September 29, 2003

Open Asia: Open source in Laos and Malaysia

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


Earl Mardle of KeyNet Consultancy in Sydney, Australia, argues that
FLOSS may not be the "perfect tool" but in many cases is "the only one
available" that is sufficiently adaptable and susceptible to volunteer
participation. "To give an example, the Lao language interface for the Jhai project has
been led by a member of New York's Lao community who happens also to work
for IBM and has done the work as a volunteer," he says.


In Malaysia, FLOSS (or, Open Source, the preferred term here) is seen as important because access to source code encourages and promotes local software modification and redistribution. The Malaysians argue that FLOSS promotes an environment for technical and systems development, as well as the ability to learn, innovate, and invent, while stimulating the local software industry. More importantly, it is seen as promoting independence from foreign software companies and reduces an outflow of funds from the country.

In Malaysia, the government has been committed to using Open
Source Software
since November 2001. The decision to move toward Open Source
was based on a white paper produced by the Open Source Special Interest Group
of the Association of Computer and Multimedia Industry of Malaysia (PIKOM)
in April 2002.

Malaysia claims to be ahead of other Asian countries (excluding Japan) in terms of its compounded annual growth rate of GNU/Linux servers
shipments from 1999 to 2004. This touched 81% in Malaysia, compared to 79% in India, 64% in South Korea, and 58% in China.

The Malaysian Open Source Group is interested in furthering the development and usage of open source software and the hacker culture in Malaysia. In addition, besides LUGs in the metro areas like Kuala Lumpur and Penang, there are also others in remote regions like Sarawak.

Malaysia's education ministry received a donation of Sun Microsystems' StarOffice software suite last October. "The donation, valued at RM475 million (US$125
million), is set to benefit 2.5 million students from 9,000 schools, and 500
colleges and universities country-wide," said Sun in a statement. Sun had given an earlier version
of StarOffice to education departments in Selangor and Penang.

The Malaysian Institute of Microelectronic Systems (MIMOS) has launched a Web site to document projects in FLOSS within Asia, with links to key resources. MIMOS's goal is to localize key applications into the national language,
Bahasa Melayu, which is hoped to materialise sometime in 2003. "Some other
groups have already localized some applications. We hope to build on their work," says MIMOS's Imran William Smith. MIMOS has already developed a local language Linux GUI and Open Source applications for government.

Malaysian publications like The Star and Computimes
have their finger on local news. Computimes in particular has had a lot of FLOSS coverage.

The Star noted in May of last year that "in the last few
months, both the Malaysian National Computer Confederation (MNCC) and the
Association of the Computer and Multimedia Industry of Malaysia (PIKOM) have
formed special interest groups devoted to the Open Source movement. MNCC
is the national body of computer professionals, while PIKOM is the industry
trade association. Unnamed industry sources were also quoted saying that one
or two Malaysian government or semi-government bodies are studying the
feasibility of developing Linux into a 'national operating
system' like what's being undertaken with China's Red Flag project." See:
Noronha, Frederick. "Open-Source Software Opens New Windows to Third-World".
Linux Journal (3 May 2002)

One story that made it to the news in a big way in May 2000 was about how the Malaysian Open Source Group put together an e-community system for The Thalassaemia Association of Malaysia for thalassaemic patients, their families and healthcare providers on a shoestring budget.The Web-based e-community
includes an online database of patient profiles and e-forums and e-chats to
facilitate patient-doctor and patient-patient relationships. Its goal was
also to collate requests for Desferal -- the main drug used in treatment --
so that the association can get volume discounts from drug manufacturers.

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