September 15, 2003

Open Asia: Open source in Iran and Israel

We continue our country-by-country survey of the availability of open source software across Asian countries with a look at developments in Iran and Israel.


"It's a red herring. I challenge anyone to tell me how open source will solve any of our major problems,"
a prominent professor from the U.S. recently posted on the
BytesForAll_Readers mailing list. Arash Zeini of Iran had a very clear answer. "In Iran, we live under sanctions from the U.S. As an Iranian, you cannot do any business with an American company. This may
be good, it may be bad. But in any case, the only way we can empower
ourselves is FLOSS. This approach gives us the necessary freedom. We have
access to the best technology and it is Free/Libre/Open and not restrictive.
It does not put us in chains, we do not need to wait till U.S. decides about
us. If only the Iranian government would see it this way too!"

The goverment of Iran hasn't shown signs of being keen on FLOSS,
according to campaigners in the field in that country. So far, the attempts
to use it have not focused on the freedom aspect of Free/Libre and Open
Source Software, but rather on the fact that it could be more secure.

Zeini went on to explain that it would have been "ages" until
software giant Microsoft decided to implement Farsi (Persian) correctly
in its OS. "But with KDE around we can do it ourselves, and we can do it better. With
FarsiKDE, we have now a desktop that is in Farsi, it is based on our own
standards and does not include the mistakes that M$ has in its attempts to
support Farsi. Doesn't this help us when having computers at schools? A 12-year-old does not need to learn English first in order to use a computer.
The minimum is that they can type in Farsi with the correct alphabet, not
the M$ Farsi alphabet, which is just a mess."

Zeini earlier this year reported that the major projects being worked on in Iran are found at the Web site and on the organization's mailing list. Farsi language localization of
is moving along. Farsi, the
language also called Persian, is spoken by an estimated 36 million people in Iran. Some Linux issues arise out of FarsiWeb, and there are some PHP-related projects in Farsi at Iranphp. A number of Iranian ISPs use GNU/Linux as a platform but for not much else.

Linux is also making inroads in securing Iranian networks.

Sayyed Mohammad Hossein Hamidi is a developer at the Network Security Lab of the
Department of Computer Engineering at Sharif University of Technology. He says, "We concentrate on security products (e.g. firewalls and URL
categorizer). Our developement platform is basically Linux. The first
generation of our firewalls, named Hadid, was developed in Sharif University
Network Security Lab. 1.5 years ago. Team members were PhD or MS students."

Currently, the new generation, called MultiNode Firewall, is defined
as a two-year project. "In our organization, we had a great migration from
Windows to Linux," Hamidi says via the LinuxIran mailing list. "We changed the OS of our workstations from Windows to Linux. There
are many Linux lovers in our community and we greatly believe in Linux. We
will extend our field to mobile systems last year. We established a
Short Message Service (SMS) center. Again the developement platform was Linux."


The Israelis are by far the most active in free software development in the Middle East. OpenMosix clustering software is but one example. Oleg Goldshmidt points out that there are many Israeli resources on the Internet, including news sites, but to access these a knowledge of Hebrew is essential. "If you are constrained to English, start with the Israeli Group of Linux Users," he says.

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