- By Grant Gross -
We keep hearing that Linux and other Open Source applications are a natural fit in countries outside the Western world, places where the low cost of Open Source software offers major advantages. From India's Simputer to Mexico City's switch to Linux, developing nations have slowly begun to embrace Open Source, even though there have been some failures.
Calling Malaysia a developing country may be a bit of a stretch. It has a growing tech sector, its population living below the poverty line is just 6.8 percent and its gross domestic product per capita is $10,700, a lower poverty level than in the United States and a higher GDP per capita than Russia, Mexico, India, or neighboring Thailand. (For statistics, check out Geographic.org.)
But cost was certainly one of the considerations for Jeff Ooi, who launched usj.com.my, a community-managed advocacy site, in 1999. The site, which gets about 11,000 hits a day, exists to promote the technology in Malaysia and assist the development of "entreprenuerial communities" among the residents of the Subang Jaya township of Malaysia, part of the country's "Multimedia Super Corridor." The site includes Malaysian news and wide-ranging discussions, auctions, an email service, recipes, even jokes.
When Ooi first wanted to start the site, he looked for volunteers on an email list and found people competent in Linux, Perl, and PHP, in addition to HTML and other Web-authoring knowledge. Now, the site uses Linux Red Hat 6.2, with PHP 3, MySQL
3.22.xx, Perl, and Apache.
"It really was the urge to escape from the grip of Bill Gates, and the cost factor, that drove us to Linux," says Ooi.
The site started on a donated 128kbps connection, although it has since moved to a high-speed connection it pays for. "Even the server started with a clone PC until Compaq Malaysia donated us a used Proliant 8000," he says.
The cost of broadband access for users continues to be a big hurdle in Malaysia, Ooi says. "We are still dialing up using 56K modems offering a speed of 27kbps to 45kbps ... We do have ISDN which only offers 64 to 128k and the cost is still prohibitive." ISDN access, he says, is US $10 per month, with an additional telecom charge of 1 cent a minute, and 1Mps DSL is US $900 a month.
The goal when launching the site was to keep the content management system simple, says Ooi, who recently promoted the Open Source tools used by his site in a post to the online-writing email list. "Our strategy was to make the site technology-independent so that common people can register and post messages in a user-friendly environment --
the starting point to aggregate the community. A content team was formed,
and the editors/moderators can update news from remote using dial-up.
"Then, there were no weblog tools and we did not have any understanding
of Slash codes."
Ooi alludes to something that makes usj.com.my interesting, if not quite unique -- a home-grown Open Source-run Web site that doesn't use the ever-popular Slash code, the content-managing back-end made famous by Slashdot (and also used by NewsForge) or one of its many derivatives. Ooi expresses interest in that Web log format, but wonders if the changeover would be difficult, considering that the site's run by volunteers with other jobs.
"It is here I wish to learn more about online content, and harness its
power to bring change -- in terms of Internet acculturation and power paradigm
-- for people in Malaysia, starting with our township," Ooi adds. "Internet activity here is one of the highest in the country despite a lack of broadband access and content.
However, [Subang Jaya] residents are basically the young working class who come from
all parts of the country, human networking is very fragmented, while
quality of life issues are sidelined by the local authorities. We wanted our voices
heard, and a cyber community is one of the cheapest ways to help us get
In other words, Open Source tools aren't just bringing change to the IT landscape, they are also helping to change to the Malaysian political and social landscapes.