Frederick Noronha (FN) on Wed, 12 Jan 2005 21:05:41 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> NGOs, searching long for alternatives, find flavour in


>From Frederick Noronha

For an sector that talks of alternatives, the non-governmental organisations
(NGOs) or voluntary sector stays surprisingly aloof from one significant
alternative that has really worked -- free software. But there are stirrings
to bridge this huge chasm. In end-January, India's technology mecca
Bangalore is to be the venue for an international 'camp' meant to promote
FLOSS among the NGO sector.

Others talk of building 'another world'; in free software, it is already
there. Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS, using the newish acronomy
that better describe both diverse strands that make it up) today allows just
about anyone to avoid globally dominant players, and to find more
freedom-oriented options. It also, at the same time, works very efficiently
in the growing world of computing.

Asia Source, as the 'tech camp' is called, will be held from January 28 to
February 4, 2005 and "hopes to bring together over a hundred people from 20
countries to increase the use and awareness of FLOSS amongst the non-profit
sector in South and South East Asia."

There will be participants coming in from a range of backgrounds.

Sucharat "Ying" Sathapornanon from Thailand looks after IT for the
Asia-Pacific Regional Resource Center for Human Rights Edcuation. says Ying:
"I hope to learn more new skills, exchange tips and share experiences.
Interaction and discussion between people from different cultures have
enriched me a lot (in the past). I wish to gain a lot of knowledge in the
global family of this camp."

Umesh Pradhan comes in from Thimphu, Bhutan. Prior to launching his own
software firm, he worked with the Royal Institute of Management as the
training coordinator and was involved in the promotion of ICTs (information
and communication technologies) there.

Ujjwal from Nepal is a "technical supporter" of organizations like Wildlife
Watch Group (WWG), Environment Camps for Conservation Awareness (ECCA), and
Kathmandu 2020. Currently, they've launched a 'Crafted in Kathmandu' concept
to preserve the craftmenship in the valley. This hopes to leverage the world
wide market to preserve the world heritage cities.

Yee Yee Htun from Myanmar lives along the Thai-Myanmar border, and is a
volunteer webmaster for AAPPB (Assistance Association for Political
Prisoners-Burma) -- -- and a member of the Democratic Party
for New Society.

Alecks Pabico from the Philippines is a journalist working with the
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. Says he: "In the center's
multitasking scheme of things, I'm designated the online manager (only
because nobody was "techie" enough for the job) and also double as training

Kuma Raj Subedi of Nepal has launched the  Silicon Village Computer
Institute -- -- which provides courses to
local school and uiversity students and we have started some localisation

>From a range of Asian countries, NGOs and grassroots technology support
professionals will come in "to learn new skills, exchange tips, and share
experiences", organisers say.

Local hosts reminded participants that Bangalore is famous for its silk,
sandle wood, handicrafts, designer jewelery and (tasty vegetarian) food.

But beyond the names and faces and local attractions, there's a more
important message.

FLOSS bestows on the user four freedoms -- freedom to use the software for
any purpose; freedom to study how the software works; freedom to modify the
software; and freedom to share the software with others. From a technical
perspective, this can be used to reduce costs and hardware requirements
while also improving security, reliability, performance, stability, and

>From a wider philosophical perspective, FLOSS can transform patterns of
access, usage, control and ownership of knowledge and technologies.
Globally, FLOSS has grown after several hundred thousand hackers and
students scattered across the globe collaborated to produce a unified body
of knowledge without resorting to hierarchical structures and exploitative
relationships. This movement is also seen by some to demonstrate how wealth
can be created by entrepreneurs in the free market without using the
proprietary copyright regime.


In Bangalore, four themes will flow throughout the event. FLOSSophy for NGOs
(or, why Free Software and Open Source makes sense), migration and access to
non-proprietorial software, tools for content-building and communication,
and the localisation of computing to make it relevant to countries across

Elizabeth, originally Timorese (from East Timor), is currently doing her
internship at the Open Forum of Cambodia with KhmerOS (Khmer Open Source).
The KhmerOs is working to localise software to Khmer, the Cambodian
language. Says she: "I'm learning from them while also preparing a
localization document for Tetum, one of our national language in Timor
Leste." Tetum uses the Latin script with some accents, since it has words
imported from Portuguese.

For Sanat Kumar Bista, an assistant professor of computer science and
engineering at Kathmandu University, this isn't just a good escape from the
chilly Nepalese cold, but is a chance for building useful links too. Bista
has been working on the Nepali language Computing Project.

Talat Numanov from Dushanbe, Tajikistan works in Central Asian Development
Agency as an IT specialist, and his goal is to learn more about FLOSS and
distribute it to users. Says he: "My friends use Mandrake Linux (because it
has been localised to Tajik)."

Russell T. Kyaw Oo from Myanmar says: "I am focusing on localization,
translation and modification.  Recently I have been doing localization and
translation on Zope/Plone Content Management Interface to simplify ICTs for
each and everyone of Burma/Myanmar's ethnics' nationalities. I am also
involved with Burma Internet Guide (BIG) group, which intends to penetrate
through to the six major ethnic groups by localizing the sources regarding
media news, human rights, political views, democracy, ICT knowledge -- which
are otherwise beyond their reach and they have a very less chance to get in
their own languages. Visit us at our site "

If all goes as planned, the guests from overseas should be meeting up with
Guntupalli Karunakar. This soft-spoken extremely low-key Mumbai-based
champion of localisation is one of the quiet workers contributing hugely but
silently to the cause. He's part of the Indian Linux Project

Explains Karunakar: "My primary experience is in F(L)OSS localization. I
have been working on this for last four years, We have almost completed
Hindi localization part."

Not-so-friendly neighbouring regions are sometimes united by common
concerns. From Pakistan, Sufyan told Karunakar in a pre-conference online
discussion: "We at Open Source Resource Center of Pakistan (
will be grateful to you if you can give us an action plan for localization
in Urdu. What expertise will we be needed? We are willing to hire experts
who can perform the job. And if we dont get the experts, we can get our
personnel trained."

Localisation is an issue that many are addressing in the FLOSS world, and
taking computing to communities which otherwise might just be seen as an
unviable market.

Javier Sola, a Spaniard living in Cambodia, is coordinator of the KhmerOS
project. "Our goal is to make Cambodia OpenSource-Country by means of
localization. I am an enthusiast of F(L)OSS localization. I believe that it
is the key to adoption of F(L)OSS by users," says he.

He has been also working on a "toolkit" on how to do FLOSS localization. In
Javier's view, localization and making migration easy are the two "keys to
FLOSS adoption". In Bangalore, he regrets not being able to attend both

Hok Kakada, another Cambodian, works for the KhmerOS project, which she sees
as aiming to "enable all the Cambodian people to use a computer in their own
language". She says that by using FLOSS, their team has already localized a
number of applications into the Khmer language -- actually, not just
applications, but even the operating system as well.


Over a hundred participants are expected at this global meet. Together with
experts and specialists, they'll look at how technology and free and open
source software makes sense within the non-profit sector -- in terms of
access and content.

Asia Source organisers -- the Dutch network and
in Bangalore -- say theirs will be the "first event of its kind" in the

Peer-learning will take top priority. Participants will look at available
options, learn how to select and apply alternative technologies. They'll
access skills and tools to utilise this in their daily work.

There will be experts to share the skills.

Colin Charles, also from Malaysia, considers himself an "all round open
source person, actively involved in The Fedora Project and"
He has helped numerous NGOs, companies and individuals make the switch,
first to the Windows-like Open Office and then to GNU/Linux. He's going to
play the role of being one of the facilitators on the migration track, that
guides people how to shift over to free software.

Soon-Son 'Shawn' Kwon from South Korea works with a "big corporation" by day
and by night has been managing the highly-successful Korean Linux
Documentation Project, the biggest FLOSS portal in Korea since 1996. He does
this "as a hobby".

David Tremblay is a French Canadian volunteer working for Oxfam Quebec as an
IT analyst in Ha Noi, Viet Nam. He says: "I'm implementing websites,
intranet, extranet and networks using -- as much as I can -- open source,
open standards and accessible technologies. I'm trying to build a strong
open source community in Ha Noi. I'm also a proud [GNU]Linux desktop user."

Tremblay argues that he wants "to raise awareness among my NGOs that are too
often giving away computers without thinking what their are doing.... I want
to raise awareness that software choice isn't genuine. Too often, they think
of their computers as a hammer, and everything become a MS-nail."

David's sig(nature) file to one recent email carries a quotation that said
all about his belief-system: "To mess up a [GNU]Linux box, you need to work
at it; to mess up your Windows box, you just need to work on it."

One of the more colourful and high-profile though is "Rasta coder" Jaromil.

Denis 'Jaromil' Rojo is the maintainer of dyne:bolic, HasciiCam MuSE and
FreeJ. He calls himself "a nomadic rastafari of south Italian origins" and a
free software developer.

Dynebolic ( comes out with a GNU/Linux multimedia-oriented
distribution. Jaromil sees it as being suitable for "audio/video
manipulation, network radio streaming, veejaying and anything else we can
come up with together". He points out that this is a "100% free" operating
system. (In the world of FLOSS, the word 'free' doesn't refer to zero-cost,
but refers to the freedom to run, study, redistribute and improve software.)

Dyne:bolic GNU/Linux is a live bootable cd, containing a whole operating
system that works straight from boot, without the need to install or change
anything on the hard disk. It is user-friendly: recognizes your hardware
devices (sound, video, firewire, and USB), and offers a really vast range of
free software applications for multimedia production, audio and video
manipulation, sound composition and synthesis, 3D modeling, photography,
peer2peer filesharing, web browsing, desktop publishing, word processing, cd
burning, email, encryption, remote conferencing, funky games, a world atlas
navigator and even more.

Rasta software? What's that?

Jaromil is making a political point through his work. Says he: "This is
Rasta software! It is about Resistance in a babylon world which tries to
control and limit the way we communicate and we share informations and

Besides, it wants to be inclusivist too. As Jaromil puts it: "This software
is for all those who don't want to afford the latest expensive hardware to
speak out their words of consciousness and good will, still offering a
complete operating system with more features than some other proprietary
system affected by viruses and full of spyware."

Jaromil stresses that the roots of Rasta culture can be found in Resistance
to slavery. Says he: "This software is not a business. This software is free
as of speech and is one step in the struggle for Redemption and Freedom.
This software is dedicated to the memory of Patrice Lumumba, Marcus Garvey,
Martin Luther King, Steve Biko, Walter Rodney, Malcom X, Mumia Abu Jamal and
all those who still resist to slavery, racism and oppression, who still
fight imperialism and seek an alternative to the hegemony of capitalism in
our World."

At the 'camp', there will be a range of sessions. From planning and helping
an NGO to migrate to FLOSS, to sharing tips and techniques on using tools
for content development, advocacy and campaigning. In parallel to this they
will look beneath user-level scenarios, and break-down tricky issues such as
techniques for localising software and forms of understanding the real cost
of technology use.

Asia Source will be held in a small artists community on the outskirts of
Bangalore. But perhaps this needs to be recognised as an endeavour that goes
beyond just code.

FLOSS ideals are spreading to other fields. It's amazing to see the manner
in which the sharing of knowledge and information is catching on in other
circles too. Today, like sharing Free Software, the same ideals are growing
in fields like open law, open source biology, MIT's OpenCourseWare, Project
Gutenberg and Books Online (that distributes e-texts free online), free
dictionaries and encyclopedias, and the open music movement.

Mumbai-based Shekhar Krishnan, a freelance researcher and consultant, is
also a social scientist and writer. He plans to help produce a half-hour
video documentary on Asia Source and FLOSSophy, the philosophy of FLOSS.

It's goal? To be used by the hackers and the free/libre and open source
movement to explain their practices and projects to the NGO sector, and
distributed as a low-cost and free speech media to other organisations.

In keeping with the FLOSS style of creating collaboratively, Krishnan is
keen to post their initial ideas for the script, and "invite everyone in the
community to add their ideas and comments".

There are others coming in with various planned contributions, backgrounds
and experiences.

Bangalorean Kiran Jonnalagadda will be conducting sessions on 'open
publishing'. He jokes: "I'd much rather be taking pictures and listening to
good music and generally hanging around, but I'm not complaining."

Klaikong Vaidhyakarn has been manager at the Information Technology
Institute for Education (ITIE), Thailand. ITIE is NGO that promotes and
support ICT usage for NGOs, education institutes and community
organizations. Says Klaikong: "We also use F(L)OSS for many of our projects,
for example, free web hosting for non-profit organizations, live radio
streaming server, E-learning application."


Various experiments are seeing FLOSS being deployed to bridge the 'digital
divide'. While the potential is vast, and significant achievements are being
reported at the ground level, there probably just isn't enough awareness
about it.

Tomas Krag in Copenhagen runs a small non-profit called It
works primarily with low-cost wireless solutions for remote areas (mostly in
the so-called 'developing world'). With a background as a web-developer,
technical architect, and technology evangelist, his interest is "in a
variety of open (standards, source, spectrum, doors) technology solutions to
bring more people on to the Internet, and make it a richer better place".

Adi Nugroho lives in Makassar, a small town in Sulawesi Island in Indonesia.
He's been using FLOSS since 1998. In March 1999, with some friends, they
founded the Linux User Group Ujung Pandang, to learn GNU/Linux together and
to help each other to migrate and use it.

Way back in September 1999, they build iNterNUX, the first full-GNU/Linux
Internet cafe in Indonesia, which use FLOSS for all servers and
workstations. That too, at a time when FLOSS hadn't matured as it has now,
and before the media hype drew 'Open Source' (its predecessor Free Software
often gets ignored) the attention deserved. Their cybercafe subsequently
grew into an Internet Service Provider ( Says
Nugroho: "And of course we are still using Linux."


The 'free' bug and the 'knowledge sharing' virus is already catching on.
Some discussions are looking at how FLOSS can be implemented in schools and
colleges. Sayamindu Dasgupta, an amazing young man himself just out of his
higher secondary and into college from Kolkata in eastern India, shared his
experiences of running a localized 'LTSP' (Linux Terminal Server Project)
for schools at the West Bengal University of Technology in Kolkata.

Says he: "We also managed to enable sound over the network with our setup --
which was quite cool, since the thin clients could be turned into full
fledged multimedia enabled systems."

Sayamindu Dasgupta has himself worked on the Bengali Free Software
localisation project ( He has been also involved
in some low cost computing projects -- involving thin clients running
localised Free software. In addition, he helps FLOSS related projects and
communities (,,, etc).

In terms of education too, participants have already shown an interest in
how FLOSS solutions could be applied to the classroom.

The Africa Source 2 event, due to take place in the months ahead, will
concentrate on that issue, and reports are expected to examine two models --
the Schoolnet Namibia and Shuttleworth Foundation who have their TuxLab
project. Bridges have also been built by some in and
Skolelinux from Sweden -- who have a very good distro -- and Directlearn.

In the pre-conference discussions -- thanks to the Internet, a 'conference'
today starts before you even touch down -- Wire James from Uganda says he
has been able to implement thin clients using Skole Linux in academic
institutions in Uganda (with SchoolNet Uganda) and, more recently, in
Nigeria where he recently took part in the Fantsuam project. "I find Skole
Linux ( a ready to roll solution," says James.

Nigeria and Asia were quickly discussing how to make do with less -- using
GNU/Linux solutions to do a job it has already got a lot of attention doing,
that is, getting it to work with low-powered, older computers. In a world
where getting access to a computer can still seem impossible for most, it's
terribly wasteful to have to junk computers to the waste heaps, just because
they are made obsolete by bloated software.


There are others with diverse interests who plan to come in to Bangalore.

Andrew from Melbourne works more on the "content side of things with
Indymedia (the alternate global media network) nd with techs to put the
technology into practice." Indymedia is an independent media network, that
has varioius local sites in places like Melbourne, Oceania (for South East
Asia and the Pacific). Andrew is working with others to build an online
video network for the region.

Commented Marcell: "I'm interested in packing some cybercafe liveCD which
will enable people to manage usage from a server with descash and also set
up thin clients environment all from 1 or 2 CDs (server and/or client)."

Some interesting examples of FLOSS's use in NGOs -- or other circuits -- are
already meanwhile already trickling in.

ONG Pisey works with the Open Forum of Cambodia and uses SuSE Linux
Professional on seven servers -- a DNS server, mail server, content
management system server, webmail server and others.

Erdenemunkh "Muno" Renchinnyam, from Mongolia's capital Ulaanbaatar, works
for the Mongolia Development Gateway NGO as a technology coordinator. "Most
of my work related to F(L)OSS," says he.

Sufyan Kakakhel of Islamabad is with the Pakistan Software Export Board
( which has a project called the "Open Source Resource
Center" ( The project aims to promote FLOSS in Pakistan,
facilitate companies and individuals who want to work on it or migrate to
OSS. Earlier, he worked as manager for corporate affairs at iinix Solutions
-- -- an open source company he and three friends founded.
Said Sufyan: "The company is among those very few in Pakistan working
exclusively for open source (support) and with a good web presence."


In the West, FLOSS grew early. But in Asia it is a younger development,
mainly because widespread public access to tools vital for collaboration --
like the Internet -- grew in these parts only very recently.

>From Pakistan, Sufyan complains that FLOSS "is becoming famous" in Pakistan,
but only at a very slow pace. In response, what the OSRC hopes to do is hold
awareness workshops in universities across the country, plan training
sessions for varsity instructors, build web portals (including discussions
, mailing lists, download sections), and employ a couple of experts to
assist people and firms to migrate to FLOSS free of cost. Another plan is
also to make FLOSS CDs easily available to those needing them.

In Bangalore, the camp is being supported by the Association for Progressive
Communications (APC) and Aspiration. This event is sponsored by Hivos, the
Open Society Institute, and the International Open Source Network (IOSN).
This perhaps marks a shift in the approach of international development
organisations, who have come to recognise that the Free Software approach
to knowledge and skills makes the most sense in a world where poverty and
illiteracy and unconquered enemies for a few thousands millions.

Prior to this event, similar 'source' events have taken place in South East
Europe, Southern Africa and are planned in 2005 in Western Africa. See (ENDS)
Frederick Noronha is a freelance journalist who writes often on Free
Software, and can be emailed at fred at

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