September 22, 2003

Open Asia: Open source in Japan and Jordan

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


Japan is far ahead in the FLOSS field, with many widely available GNU/Linux resources, so we won't attempt a comprehensive overview here. However, there are some interesting points worth noting.

Last December Sony Corp. and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. announced they would jointly develop an operating system based on GNU/Linux technology for their
digital consumer electronics products. Like computers, many high-tech
electronics products like TVs, DVDs and microwave owens require built-in
software to control their complex functions.

Hidetaka Fukuda, CTO for the Commerce and Information Policy Bureau,
Director of IT-Industry Division, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and
Industry, said that Japan's competence would be harmed if digital consumer
electronic products came to converge on the same OS and applications that
run on it. Fukuda made the remarks during the Open Source Way 2002
conference was held in Yokohama late last year. Specifically, Fukuda expressed
the government's planned support of open source technology and communities
for open sources. "An OS should be an open-source OS such as Linux and TRON,
and semiconductors should have CPU-independent architecture, otherwise Japan
will lose," he said.

The reasons for supporting open source technology include: realizing low-cost
system purchases by the government, reducing the burdens on engineers in
keeping proprietary systems running, and improving interoperability between
proprietary software/systems and open source software/systems. However, Fukuda
denied the Japanese government would migrate completely to Linux.

The public management ministry has set aside ÃÂ¥50 million (50
million yen) for a panel of scholars and computer experts, including
Microsoft executives, to study the possibility of using open source software in government projects. In July the Japanese government said it will use Linux as the operating system for a new personnel system.

There are also various GNU/Linux projects underway in Japan.

  • The JLA Doc-CD will collate information posted to various mailing lists and documents produced, cut them onto a CD-ROM with search tools, and distribute these among GNU/Linux users in Japan.

  • JF (Japanese FAQ) project is for translating, writing and distributing various FLOSS-related documents.
  • JM aims to translate software manuals to Japanese. jman-ML is the place where JM activities reside.
  • X Japanese Documentation Project covers the Japanese X Window System.
  • Debian JP is to provide an internationalised (formerly Japanese) environment of the Debian GNU/Linux distribution.
  • Software Map is a project to create a place where software information available in GNU/Linux is presented.
  • Project Blue is to support those who want to use FLOSS in business.
  • LKH-Jp (Linux Kernel Hack Japan) is a project to provide Japanese documents for those who want to hack Linux kernel.
  • The Tips Project is for sharing GNU/Linux or Unix tips found in daily computing life.
  • The Linux Seminar is meant for beginners who want to study and utilise FLOSS.
  • Project Silicon Linux aims at making a Linux distribution for embedded systems which is bootable from ROM is the objective of this project.


Sometimes, the penetration of FLOSS happens in the background. During a recent seminar held in Jordan, the country's Ministry of
Information and Communication Technology was not officially aware of the
level of FLOSS deployment in use in the country. But over half of the
workshop attendees who responded to a "knowledge of Open Source" survey said
they were familiar with, and in many cases, already using GNU/Linux,
Mozilla, Sendmail, Apache, OpenOffice and other popular FLOSS packages.

Seminar speaker Robin 'roblimo' Miller pointed out, in a conclusion that could be relevant to the bulk of
other parts of Asia, the other obvious advantage of using Open Source
programming tools: zero cost (or nearly so), whether you are
counting in Jordanian dinars or U.S. dollars. That allows non-rich
Jordanians (a designation that includes, conservatively, 95% of the
country's population) a fair chance to learn to program competently and
create useful software.
Jordan's sysadmins and programmers here typically earn between $300 and $600
per month. "(S)o if it takes a few weeks -- or even a few months -- longer
for an admin to learn how to set up Apache than a proprietary server
product, the license cost saving for one server, once, makes the extra
effort more than worthwhile. And, of course, once that knowledge is gained
it carries on to the next project, and so on," argued Miller.

Stepped up "anti-piracy" drives by the BSA and others in the Middle East now
means that commercial and government software users are no longer able to
follow the trend of simply using illegal copies of proprietory software.

The Arabeyes Project works out of
Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East to provide Arabic support for a
growing number of Open Source projects. Meanwhile, IBM recently sponsored a new GNU/Linux lab at the University of Jordan.


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