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The Constructive Cambodian


A group of forward-thinking young women at the conference, including myself (centre) and my good friend and fellow Lift writer Lyta Cheng on the far left. Photo by: Preetam Rai

After spending four days in October in Ho Chi Minh City attending a workshop called Foss Asia 2010, I reached the conclusion that open source software could be the answer to copyright issues on software or computer technology in developing countries such as Cambodia and Vietnam, where many poor people were under-paid and pirated copies of software were widely available.

This second Foss event after the first one in Vietnam last year featured open source advocates and open source software developers from all around the world and big names such as Google, open-source web-browser Mozilla, and many more.

Growing up with a lot of bootleg software programmes easily available in Cambodia, I had become used to these commercial software applications. As a consequence, this practice has deterred technology companies like Microsoft from fully operating here, which means no jobs or prospects for more development.

The other thing to consider is that the more that pirated software becomes available here, the more it increases anarchy and neglect of copyright laws – why use costly commercial software when we cannot afford it?

But what about open source software? And in what way can it help a country like Cambodia avoid using pirated programmes? Open source software is only a fraction of what’s known as “open source”, which some people call a philosophy and others “pragmatic methodology”, according to wikipedia, an online open-source encyclopedia.

Besides computer technology and culture, open source extends its influence to areas such as education, health and science and journalism, along with arts, digital content and more. As a way of illustration, open source software, which is different from the commercial software one has to pay for, was built on the concept of making everything free for all the people.

The source code of open source software is “published and made available to the public, enabling anyone to copy, modify and redistribute the source code without paying royalties or fees”, wikipedia states.

Open source code evolves through community cooperation in a collaborative manner in which software developers from all over the world come together online and develop a code to make any programme better.

These communities are also comprised of very large companies which believe in free access to free software for everyone. Where does the idea come from? In fact, open source existed even before computers when it was called the spirits of sharing.

At Foss Asia 2010, I learned that open source software technology has been taken to a new level in Vietnam, where many people have turned to open source programmes for use rather than the commercial software that many cannot afford.

In the late 1990s, the Vietnamese government strongly supported free open source software integrated in education as well as business, prompting an order from the government for all administrative offices to use open source applications in 2008. With more support from the national government and relevant OSS organisations, Vietnam has a strong open source community which enables the country’s consumers to save more and contribute less to copyright violations.

In an effort to bring development through technology to Cambodia, the Open Institute, which was established in 2006, is committed to improving access to quality education by using technology in the local language. Open source software has changed the face of education and business around the world.

It is still a struggle for Cambodia, however. According to Norbert Klein, a German author of the Cambodian Mirror blog and a strong supporter for internet development in Cambodia, the government in 2001 announced a policy aimed at “avoiding dependency on proprietary systems, instead promoting open systems and interoperability”, which was supported by the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Education to use free open source software such as OpenOffice, Khmer Unicode and other FOSS applications.

However, there is a lack of support for those who want to shift from commercial applications and a lack of facilities and training in schools around the country.

It is perhaps still a dream to see Cambodia fully integrate FOSS into education as much as Vietnam has, but FOSS will be the answer to more development in Cambodia in the information and communication technology sector. What is needed now is support and more programmes to lift awareness about the free use of open source software and at the same time reduce the use of pirated software.

What technology has the most potential to truly change Cambodia? Talk about it at angkorone.com/lift and then make it happen.

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