[gnulinuxinasia] Letter From Asia: Keeping busy this season

  • From: "Frederick Noronha (FN)" <fred@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: gnulinuxinasia@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 18 Jan 2005 12:55:07 +0530 (IST)

Letter From Asia

Keeping busy this season

Frederick Noronha

Frederick Noronha reports on the state of free software in the world's most
populous continent

December has seen some interesting and/or ambitious FLOSS meets in the past
weeks, with more to come up shortly.

Early December marked the Linux Bangalore/2004, held in South India's
Silicon Valley-wannabe city of Bangalore. At the time of writing,
discussions were still underway evaluating the event, how it's shaping up,
and whether it needs a new shape or venue in future.

Marked on the calendar too was the Pak Con Pakistan hacking convention.
Besides RMS's visit to Singapore in early November, there's also scheduled
to be a GNU/Linux 'training of trainers' at Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. The
last event is being held in conjunction with the Linux Professional
Institute (LPI), Vietnamese Management Board on Open Source Software, and
the Vietnam National University, among others.

IOSN updates

Asia's latest FLOSS primer (not restricted to Asian use, but originating
from there) is one on Network Infrastructure and Security, currently being
authored by Gaurab Raj Upadhaya of Nepal.

It includes an introduction to FLOSS, GNU/Linux and network concepts and
architectures. There's emphasis on important network functions, security
functions, and planning the use of FLOSS. What could be useful is further
references -- both on paper and online.

What's the IOSN.net and where does it get its were-withal from?

This is perhaps a good indicating that funding is entering the world of
FLOSS (Free/Libre and Open Source Software). Groups working on international
development, such as the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of
Canada, is partly funding the IOSN.net. Obviously, they're convinced that if
computing is too vital for the non-affluent world to miss out on, then FLOSS
does have a major role to play. Significantly, IOSN.net has been launched by
the UNDP and its APDIP (Asia Pacific Development Information Program)

The UNDP-APDIP's IOSN has already produced  a series of other FLOSS
'primers' -- a general introduction, a FLOSS in education primer, another
government and policy primer, and a fourth on FLOSS licensing. Just get your
copy at the IOSN.net site. Shortly, a new primer is being planned on 'open

In addition, they've recently put up a localization toolkit, and are
offering 'project workspace' for those projects needing an online presence.
Says this network: "If you already have a project, let us know so that
localization projects in different countries can collaborate on localization
efforts." IOSN also produces free training material, and a user guide to
using the GNU/Linux desktop. IOSN's general mailing list is available via
its site.

Recently, this network partnered with The University of the South Pacific
(USP) to launch a micro-grant programme for the Pacific island countries.
This competitive grants scheme is made available to individuals or teams in
that region.

Taxing times in India

In India, a November judgement saw the country's apex Supreme Court rule
that IT software products are, in fact, taxable. Nasscom, the "software and
service" companies (read, proprietorial software) lobby group protested
saying the tax would given an impetus to "piracy".

Free Software enthusiasts, who work through their not-for-profit company,
were quick to protest. One supporter commented that Nasscom should have
instead said that the tax would "help India earn more taxes and, in turn,
provide an impetus to the use of FLOSS".

An Indian consortium

In India, a consortium was recently formed over localisation plans. Check
the log of it at http://www.indlinux.org/wiki/index.php/23NovMeet

It's goal is to have a unified voice to represent the l10n community,
working mainly through volunteer groups. It plans to be a formal
organisation, that could also help groups -- including as a channel to get,
manage and distribute financial support. If that comes through in sufficient

It's being envisaged as a platform for interaction, a place to start-up
small l10n efforts, and a team to build a localisation road-map.

India already has a number of localisation teams. Including the pan-India
Indlinux, Ankur, Rebati, Utkarsh, Indictrans, Punlinux, Tamillinux, Kannada,
Malayalam and Telugu language teams. Others doing work include the Free
Software Foundation-India, IIT-Chennai, Indic-computing.sf.net, and Sarai,
besides government-funded and private organisations.

For a country that has over a dozen-and-half official languages -- some
bigger in terms of number of speakers than major European languages -- and
some 1652 mother tongues, such solutions better come fast and spread without

Hot spots

In the countries of the 'south', it's Brazil and South Africa that are
gaining attention for their deployment of FLOSS. In Asia, China and India
might be the Big Two. But there's also Malaysia, Thailand and dark-horse
Indonesia. Both Indonesia and South Korea seem to get little noticed,
perhaps because much of their work is in non-English tongues.

Countries like Pakistan and Vietnam too have some interesting initiatives,
though these may still be in the earlier stages.

India takes pride in publishing the "first' [GNU]Linux magazine in Asia. But
a closer look would show that, in fact, Indonesia already has a publication
of this kind, though not in the English language.

Chinese timeline

Here's an interesting time-line of the growth of FLOSS in China.

July 1999, FLOSS officially brought into China by the Ministry of
Information Industry. Given the large number of expat students, others have
been obviously working on this OS earlier. June 2000, Chinese software
vendors form the Open Source League. 2002, the Set Sail and Sailing projects
to promote FLOSS research and development. 2003, the Linux Public
Development Platform project and an education project to recruit and train
FLOSS talent. Watch this space... there's a lot happening here.

Asia Source 2005 

Asia Source, which has been announced earlier, is a kind of marriage between
technology and campaigning. It's being described as "a seven day hands-on
workshop aimed at building the technical skills of those working with NGOs
(non-government organisations) in South and South East Asia". It is
scheduled to take place on the outskirts of Bangalore at end-Jan and
early-Feb 2005.

Stephanie Hankey of the organising team says they received over 180
applications for the 80 or so open places. This is a continent-wide event,
with a focus more on South Asia and the Far-East.

See www.tacticaltech.org/asiasource about how this event plans to promote
the use of FLOSS among the non-profit sector. Organisers claim it will be
"the first event of its kind in the region". It's bringing together Asian
regional non-profit professionals with a rights-based focus, and is inviting
people from "both the technical and content end of the spectrum to focus on
the practical elements of using such tools within NGOs (non-government

An Indic toolbar

In India, Raghavan and Surekha <surekha@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> have put together an
Indic IME toolbar, which can be added to the Mozilla or Netscape browsers.
Work is underway for Firefox. Using this toolbar, one can type in Indian
languages in web pages, send email in Indian languages, edit documents in
the composer's HTML source mode and save it or take a printout.

It can be installed directly from

http://mail.sarai.net:8080/indic/servlet/ViewPosting?di_p=723&urlid=indic or
visit Indicart at http://mail.sarai.net:8080/indic and search for the toolbar.

Korean 'k'odefest

South Korea recently organised its third codefest. Some 40-50 people
gathered to share their "knowledge, code, effort and time", reports Soon-Son
Kwon. Never mind if you can't understand the Korean, like this writer. Some
pictures are up at http://gallery.kldp.org

Known on the Net as Shawn, Soon-Son Kwon initiated the KLDP, the
Korean-language branch of Linux Documentation Project,in 1996 and saw it
grow. By now, the KLDP is the biggest FLOSS community in Korea and covers
almost everything in the field. See the main site kldp.org; documentation at
wiki.kldp.org; FLOSS project hosting at kldp.net (believed to be the biggest
in Asia) and the community BBS at bbs.kldp.org

KLDP has been a 100% volunteer effort. It has an in-built system which
allows anyone, even if anonymous, to join in. After all, the work must get
somehow done. "It does work, and is effective," says senior engineer
Soon-Son Kwon, who's with Samsung Electronics as his day job.

Korean's localisation has been so successful, that non-natives can't access
much of the sites. This, of course, is no complaint!

Free, freeware

The government-funded SALIS network in India --
http://salis.ece.iisc.ernet.in/project.php --  is building a database of
"freeware, shareware and academic software and their copyright and use/
reuse information in the areas of computer networks and databases". It says
its goal is to provide "a databank for Registrar of Copyrights to speed up
the copyrighting process".

It also wants to facilitate software developers to "identify and select"
suitable software and obtain "copyright and intellectual property

Some would like to fight the extension of patent and IP ideas to software;
others would like to build up a modus vivendi with it. What's strange though
is the mix of "freeware", and shareware apart from "academic software" in a
field which has come to be otherwise dominated by the ideals of FLOSS. Maybe
it's time to have a specific Asia-centric Free Software Directory.


FLOSS can be true globalisation, in another sense. One that doesn't have all
the negative connotations the word otherwise has in Asia. This quote, of a
Brazilian minister, came in by way of a sig-file from Malaysia: "A world
opened up by communications cannot remain closed up in a feudal vision of
property. Viva to Brazil's minister of culture Gilberto Gil.
Frederick Noronha (FN)                    Nr Convent Saligao 403511 GoaIndia
Freelance Journalist                      P: 832-2409490 M: 9822122436
http://fn.swiki.net                       http://fn-floss.notlong.com
http://goabooks.swiki.net * Reviews of books on Goa... and more

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