Philippines working on Linux suite for government

The Advanced Science and Technology Institute (ASTI), an attached agency of the Philippines’ Department of Science and Technology, is set to come out with a package of Linux productivity applications that can be used by government agencies.

Peter Antonio B. Banzon, officer-in-charge of the Computer Software Division of ASTI, said the agency is exploring ways to make open source technology such as Linux — which is available free — easier to use by government workers.

Banzon told Computerworld that the Linux solution they are developing is an integrated installation software and office productivity tools in one. The solution aims to make Linux OS installation simpler, especially for government offices.

The Linux suite will also include utilities and Internet client applications so that users won’t have to install them separately, as they have to do with Windows, Banzon added.

“Some of the perceived issues against using open source technology in government include lack of support, migration problems, training, installation and ease of use,” said Banzon. “But these issues are gradually being debunked amid efforts to make open source such as Linux more robust and reliable.”

In a panel discussion on the state of open source technology in the country, which was organized by ASTI, panellists cited the lack of awareness as well as ease of use issues as hindrances to the acceptance of open source in the government.

“People who are used to the GUI interfaces of Windows are not familiar with Linux, which may affect their productivity,” said Horacio Cadiz, an open source enthusiast. “But this could be remedied by training.”

Ian Sison of Q Software Research Corporation, a open source-oriented company, pointed out that ease of use is no longer a problem since there are already productivity tools available using open source technology that can provide the same functions to end-users.

“To solve issues of installation and ease of use, ASTI hopes to come out with a solutions package for the simple distribution of Linux to government offices,” said Banzon. “This will also include office application suites for desktop deployments aside from installations in the back-end servers.”

ASTI will be working closely with the members of the Philippine Linux Users Group (PLUG) on the project. Sison said that a beta version of the plug-and-play Linux applications is already developed and is ready for pilot testing.

At present, the National Computer Centre is conducting a survey to find out the IT capabilities of all government agencies, offices and local government units nationwide. “From this study, we hope to see what kind of distribution needs do these agencies, offices and LGUs will require that open source technology can cater to. We plan to do pilot testing of the beta Linux solutions on an LGU,” said Sison, who is also a member of PLUG.

However, the agency has no mandate to deploy the solutions to government offices, said Banzon. He admitted ASTI’s campaign to push open source technology in government would gain more ground if such a mandate were given.

ASTI has been a showcase of open source technology in government for 10 years now. Its Pentium 1 main server is on Linux, running applications such as email, FTP and Web browsing. The agency’s entire Research group are using Star Office on their desktops. “Aside from cost-savings, we’ve been provided with security as well as stability by open source technology. It has also helped us develop our own applications free of charge,” said Banzon.