August 4, 2003

Open Asia: Organisations buoy free software

International organisations are increasingly looking at the potential of FLOSS for development.

In early December 2002, Steven Sy, Web editor and system administrator for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, wrote to me about his organisation's shift over to Free Software. Sy says Greenpeace runs "90% plus" of its servers on
GNU/Linux. So far, his Manila locale is the only Greenpeace office to fully deploy
GNU/Linux as the majority desktop for its staff of eight. Other smaller GP offices are planning to
migrate in the coming months.

"The office had been planning to move to Free Software since early 2002," Sy says. Their motives were part technical and part philosophical. "FS is a technically superior and morally correct technology. We
made a conscious choice between migrating to Free Software or spending funds
on expensive software licenses. We also did not want to get into legal
troubles if ever the Business Software Alliance came our way.

"We've been using the Red Hat distro since September 2002.
At first we were using Red Hat 7.3 with a Ximian desktop, then we upgraded to
Red Hat 8 as soon as it came out." Linux is running on seven desktops and one
laptop. Two other laptops are still using Windows XP. Free Software is mostly used
for word processing, email, Web browsing, spreadsheets, and presentations.

The advantages are obvious: "It's free ('beer' and 'speech') and secure
(less or no virus infections since migrating). Free Software saved the office a lot of
money, money that was better spent on winning campaigns than paying for very
expensive licenses. Since we downloaded the software off the Internet, [we have incurred] just the costs of blank
CDs that are less than $1US. For the users, just time and patience in
learning the new system." Problems have been limited to "some minor bugs in the
software, and a steep learning curve for administering (for a beginner)."

International organisations like the Samaritans have shifted to Free
Software
as well. This trend gives a hint of the acceptance of the value system of
Free Software among development organisations, and also its potential for
cutting costs. Every donor dollar, euro, or yen saved on proprietary software can go toward the core functions
of such organisations. Practices that apply to a Western charity could apply to
development organisations in the Third World.

Late last year the United Nations's Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme ( APDIP) began planning to set up a Free/Libre and Open Source regional resource center that could act as a centre of excellence for FLOSS in the Asia-Pacific. APDIP wants to find out the primary interests and strengths of the people who are working on open source questions and issues, and help some of them get on with the job. APDIP has voiced an interest in facilitating
information sharing and helping with networking people.

Other organisations like the Sustainable Development Networking Programme (in Bangladesh and elsewhere) and Unesco's Free Software portal have also been using FLOSS for their work. Groups like Oneworld.net are open to arguments about the need to spread the ideas of Free Software among non-governmental organisations in India. Minoru Development Corp. in Paris runs the Openhealth mailing list, which aims to look at
how FLOSS could be deployed in the world of health. All these initiatives could help the developing world.

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