, exactly a year ago after spending a month developing the website in Html, CSS, FBML (Facebook mark-up language) and flash. This project got me so excited that I thought of nothing else but the fact that I was going to build major web and software projects.  I have always been a big fan of console programs, so the first softwares that came with the website were raw C++ and Java codes that you had to compile on your machine to see its function. The website looked very simple but filled with great contents ranging from news to free learning PDF’s and a project I called the Anansi (Anansi means spider in Twi dialect) Project.  The aim of this initiative is to help African Developers and internet users understand the concept of computer programming and also to help improve the standards of information technology education and adaptation in the African Setting.
Since I was alone on the project, I decided to use social media to market my software and web projects. I had only 20 fans on facebook and a year later we have a staggering 550 active fans on facebook and almost a thousand followers on twitter. After each passing day I fell more in love with Oasis Websoft and always wanted to build a disruptive technology that will always put Oasis at the top of the web eco-system in Ghana. My first major software was a toolbar that was compatible with all the web browsers from Internet Explorer to Safari. The tool bar had a few downloads but I did not relent. I spent most of my time online learning new technologies and teaching myself programming from open source forums and groups. I have   my own online school that i teach web and software development as my contribution to the larger community and also created a Github account that I usually put my open source codes for contribution, learning and improvement from everyone.
I am strong advocate of free and open source softwares. I realized that proprietary softwares are being entrenched in our society. Companies and the government spend so much money on paying for licenses for these softwares whereas these monies can be used to improve other sectors like education.  These proprietary softwares contain so many bugs and also can easily be attacked by viruses and malicious softwares. I believe that the way forward for advancement in technology is the collaborative use of open source technologies. Africa is on the move, and software and technologies are a powerful tool to boost economic growth and poverty reduction. Free software can help African developers learn faster and better and I am a typical example.
Month after month I played around with a lot of Technologies,API’s ( Google and Wikipedia ) ,linux,drupal core,ubuntu,linux kernel,open suse and I built the following softwares and web apps with the help of open source communities; Findme Search engine, Anansi Browser, Anansi Calcpad and Wikipedia Search Engine.You can look up all these softwares here  I redesigned our official website in a few months time in HTML5,CSS3,Jquery and javascript. I scaled my time between school and Oasis. My sleep was consequently affected by my time schedule. I sleep for only 2 to 4 hours.
Since they say mobile is the future, I delved into mobile app development and built a mobile app that is a social news blog that delivers latest news and information from CNN,TechCrunch and Oasis WebSoft  plus you learn to also code via my you-tube channel..It runs on android and symbian phones and it is available on Nokia OVI Store.
 I am launching the same Anansi app today on our first year anniversary for Windows phone 7 platform and it is currently in the new windows phone market place. I have ported the code to C# from JavaScript.  I am one of the few lucky Africans developers to have my app published into the Windows phone market place.

I launched Anansi Operating system (Linux distro)which is being proclaimed as Africa’s first operating system on the 29th of June and it is less than two weeks old on the internet and it has had over 2186 downloads on my server and the open source community around the world have created a torrent file for the OS  and it has been downloaded more 1577 times making a total of 3763 downloads and still counting. The OS is so far my most successful product.
In just one year we have partnered and work alongside companies like StartsmartGH , Seafire Software ( USA ) , Ghana Association of women entrepreneurs ,Ghana Center for Entrepreneurship, Employment  and Accra International marathon plus many more. Our team has also grown from only me to a team of three including myself, Aaron Nii Adom Nathan and Jeffery Aboagye-Asare
I was awarded in march this year by the Free software and Open Source for Africa ( FOSSFA ) as a Guido Sohne fellow for my continuous use and support for open source technologies like Linux and Drupal and also for having a technological vision for Africa like the late Guido Sohne ( He was one of the best computer programmers from Ghana and one of the founders of FOSSFA )

Although all my apps are free to download, I managed to earn an annual income of $1 dollar. I am positioning my start-up company into a place where we can gain investment to continue to build free apps that are relevant to African. Our softwares are completely free to use. A big thank you to everyone who keeps praying for and supporting us. May God Bless you and your family. If you're using our softwares and feeling generous, consider a donation. All donations are sincerely appreciated. Thanks! 

Monday, 4 June 2012

Why African developers need to take software patenting seriously? My $2 Million Dollar idea was Stolen.

       Last year in June I realized so many people where getting used to the concept of social networks and trusting these networks with their data. I saw the need to tap into that great opportunity to build something that would make their social life more interesting and engaging. I made a research and understood that 65% of internet users had signed up to one or more social networks (My space, Hi5, facebook, twitter, linkedin and Google +).I knew Google were the best when it comes to searching for data on the internet but it was crappy when It comes to searching for human names. Googlebot will crawl and bring you so many articles that had similar names and it makes your social search experience defective.
      I had a believe that when you are searching for a person named Linda Dede,  the search engine should be smart enough to know you are searching for a person and not a String of characters [L][I][N][D][A] [D][E][D][E] I decided to build a prototype of a  large-scale social search engine which makes heavy use of the structure of social networks. This was how it would work, when you search for a name of a  person, it would first rank social networks, then it ranks your geographic location and before finally it would rank indexes of hundreds of millions web pages. I came up with an algorithm that would make this social engine possible. Its social search tree would take into account profiles, tags, comments, contacts, images plus more social tools.
      To engineer a search engine is a challenging task but I wrote basic codes for it.My biggest constraint was the fact that I did not have anyone to help me in terms of research and implementation. I failed with my beta tests so I decided to go online for help, I found a couple of websites that could help you but they were not good enough for the project so I decided to consult the most successful and fastest search engine in the world for help Google. I found out they had an open source tool called Google custom search that could help a developer build a search engine with ease. I decided to delve into it. I easily implemented 89% of my social search algorithm with it. Social networks will always be ranked first for a result of a query. I named my search engine "FindMe".Before your custom search engine is authorized by Google you need to give it a brief description and this was the description I gave mine.
“Find Me is a custom Search engine we created to help you find and to stay connected with old friends, acquaintances and lost family relations via Social networks.” As you can see in the image below..I launched this engine in July, last year but it did not gain much publicity because people didn’t see the essence in social search in my zone but I believed in it. Also take a closer look at the last time I updated code.It was in August,2011.
     In January this year Google launched a product called "Search plus your world". The feature, which is integrated into Google's regular search as an opt-out feature, pulls references to results from Google+ profiles. What it means is when a user types in a name it will rank its social network first for results. This is where my hypothesis for social search comes in. When a user types in a query for a person it should rank persons before anything else. And in my view Google is not doing it right because they should give all social networks an equal chance to be ranked at the top. They are violating their informal motto "Dont be evil".
    In march this year, Tech crunch posted news about a  Y- Combinator ( Silicon Valley Incubator ) backed startup called Ark lets you search through public profiles and the private data of your friends across Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and other networks. Kindly read the description of my search engine and note the resemblance. This was an idea I pursued but as a friend of mine will say in this technology world before you think somebody has already thought. Nii Andrews.
      At Y Combinator’s Demo Day, a short Ark pitch delivered in the midst of 64 other start-up presentations got the company commitments for $2 million in funding in a single day. And more than 250,000 people have signed up for Ark beta invites. Till date findme is my worst product because its analytics proves that it has had only 390 page views since I launched it in Accra, Ghana but its concept is worth more than 2 million dollars.
     If I was backed by a strong team or supported very much at the beginning I would have patented the idea of social search. It is high time our environment start to stand firmly behind young African men and women developers who are always up at dawn working on something they believe in. It is not enough to congratulate them vocally of their achievements, it will be right if you can support them with your resources be it financially, intellectually, skills set and much more. Most African developers are so busy struggling to make ends meet – in an environment where tech equipment costs 2-4x what it does in Europe and the US, where technical books are almost nonexistent, where there are no credit cards to purchase from Amazon – that they don’t have time to think of patenting their softwares and ideas.

  NB: Findme is still online you can search for your own name and see the social data it will pull about you. There are a few constraints when you have a very popular name like Micheal Jackson,It would be hard to bring you the results you require. It will be best if you input a name that you use with two or three social networks to see its effectiveness. It is a prototype of the social search engine I built with Google’s custom search builder.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Guido Sohne is my Role model.

     No nation can produce all the technology that it needs for social progress no matter the level of their civilization. Given this ground, it then follows that the point of view, held by some scholars, that Africa is nothing to write home about when it comes to technological innovation does not hold sway. Guido Sohne dedicated his life to nothing less than transforming Africa and writing software, that remains the great technology hope for Africa, educated Africans agree. With only a cheap laptop and a Web connection, young Africans can compete with the best of the rest in the world. With the press of their keyboard, they can obliterate distance and deliver their code to customers around the world. That vision captivates Sohne, who is a forceful advocate for home-grown software. While his aspirations are typical, his story is unusual. Raised in Accra, Ghana, Sohne excelled in school, won admittance as an undergraduate to Princeton University and then showed his stubborn rebellious streak. He dropped out and returned to Ghana.
     Guido Sohne suggested a realistic approach. 'The most important of which are avoiding dependence on technology single source by leveraging free software and open standards coupled with finding ways to address the cost and control of information pipes', said Guido. The basic idea behind open source is very simple: When programmers can read, redistribute, and modify the source code for a piece of software, the software evolves. People improve it, people fix bugs. And this can happen at a speed that, if one is used to the slow pace of conventional software development seems astonishing." (Wong, Sayo, 2003).  Guido Sohne believed that the way forward for advancement in technology was the collaborative use of open source technologies. Africa is on the move, and software and technologies are a powerful tool to boost economic growth and poverty reduction. ICT increase efficiency, provide access to new markets or services, create new opportunities for income generation and improving governance and give poor people a voice. Taking into account Africa’s complexity and diversity, specific interventions are required. Sohne tried mightily to build open-source software organizations in Ghana and throughout sub-Saharan Africa. He certainly raised awareness of Linux and the importance of sharing code.
      Guido was in management at a large software company, handling the company's Open Source and Linux strategy for 52 countries in Africa. He codes in over 20 computer languages and has previously been one of the founding members of the Free and Open Source Software Foundation for Africa, on the editorial board of the largest peer-reviewed journal on the Internet, FirstMonday, was responsible for the first Open Source project in West Africa (and possibly in sub-Saharan Africa as well) and won awards for creating two of Africa's top fifty websites. He has made minor contributions to OSS projects like the Linux Cross Reference tool, RedHat's Interchange e-commerce system, Ruby's Rannotate and JavaScript and Ruby implementations of a 2D barcode system, DataMatrix aka Semacode.
     Guido Sohne died in Nairobi Kenya in May,2008. He was 35 years.I am posting this blog on his birth day 23rd May.My name is Raindolf Owusu.I was awarded in March this year by FOSSFA ( Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa ) as a Guido Sohne Fellow in Abuja,Nigeria.I am so glad to have received his Fellowship and I'm still working hard to bring to reality his technological visions. This is my website  I was blessed and humbled to meet his mother and father on his birthday today. Guido Sohne shall forever be a computer programming legend.