[gnulinuxinasia] In Himalayan Nepal: Where language can propel FOSS

  • From: "Frederick Noronha [फ़रेदरिक नोरोनया]" <fred@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: gnulinuxinasia@xxxxxxxxxxxxx, gnulinuxasia@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 17 Oct 2007 23:56:23 +0530

http://www.apc.org/english/news/index.shtml?x=5241651

In Himalayan Nepal: Where language can propel FOSS

GOA, India -- NepaLinux, an initiative to create a localised GNU/Linux
distribution in the Nepali language, has been chosen as a joint-winner
of the first APC Chris Nicol FOSS Prize, by an international jury.
This prize is named after a passionate campaigner for free software
who played a crucial role in the Association for Progressive
Communications before his untimely death in 2005.

The initiative began as an attempt to find makeshift solutions for
electronically cataloguing books in the Nepali language (which has
seventeen million native speakers, and an estimated 40 million
worldwide). But as fonts were hard to come by, and there were
difficulties in sorting text (or using find-and-replace commands),
NepaLinux's Bal Krishna Bal saw opportunities grow out of these
challenges.

Over time, this grew into campaigns for font standardisation, a
Unicode initiative in Nepal. It has since sprouted into a Nepali
GNU/Linux (free software/open source) distribution.

APC-member BytesForAll co-founder and journalist Frederick "FN"
Noronha interviews NepaLinux's Bal Krishna Bal, who explains the
project's relevance to FOSS local language computing solutions in
Nepal, the challenges their project faced, why he carries on
confidently, and his vision of the future.

FN: To a newbie, how would you describe the project briefly?

Bal Krishna Bal (BKB): NepaLinux is a fully-localised Linux
distribution in Nepali.

In Nepal the English-proficient population is significantly low.
English acts as one of the main barriers in accessing the computer.
NepaLinux was conceived and developed to break this barrier and help
the larger Nepali population benefit from the use of computing
technology.

FN: How was your project implemented?

BKB: NepaLinux was undertaken differently from other free and open
source software (FLOSS) projects.

When we started developing, there were very few people who were aware
about the work, let alone have the required development or translation
skills.

We did try to involve university students as volunteers; but due to
the lack of proper quality control mechanisms it increased the
workload rather than decreasing it. So we started work with a
dedicated team who would take help (both inside and outside Nepal)
when required.

This was helpful in the planning and maintaining the progress of the
work. However, things are changing now. Skills are more readily
available.

We now collaborate with people or groups outside of the team on
various fronts.

For instance, a group of volunteers had implemented and set-up a Linux
Terminal Server Project (LTSP) in a school. This is an add-on package
that allows many people to simultaneously use the same computer, by
having applications run on a server with multiple terminals, or thin
clients, handling input and output. It is based on Fedora [a
Linux-based operating system; editor's note]. We have now enabled the
LTSP set-up in NepaLinux, based on the feedback we gathered.

FN: How widely is the work being accepted or used?

BKB: The initial focus of the team was to develop a stable release of
NepaLinux so that troubleshooting could be maintained at a minimum.
After the release of version 2.0, the focus has now shifted towards
implementation.

Response so far has been good.

For example, the Ministry of General Administration has migrated to
NepaLinux for all its desktops. We have already provided the LTSP
set-up (including the hardware) to three schools in remote locations.

With help of the Nepal Telecom Authority, we will provide similar
support in 25 more schools by next year. We are also partnering with
ENRD to implement NepaLinux in their programme areas. This is still
the early phase for the implementation; we plan to take it further as
vigorously as we can.

FN: Is it a sustainable model?

BKB: NepaLinux, since the beginning, has been project-based work. It
was done under the PAN Localization project and the support is until
next year.

It's difficult to make project-dependent works sustainable. But, we
have been thinking of ways to make the development and support of
NepaLinux sustainable beyond the project.

For this, the Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya (MPP), of Patan Dhoka [a
not-for profit library which is the principal archive of books and
periodicals in the nepali language; editor's note] which has been
promoting this project, has recognised NepaLinux as one of its core
focus areas. This helps in making NepaLinux stable beyond the project
term.

We are also trying to work and collaborate with other public and
private sector partners over NepaLinux.

The network of FLOSS practitioners is increasing in Nepal at the
moment, and we hope that they also take ownership of NepaLinux and
help to take it forward. We work very closely with the recently formed
Nepal FOSS community.

FN: How important is local-language computing in Nepal? Why?

BKB: Really, really important in Nepal. More so when the government
stresses language plurality and respect for all national languages
(there are about 92, the last census reveals).

Also, the literacy rate is relatively low and English literacy even
lower.  Most Asian countries have a lot of linguistic diversities in
them. Local language computing makes a lot of difference in providing
access to computing technology in all kinds of languages.

It is not only about language but culture and local context as well.
Local language computing is really important in all countries.

We are not greatly concerned about people who already use computers
(either in English or otherwise). Our focus is in enabling the
millions of other users into using computers.

FN: Of your targeted users (individuals, governments, corporations,
educational institutions) who do you see as using it most effectively
until now?

BKB: We think the government and schools would use local language
computing the most. The government functions in the local language; in
most schools in rural Nepal the medium of teaching is still the local
language.

FN: Once you've created the solution, what's the best way of spreading
it?

BKB: Carrying out a few pilot projects for targeted users, proving
that the solution is actually worthwhile, and making the media aware
of the solution, would be the best way of spreading. Our developers
(both employed and volunteers) come from the various IT colleges.

FN: What are the biggest challenges you've faced so far?

BKB: There are challenges like the lack of awareness among users, and
the need to develop expertise, but they are being tackled.

FN: What are the priorities for the future?

BKB: Making NepaLinux as stable and as user-friendly as possible, and
deploying NepaLinux as widely as possible.

FN: Is it difficult to convince users to switch over operating systems
to get a regional language (Nepali) solution?

BKB: No. Users would use whatever they think will serve them best. We
just have to make sure that the solution that we provide is as good
(both technically as well as aesthetically) as any other.

FN: Can this project help to spread FLOSS use in Nepal?

BKB: Certainly. As FLOSS has gained major hype in Nepal in the recent
years, people are interested to see if it actually gets implemented
amongst end-users.

Deploying NepaLinux will certainly help convince people to use FLOSS.
One way is to increase the widespread use of NepaLinux in schools and
at the same time do some advocacy of FLOSS.

--
Frederick Noronha http://fn.goa-india.org Ph 0091-832-2409490
List of Indian e-lists http://wikiwikiweb.de/MailingListsInIndia

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