Open source software is an important way forward and a useful impetus for development in Cambodia, according to attendees of the Kingdom’s first software conference this weekend.
Open source is a designation for anything, generally software, that is developed jointly by a community or individuals around the world, which can be used, changed or developed further by users without the need to purchase a licence.
The conference, which centred on TYPO3, an open source content management system (CMS), was held this past weekend at the Cambodia-Japan Cooperation Centre at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, where attendees from Cambodia, Europe, America and even other ASEAN member states were able to share ideas and experience.
The keynote speech was conducted by TYPO3 founder Kasper Skårhøj, a Danish citizen who came to Cambodia to offer his own perspective on the importance of open source technology, a philosophy he has become something of an evangelist for, and as an attempt to inspire young Cambodians who are learning the ins and outs of TYPO3 as well as other systems.
Skårhøj, who stopped developing TYPO3 five years ago but remains a supporter of the system, believes the community, the goodwill and the fact that information is shared not just among TYPO3 developers but by all users, along with the lack of licences to be purchased, make open source software the key to Cambodia’s, and other emerging economies’, development.
“The issue of licensing costs is actually a player in these contexts, and to me it would be sort of obvious that if you can have the licence for free, then it’s going to help people with less money than, for instance Denmark or the US,” he said.
Skårhøj continued: “If you have money, you can have open source and you can buy the consultancy that usually follows a mature open source product, for instance TYPO3 would not usually be free for a company to use – you want to get a website you would usually find a Web agency to help you, that costs money – that’s consultants, but you don’t pay a licence fee.
“If you don’t have money to pay consultants, then you can still have the product for free and you can invest your time, so in my view this is the democratic principle of open source.”
Open source software is not without its barriers to use. For one, the learning curve can be quite steep, as Hak Kimthong, a graduate student who attended the conference, highlighted: “This conference is a good start for Cambodia; it’s generating ideas about communication and creating for the Web.
“The disadvantage is that because the English levels of students vary, it can be difficult for them to understand technical aspects of the work.”
Skårhøj recognises that learning TYPO3, just like any system, can be quite difficult but said that comes with the territory.
“Naturally, the learning curve of TYPO3 is definitely high, but it’s also because what you need to learn with TYPO3 is the inner technical details of the CMS. This is what is required to implement it.”
Pily Wong, Microsoft’s country manager and president of the ICT Business Association of Cambodia, argues that although open source software is important, especially to the localisation of products for smaller markets like Cambodia, it is hampered by the lack of a dedicated developer.
“Most open source software is not developed by professionals, but by individuals or independent communities. That results in no real integration of the solutions, and the products are not the most reliable, nor fully integrated with one another. It takes a long time before any bug is patched, and most of the time, new versions never come out. The problem is that most open source software is free and has a small market share, so there is no real incentive for developers to create and innovate on this platform.”
Cambodia’s largest internet service provider, Ezecom, supported the event, providing an alternative location for the participants to upload their data, photos and presentations to, so that those interested, both in and out of Cambodia, could easily access the information.
Ezecom chief information officer Glen Miller was also in attendance, as well as a number of other representatives from local IT companies.