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Free Open Source Software at “FOSS Asia”

By: Norbert Klein Posted: February-01-2011 in
Ministry of Education Manual - available for the Linux and the Windows XP platforms
Norbert Klein

The Mirror, Vol. 15, No. 701

I have been a supporter of Free Open Source Software – FOSS – for several years, and in 2010, I learnt so much more about how FOSS could be used in order to help tackle copyright issues of software and even more, of an important sector of a developing country like Cambodia, such as education. So, I grabbed a chance to join the FOSS Asia event which took place in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam from 12 to 14 November last year.

In Vietnam and in Cambodia alike, pirated copies of software programs are so widely available that people seldom buy original ones, causing a lot of concern for the software companies that try to make a profit out of it. As a Cambodian, growing up along with a lot of bootleg software DVDs or CDs, I had almost become used to pirated commercial software applications. But I understand that this kind of chronic practice does not make one’s country attractive to investments, and therefore scares away technology companies like Microsoft from setting up a company here in Cambodia. It is clear to notice that it does not open any chance for more employment for Cambodians at all.

The FOSS event really opened me up for more new ideas to what other Open Source software developers around the globe and big companies such as Google [Google and the Open Source Developer], or the Open Source web browser Firefox produced by the Mozilla community, and many more were doing to make an improvement of many lives. But how can free Open Source software improve lives when less people have heard about it? Can it help a country like Cambodia avoid using pirated programs? Open Source Software is only a part of what’s known as Open Source which some people call a philosophy and others a “pragmatic methodology.”

The concept of FOSS is that its source code is published and made available to the public, enabling anyone to copy, modify, and redistribute the source code without paying royalties or fees, according to the explanation of Open-source Software on the free encyclopedia Wikipedia. In other words, it is actually different from the commercial software that one has to pay for and built on a unique concept that things like technology should be free for all the people, so the knowledge gap becomes smaller.

I learnt in the workshop that Open Source code can be achieved or written through collaboration within certain tech communities. Or sometimes software developers from around the world come together and develop a code or a software program which they want to make available or even much more affordable for users. Some people might question how FOSS developers can earn a decent living from producing things free, but these people such as software developers, font designers, and programmers, whom I met at the workshop, were a kind of people who believe in free access to free software for everyone. Many people have chosen to spend some of their time developing certain code for free. But FOSS is not necessarily free or comes with no cost.

Our neighboring country Vietnam has taken FOSS to a new level with the government’s efforts to embrace Open Source software since several years, rather than commercial software that many cannot afford. As an example of the Vietnamese government’s strong support for FOSS since 1990s, it ordered all administrative offices to use Open Source applications in 2008. With more support from the national government and Open Source software organizations, Vietnam has a solid Open Source community which enables the country’s consumers to save more, and to increasingly tackle copyright violations.

In Cambodia, the Open Institute, which was established in 2006, is committed to improving access to quality education through its Open Schools Program by using technology in the local language through its Khmer Software Initiative. Open Source Software has changed the face of education and business around the world, and hopefully in Cambodia. In 2001, the government issued an announcement, just like Vietnam not long ago, about a policy to avoid dependency on proprietary systems and instead promoting open systems and interoperability. This has opened the door to Open Source software such as OpenOffice, based on the encoding of the Khmer script in the UNICODE standard, and other FOSS applications to flow into Cambodia.

Details are in a Note which The Mirror had carried in its 6.7.2009 edition, also as a special Note:

The basic policy of the Cambodian Government has been stated during the three days National ICT Awareness seminar, where Senior Minister Sok An, also Deputy Chairperson of the National Information Communications Technology Development Authority – NiDA – declared on 13 September 2001:

“All laws, regulations and policies in the IT sector will reflect the following guiding spirit and philosophy:

  • to uphold the interests of the consumers and general public
  • to guarantee security of information, while facilitating the broadest possible access to public information
  • to respect individual rights, and
  • to avoid dependency on proprietary systems, instead promoting open systems and interoperability.”

(Source: – “Closing remark of Senior Minister Sok An [PDF(19.0KB)]“)

This commitment by the government “to avoid dependency on proprietary systems” of commercial software is a clear expression of preference for Open Source software – an important contribution “to help reduce poverty and efficiently develop human resources.”

The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports is following the same line, by introducing and promoting Open Source software in the Khmer language, based on the international UNICODE standard, in the Ministry, in Teachers Training Colleagues, in the Provincial Departments of Education, and, of course, in those High Schools where computers are available.

Additional Observation:

This declaration about the guiding spirit and philosophy for “all laws, regulations and policies in the IT sector” pronounced by Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, in his capacity as Vice-Chairperson of the National Information Communications Technology Development Authority – NiDA – has more recently been removed from the Web site of NiDA – at least it is not at the formerly announced location and I was not yet able to find it somewhere else. Any lead would be appreciated.

If the government would have changed its progressive policy, it would surely have been done as a result of a clear decision, reverting from its former position which is in line with trends in many countries and institutions, from Brazilian to Germany to Indian government bodies.

That various government institutions did not seem to follow the guiding spirit and philosophy announced on their systems has been said from time to time. It is said that illegally copied software available all over town for 1 to 4 dollars a piece is also used in public institutions, not only by private individuals.

Norbert KLEIN

There has to be a lot more effort to be made by the government and the technology community here in Cambodia to take on new challenges and innovative ways to make Cambodia more developed. At the moment, the best way to get FOSS more known in Cambodia, though it cannot be achieved overnight, there should be a lot of facilities and support groups such as trainings in schools or throughout the country (when technology will be more available in the future) when this kind of support is needed to encourage those who want to switch from commercial applications to Free and Open Source Software.
A similar tech-sharing event like FOSS Asia will be held again in November of this year.

This article was first published by The Mirror, Vol. 15, No. 701 – Saturday, 29.1.2011
Have a look at the last editorial - you can access it directly from the main page of The Mirror.

Norbert Klein is the Editor of The Mirror – The Mirror carries regular reports and comments from Cambodia - More about The Mirror


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