January 4, 2002

Linux gains ground in Pakistan

Author: JT Smith

- by Robin "Roblimo" Miller -
Almost all the headlines we see about Pakistan these days focus on terrorism and violence. But Waseem Akram, who lives there, says, "Pakistan is (in contrast to western thinking) a developing country, and as far as IT is concerned, we enjoy almost all levels of Internet connectivity, from ordinary 56K Dial up connection to 4MB leased line circuits." And Akram, like a growing number of his countrymen, is a devout Linux user.
Hassan Khan writes, "Here in Pakistan, Linux is growing fast, I am personally using Linux Mandrake 7.2, installed on Pantium-III. And the Govt has also included Linux/Unix in Diploma Courses, so it will grow more than expected."

According to Shiraz, "... the best step that could have been taken ... has been taken. The government has asked all the departments to shift their servers from NT to Linux simply because the government cant afford to buy 1k$ licence for each server."

More detail from Meraj Rasool: "From the last one year Linux spread is getting increase. Because a year ago no body knew what Linux is. Or What Open Source is? but now people are curious about this. Trying to learn & try this new robust OS.

"As you may know that in our part of the world, most software we use are pirated. As it is impossible to buy those expensive M$ & other products. So the main charm in Linux & other Open Source software for our people would be its cheap legal availability. Because no one likes to use pirated software, but we have to bcz of the price tag.

"The drawback is trained people, I mean there is no such institute or college (other than a few) who may have qualified or experienced people in Linux. So no good Linux training. For a business point of view, if you implement Linux in ur business, it would be very hard for you to get support from any IT company. Because currently no one is offering its support services for Linux. So it is also a major drawback. The same I told to the Director of ASPLinux (http://asp-linux.com ), who is from Pakistan. What we need here in Pakistan is trained people so that we could give support to the businesses who migrate to Linux.

"On the other hand most of the ISPs in Pakistan are using Linux as their platform...."

These emails show a side of Pakistan we certainly aren't seeing on TV: Linux geeks who are just like Linux geeks anywhere else. They join LUGs, they have jobs, they go to work (and probably work more hours than is healthy), and they evangelize Linux and would rather not use Microsoft products. In almost every way, they are exactly the same as Linux fans in Europe, Japan or the United States.

There is apparently plenty of R&D in Pakistan, too. Irfan Hamid writes, "I am a
system design engr for the advanced engg research org. We mostly work in the defence industry, and being a
computer system engr most of my work is done in Linux.
and im happy to say that there is a lot of development
(albeit low-tech) going on in Pakistan, and a good
portion of it is in Linux. Other than the defence
industry some of the other hightech firms I can tell u
about are Enabling Technologies (working on a
voice-over-ip packet processor), DCC (digital comm and
control), RWR, Margalla Electronics, PEC (precision
engg complex) just to name a few. These are firms
which are actively involved in engineering research
and almost always use Linux as their base OS be it
research, development or deployed products."

Things are a little different across the border in neighboring Afghanistan, where the only functioning Internet hookups, according to Akram, are "V-SAT links, directly connecting to AOL or other US ISPs."

Rasool says Afghanis "... had access to Internet. But then Taliban imposed a ban on Internet for masses. It was then allowed only for govt. At the moment I think there is no such Internet access. But if there may be any, then that would have been taken from Peshwar [a Pakistani city near the Afghan border].

Akram adds, "The latest situation in Afghanistan has not as such changed the connectivity
for Pakistani
people, but we feel sorry for Afghanistani people."

Afghanistan aside, the future for Linux in Pakistan looks bright. One contributing factor is -- like everywhere else in the world -- proprietary software producers' increasingly aggressive licensing enforcement. Pakistan is one of the countries where almost all individuals and small- or medium-sized businesses have historically used software they either copied themselves or bought under the table, which means Linux has offered little or no cost advantage over Windows. Now the Pakistani government is talking about enforcing software copyrights and, says one of our correspondents, "I'm sure if the piracy laws get a bit strict in Pakistan and MS starts taking interest in such things, every small to medium organization will be shifting to Linux."


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