By Cheekay Cinco MANILA, Philippines, 22 February 2006
As part of his Asian tour to promote free/libre and open source software (FOSS), the techie-millionaire founder of the Ubuntu Linux Foundation Mark Shuttleworth spent a day in Manila on February 2 to meet with different sectors of the ICT (information and communication technology) industry in the country.
The last leg of his series of meetings in Manila was an hour-long meeting with non-profit organisations and education officials. The meeting was hosted by the Commisssion on Information Communication Technology (CICT) and co-coordinated by the APC-member Foundation for Media Alternatives.
Shuttleworth focussed on Ubuntu and how he foresees the future of free/libre and open source software (FOSS). He said that recent trends show that there has been an increase in Unix use, and that he expects that in the the next few years there will a 30-40% increase in the GNU/Linux server and desktop use.
He also mentioned that people are getting used to using GNU/Linux, which is known more widely simply as Linux, on their desktop but that there is still a need to raise awareness on Linux as an alternative to proprietorial operating systems like the currently globally-dominant Microsoft.
He cited the Philippines as an example, saying that in the last two months, they had received requests for 57,000 Ubuntu CDs from the Philippines. (Ubunut, which has had a policy of sending out free CDs to anyone who asks for them, has also sent that many CDs to the country).
He also said that while there has been growth in GNU/Linux use, there has been no increase in GNU/Linux skills. He recommended that countries should invest in building capacity in GNU/Linux skills in order to fulfill the current and potential demands for such skills.
He went on to say that countries which seek to enhance their technical development should invest in two things: acquiring more bandwidth and Free Software.
Unfortunately, there was not enough time to have more substantive discussions on FOSS and education, a theme which is seen as having much potential specially in the resource-deprived parts of the planet.
The meeting lasted only one hour and there was no time for an extensions. Questions that the audience raised were mainly about Ubuntu in relation to Open Office development, and about different Ubuntu flavours (such as the KDE-based Kubuntu and and the education-oriented Edubuntu).
Some participants raised interesting questions, such as how best to encourage the development of a healthy FOSS environment in the Philippines. Shuttleworth responded by saying that Ubuntu offers online services (wikis, blogs, mailing lists) to support LUGs, and that it is important that FOSS communities have a healthy relationship with the commercial sector.
This raised more questions on the role of different sectors in promoting and using FOSS, particularly how goverments have played a role in fostering FOSS use at the national level.
Shuttleworth said that,based on his visits to various countries, the role of government and private sector in FOSS
uptake is varied.
In Australia, for instance, the utilisation of FOSS has been very much private-sector led, whereas in India, the
government has played a bigger role.
In the case of Indonesia, the impetus for the increase in FOSS use has been the inability to pay for licensing fees, coupled with Microsoft raids that make it very difficult for people to use so-called ‘pirated’ (i.e. illegally copied) operating systems.
In Singapore, where licensing fees are not a problem as most people can afford them, FOSS use is not as popular.
In any case, according to Shuttleworth, what really makes a difference is the role of models in FOSS migration and use, and he urged organisations who have migrated to FOSS to continue sharing their experiences to encourage others to follow suit.
The meeting ended in an anti-climactic note, with questions going back to Ubuntu and Open Office compatibility. Everyone agreed that the time was too short to discuss more substantive issues.