The main factor working against the growth of open source software in Asia has been the ready availability of pirated versions of Microsoft's software. However, open source advocates are gaining traction in places such as Nepal, where Linux is growing in popularity.
The battle of the operating systems is intensifying in Nepal, and it looks like free open source software like Linux is emerging as a viable alternative to commercial software.
People usually are only too happy to grab anything labeled "free," but free and open source software (FOSS) was finding it difficult to make much headway against the commercial giants. Ironically, it was the fact that pirated Windows operating systems are cheap and sometimes come free with the hardware that made it difficult for FOSS to have a following.
The concept of FOSS lies in freedom of usage, modification and sharing, says Bal Krishna Bal of Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya (MPP), which is trying to promote the programs and its Nepali language operating system.
Free of Restrictions
FOSS is computer software a user can download for free, use in any way and even modify. Among the most popular examples of FOSS are the Mozilla Firefox Web browser, and the OpenOffice.org office suite which offers a free alternative to Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT) Windows software. Original, proprietary software, like that of Microsoft or Adobe (Nasdaq: ADBE) , can cost several hundred dollars. But they can be legally used once only by one customer and cannot be modified.
Unlike FOSS, the rights of the software are restricted to the company and the user is bound to comply with their policies, says Subir Pradhananga, President of FOSS Nepal.
Regardless of its cost and technical limitations, proprietary software is used virtually everywhere in the world. Even in Nepal, the pirated versions of proprietary software make up 90 percent of all software used.
FOSS alternatives exist for almost all commercial software, Pradhananga says. What is lacking is awareness, he says.
Now, Foss Nepal with MPP, Help Nepal Network and other cyberactivists are trying to change all that with public programs and recruitment of young software engineers into the movement.
Nepal is at the forefront among South Asian countries in promoting FOSS, especially in developing localized software. In 2005, NepaLinux, an operating system in the Nepali language, was launched and is now available in four versions. The arrival of NepaLinux meant that using a computer was no longer limited to English speakers.
Several rural schools are now using FOSS, and enthusiasts have been lobbying for the government to include it in the country's IT policies and in the national education curriculum.
Easy to Switch
The switch to FOSS is not difficult as many free applications are Windows compatible, and it is also possible to install a dual-booting system on a computer.
What makes FOSS unique is the easy availability of its source code, which allows IT-savvy operators around the world to modify and improve the software. FOSS users and developers share ideas, problems and solutions in the quest to make the free software more useful and easier to operate. And the other great advantage is the low risk from computer viruses.