Open source technology wins Asia-wide support

Asian nations, including the Philippines, have united to rally behind open source software. Representatives from 14 countries in the region in March vowed to collaborate in strengthening the Asian open source community.

In a three-day conference in Thailand, participants from Japan, Thailand, Korea, Singapore, Brunei Darussalam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines, China, Lao PDR, and Taiwan promised to co-operate and share know-ledge, expertise and resources for the development of the region’s open source software community.

Participants to the Asia OSS Symposium 2003 held in Phuket, Thailand, were composed of officials from Asian governments, academe, private industry and non-government organizations (NGOs). The symposium was organized by Japan’s Center of International Cooperation for Computerization (CICC) in partnership with Thailand’s National Electronics and Computer Technology Center (NECTEC) and National Science and Technology Authority (NSTA).

The Philippines’ representative, Delfin Jay Sabido IX, director of the Advanced Science and Technology Institute (ASTI) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), told Computerworld Philippines in an interview, that the symposium highlighted the need for co-operation among the Asian countries to develop and promote open source software.

Although the open source movement is already steadily gaining popularity among Asian countries, most of them are still facing significant hurdles that hinder the growth of open source, said Sabido. One such problem is the limited number of open source software that has been translated into Asian languages. Thailand, for instance, has been relatively slow in adopting open source software because of this language barrier. The country has its own alphabet that is very different from the English alphabet used in most open source software.

In contrast, the Philippines has adopted open source software much faster because English is widely spoken in the country, among other reasons, Sabido said.

In the conference, each of the participating countries shared their experiences, including the challenges they are facing, in their respective open source software development efforts. They vowed to continue sharing their knowledge with each other and to collaborate on research and development, policy-formulation and best practices.

Sabido noted that this sharing mechanism will help Asian countries avoid duplicating what their neighbours have already done and, thus, hasten the development of the open source movement. For example, the white paper on the benefits of open source being drafted by the Philippines’ National Computer Center (NCC) could be adopted and used by other countries, he said.

Except for Singapore, which leans more towards commercial software, Asian countries have generally accepted open source software, particularly Linux, “very, very fast,” claimed Sabido. Although most of these are developing countries that have been attracted by the lower costs of using open source, even developed countries such as Japan and Korea have taken to open source as well.

The open source movement in Asia is expected to grow much faster in the coming months as other international organizations have also vowed to support the development efforts. Leading these organizations is e-ASEAN, the international task force for IT development in the Southeast Asian region, which has promised to tackle open source computing in its meeting in April, said Sabido.

An Asia Linux conference, to be held sometime in August or September, is also expected to contribute significantly to the promotion of open source in the region, he added.

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) are also supporting the regional open source movement.

Sabido, in his presentation during the symposium, said the open source movement represented a radical departure from the commercial software world. “In a sense, it is the software development process going back to its roots when software code was developed co-operatively and freely shared for the benefit of all,” he said.

He explained that the Philippines has initiated several projects using open source software. Aside from the development of the country’s own Linux distribution called Bayanihan Linux, open source software has been used in developing several government information systems, Web site templates, and real property tax information systems for local governments, among others.