Khmer software initiative: an APC member takes language solutions to 13 million

By Javier Sola PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, 30 January 2006

"2005 has been a good year for KhmerOS, and, we hope, for Cambodia’s technological future," says APC member Open Forum Cambodia (OFC), writing out of the southeast Asian kingdom of 13 million.

KhmerOS started at the beginning of 2004 as an NGO initiative, with clear social goals: to allow people in Cambodia to work with computers in their own language in order to give access to computers to people in lower levels of the economic scale, to students and people in rural areas, to small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs) that required computers (but not English) and finally, to the government, for it to work in its own language.

"We wanted to do this at the lowest possible costs for institutions and individuals, so we chose to work with free/libre and open source software," says the 2005 annual report of the OFC.

During 2004 they accomplished the translation to Khmer of some basic applications (Office and internet applications, and prepared the infrastructure needed for using the language in computers (fonts, definition of keyboard, preparation for computers to display Khmer scripts, etc.).

Then, the team grew from three members at the beginning of the year to eight at the end of 2004 (all full-time). "We scratched money from here and there to make ends meet. We received a grant from the Pan Asia ICT R&D Grants Programme to work on improving FOSS localisation in general, and our project strongly profited from the know-how acquired from this work, even if it was (an still is) being done to serve the whole FOSS community," says the Open Forum of Cambodia.

[FOSS stands for free/libre and open source software.]

At the beginning of 2005 the National ICT Development Authority of the government of Cambodia (NiDA) joined the initiative, turning KhmerOS into a cooperation project between the government and a civil society organisation. This opened doors to use government training structures and using the applications in government offices.

During the first half of 2005, the people behind the project completed the materials needed to start the distribution efforts (for distributing FOSS applications on the proprietorial MS Windows platform).

"We gave the last touches to the basic applications, including translation of their help systems and local branding. We developed 65 hours worth of training materials in Khmer covering OpenOffice and local Khmer versions of Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird (using names in Khmer for the applications)," says the Open Forum of Cambodia.

In June 2005, four experienced computer teachers were hired for the project. With their help, the project improved and tested the training materials (while teaching at a university).

It also developed the training-for-trainers materials that would be used during the second half of the year by NiDA and Open Forum to train computer teachers, government officials, and computer students (under a grant from InWent:

More than 250 experienced computer teachers from private computer schools, NGOs, and government where re-trained to teach OpenOffice in Khmer and Khmer language internet programmes, instead of Microsoft tools in English.

In addition to the teachers, over 300 government officials and students were also trained. This training is still continuing in NiDA during 2006.

"We have also improved our installation materials, making installation of all these tools very easy, and working with computer vendors to have them pre-installed in the computers that they sell," said the Open Forum of Cambodia.

As part of this work, NiDA has specified a standard keyboard, which they have jointly manufactured with OFC, to assure that it becomes the industry standard.

"We have also been doing a lot of work in localisation and capacity building in preparation for the deployment of [GNU]Linux. Also funded by InWent, 20 engineers from NiDA and 10 from Open Forum have received 60 hours of training in Khmer on [GNU]Linux administration, in preparation for taking the LPI-101 exam (which they have also taken).

[The Linux Professional Institute (LPI) serves the community of Linux and open source software users vendors and developers, by conducting skill-exams in FOSS and increasing and supporting professional use of such software throughout world. See]

A bi-product of this training are 60 hours of Linux administration training materials in Khmer," said the OFC.

They have localised the KDE graphic user interface for GNU/Linux, and prepared and imparted 15 hours of training to teams.

A 500-page book on OpenOffice in Khmer and a 100-page book on e-mail have almost been finished and are being reviewed.

"A lot of work has also been done in ICT policy", says the Open Forum of Cambodia.

The draft ICT policy for Cambodia — developed by NiDA with the help of the UNDP-APDIP (United Nations Development Programme-Asia Pacific Development Information Programme) recommends the use of open source whenever possible, as well as its consideration in software purchasing policies.

"On top of this, NiDA has defined an ambitious FOSS Deployment Master Plan that calls for full migration of the

government to FOSS within two years. An action plan for the implementation of this master plan also exists," says the OFC.

The work during 2005 was supported by InWent (Capacity Building International Germany) and the Internet Society.

"At the end of 2005 we find ourselves very much where we wanted to be. Most people in Cambodia who work in the computer sector know about the software in Khmer language produced by KhmerOS. Many companies, cybercafes, NGOs, schools, and government offices have started using it. The programme is being pre-installed by some of the computer vendors and we have over 250 teachers who can teach the programmes," says the OFC.

It added: "It was quite refreshing for us when – at the beginning of 2006 – we traveled to one of the most remote

parts of the country (Pailin, to have our yearly planning meeting) and found out that most schools in the area with computer resources were teaching OpenOffice in Khmer. We really got the feeling that what we are doing is already getting out there and indeed becoming useful to people."

For 2006, the OFC plans working on several fronts:

* Continue deployment of FOSS on Windows platform through:

A campaign to ensure that private training places start teaching Khmer language software. This will be done by

supporting them with books and CDs for the students, with training materials and with direct help from our teachers at the beginning of their courses.

Continue training teachers, mainly in the provinces.

An organised volunteer-driven installation campaign. Two computer students from each province will be selected and trained for installation and basic one-to-one teaching. They will work in their own provinces during the summer vacation.

A promotion campaign – based on the pride of using one’s own language – to create user demand for Khmer software.

* Preparation for distribution of 100% Khmer GNU/Linux platform.

Continue localisation of several other normally-used pieces of software that will need to be included in the Linux


Ensuring that at least two different standard Linux distributions carry all the Khmer software, plus have their

installation and configuration tools in Khmer.

Preparing 250 to 300 GNU/Linux support assistants around the country in government departments, computer vendors, and training institutions. These people are necessary for Linux to be effectively used in their institutions.

Preparing curriculum and training materials for the training the personnel above.

Preparing additional training materials for new applications being localised.

* Participation in international open source projects.

By creating a group of developers that will work on applications needed for our project, as well as participate

in WordForge: (a project that attempts to improve computer tools and methodology for FOSS


Says the OFC: "We believe that Cambodia has the right conditions to be a country that demands open source, thanks to the language factor. We also believe that we are following all the right steps to create this demand and to respond to it, reducing the barriers to the change to Khmer language software."

They add that they’re "already seeing" children, government officials, corporate and NGO workers, teachers and users in cybercafes using software that they can understand, and doing work that would have been very complicated without Khmer software.

Some in Cambodia have argued that it should be "a country that does not need to learn a different language in order to use computers", and that this goal can be attained by 2007.

Copyright: This article is under GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL).

Author: —- (Javier Sola)
Contact: javier
Source: The Open Forum
Date: 01/31/2006
Location: PHNOM PENH, Cambodia
Category: Free Software