There many of us wouldn't find Microsoft Office to be novel software, few have probably heard about Open Office in the past decade.
But that doesn't mean Open Office has lost its importance - in fact, young Cambodia might be able to reap some interesting benefits from the free computer program.
That's because Open Office has a popular program called Slerkrith, a program that can facilitate administration work from text editing to document formatting - all in Khmer.
Mr Javier Solá, manager of the Open School Program – and the founder of Open Office software – said that Slerkrith is one of the original Khmer software applications tested back in 2000, along with other widely used software including Norpun and Mekhala.
According to Solá, these programs were released in 2004 in order to help facilitate administrative work for those who know little English but can work in Khmer Unicode.
He added that the programs were especially helpful in high school computer classes.
“All of the programs in computer class [at Khmer-language schools] are used and taught by using Open Office, and the teachers are not allowing Microsoft Office,” Solá said.
Solá’s Open School was founded as a joint project between the Open Institute and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport to improve what they call “Information, Communication and Technology” (ICT) across the Kingdom.
According to the Open Institute’s website, the Open School had trained upper-secondary teachers and staff at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport on how to use Open Office’s Khmer-language software, in 2008.
A new version of Open Office’s Khmer software suite will be released in 2013.
Solá added that it’s easy for young Cambodians to learn on Open Office’s Khmer software “because it is less training, less learning and it is free”.
Khem Sovutey, a third-year student at Chea Sim Sonthormok High School, said that she was taught how to use Slerkrith in her computer class by second-year.
“Even though we don’t know English very well, we’re still able to create many different documents because Slerkrith is in Khmer-language,” she said. “The computer teacher instructs in Open Office so that we can use Khmer. My friends and I use Slerkrith instead of Microsoft Word because of that.”
Some students, however, are using Microsoft Word over Slerkrith to type Khmer.
Mer Sokphyrakyuth, a 17-year-old student at Bak Touk High School, said he’s never heard of or seen Open Office’s Khmer-language software. He added that a limitation of resources in computer education might be the reason he hasn’t been exposed to software apart from Microsoft Office.
Twenty-seven-year-old Im Manath, a computer teacher and manager at Mekong International Centre, explained that most of the students using the centre for study actually use Microsoft Word to type Khmer Unicode.
The only students he gets that want to learn how to use Open Office are those required by their employers to use it at the office, he said.
Manath, on a personal level, values the Open Office Khmer-language software.
“Although it’s a bit difficult to use because of its menus, we Khmer should learn about it,” he said.
Lim Seng Try, a 37-year-old research officer of Computer Science at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said that many companies and institutions are adopting Open Office’s Khmer-language software, such as Slerkrith.
In his experience, he said, it was difficult to use at first and the translation was sometimes illogical.
“Some English words were new, so it didn’t translate right into Khmer and then became difficult to understand,” he explained.
At the same time, Try lauded the software for its advancement.
“We should value Khmer achievement. At first, we may experience some difficulty, but the owners are updating the program for more ease and better use.”