September 15, 2005

Asia-Pacific Argues in Favour of FOSS

IOSN writes "Siem Reap (Cambodia), Sept 3 -- Twenty countries joined a three-day Asia Pacific consultation on ree and Open Source Software, which ended Saturday evening on an optimistic note which saw on-proprietorial software playing an increasingly important role in this talent-rich, resource-poor region.

In a historic region, home to 12th century temple structures at a town called Siem Reap, Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) campaigners, supporters, funders and officials from across Asia debated the pros and cons of FOSS versus proprietory software. The focus was on development paradigms of FOSS, open content, e-governance, capacity building, localisation, and more. Participants included techies, government officials, educators, professionals using and supporting FOSS, and others.

Free software can be used, copied, studied, modified and distributed. It was built by hackers collaborating across cyberspace, starting in the 'eighties, and today is being seen as a boon for the countries of the Asia-Pacific, in view of the otherwise high and unaffordable global prices of software.

Cambodian deputy prime minister Sok An, in a speech delivered on his behalf, argued that Free and Open Source Software could help Cambodia to have a "lot of savings in license fees", make software readily available locally and reduce usage costs drastically, eliminate software piracy, and enable Cambodian students to closely study the software code and "understand its behaviour".

This event was sponsored by UNDP's Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme, and co-sponsored by the US-headquartered Intel Corporation. Local hosts were Cambodia's National ICT Development Authority (NiDA) and the Open Forum of Cambodia.

Shahid Akhtar, the Pakistani-born Canada-educated head of the Bangkok-based UNDP Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme (APDIP), made a short but pointed presentation at the launch of this event.

Many developing countries are caught up in a vicious circle of poverty and piracy, said APDIP coordinator Shahid Akhtar, during the conference. "They are too poor to buy proprietory software, resulting in 'piracy' levels of 90% or more in some countries (of the Asia-Pacific region)," he argued. Then, countries cannot clean their act on 'piracy' because they are poor.

"Free and Open Source Software provides a way out of this vicious cycle. It also increases the user's control. It also provides a framework for promoting intellectual capital, and achieving the United Nations' Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), which were accepted by countries across the globe", Akhtar commented.

Richard Stallman, the founder of the two-decades-old Free Software Foundation, said at the end of the conference: "People here represent a broad spectrum in beliefs and their goals. There are people from both the Free Software and Open Source movements. It looks like we can work together and make programs that ensure users can be in control of the software they use. I've seen a lot of useful things come up here."

Building software capacities was also seen as important in a world where this form of FOSS software -- which can be used, copied, studied, modified and redistributed -- is trying to make its dent in schools, universities, IT education, government policies and strategies of global agencies.

Localisation -- or translating software into local languages -- was another issue strongly discussed. There were interesting issues that came up about localisation of software into the Khmer language.
One of the suggestions to come up was that FOSS needed its "global ambassador" to promote its case.

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