Cambodia: A young country in FOSS, but trying to pick up fast
At the 4th Asia Open Software Symposium Taipei Shoung Noy and Kith Chankrisna of the National ICT Development Authority (NiDA?) noted that the "the Royal Government of Cambodia encourages the use of Open Source technology as highlighted in the statement of the Deputy Prime Minister H.E Sok An made during the 2002 IT Awareness Seminar in Cambodia".
It has been stated that "all the laws, regulations, and policies in the IT sector will reflect the following guiding spirit and philosophy, 'To uphold the interests of the consumers and general public. To guarantee security of information, while facilitating the broadest possible access to public information. To respect individual rights, and To avoid dependency on proprietary systems, instead promoting open system and interoperability."
Noy and Chankrisna also point to the draft of ICT Policy of the Royal Government of Cambodia which states: "Policy 3.15: Government will promote Open Source system(s) in ICT to cut costs in a long term but also to broaden the skills and capacities of ICT professionals."
In implementing this, Cambodia is however seen facing some "challenges and difficulties", which range from a lack of human resource, lack of technical support, lack of awareness of concepts and the potential benefits of FOSS, too-much reliance on "piracy" and illegal software, and a lack of financial support.
- Noy and Chankrisna suggest a two-track solution
- in the short run, raising awareness and promoting FOSS, developing the capacity to use OSS and start shifting from proprietary software and piracy software; and in the medium and long run, aim to establish FOSS production capabilities and produce more skilled individual for the development of FOSS.
They said the government "in the near future may" look to development of FOSS expertise in the University; development of FOSS expertise in companies; and expertise-based training.
Currently, Cambodia's e-government servers are running on GNU/Linux operating system. Most of the web servers run on FOSS-based technology.
One NGO creates the first Khmer email using Thunderbird. The Open Forum of Cambodia has reported that Cambodians are now able to send and read email in Khmer using localized version of the FOSS email client Thunderbird.
The national IT trend in Cambodia is moving toward FOSS because Cambodia will soon become member of WTO and other world bodies and Cambodia needs to re-enforce its laws on copyright and intellectual property rights. Thus, illegal and piracy software will be hardly available. And on the other hands, the licensed software is expensive for the Cambodia. As the result, FOSS is seen as seeming "to be the solution". (Noy and Chankrisna)
Cambodia Information Communications Technology Association (CiCTA?)
CiCTA? has been set up in Cambodia, and it is dedicated to research and development of FOSS technology in Cambodia. It is still in its infancy with "no experience and strongly need the supports both technically and financially in order to operate successfully". Cambodia says it would "most welcome any inputs, which will contribute to the successful FOSS movement in Cambodia".
On January 6, 2005, the National Information Communications Technology Development Authority (www.nida.gov.kh) conducted the first workshop on Free/Open Source Software (FOSS). The goal of this seminar is to promote FOSS practice in Cambodia to narrow the digital divide, in response to Cambodia’s membership in the WTO. Professor Masayuki Ida made presentations on "Why Free and Open Source is Important" and "How to change your life with Linux Software". Javier Sola, KhmerOS? Coordinator, presented KhmerOS? project and the strategy on FOSS. He also expressed the interest to work closely with NiDA? and any other future cooperation.
Khmer Software Initiative gives an useful overview of what's happening. See http://www.khmeros.info/drupal/
Khmer eMail Program Moyura 0.8 for Windows (6.3 MB) http://www.khmeros.info/download/Moyura0.8.3-km-KH.exe
Khmer Web Browser Mekhala 0.8 for Windows (4.8 Mb) http://www.khmeros.info/download/Mekala0.8.3-km-KH.exe
See this announcement: "With a strong aim to set up a consortium of Khmer Language Feature in Google, a Google group called "Khoogle" has been created. Please join Khoogle or spread this news to your friends. Khoogle Group >> http://groups.google.com/group/khoogle/ " http://www.khmeros.info/drupal/?q=en/node/250
Appendix 1 ----------
>From Chile to Cambodia ... with some help from South Africa
Javier Sola was just "passing by" Cambodia, when the move made him take a dramatic u-turn in his life. It was there that he decided to stay on, Now, he believes he can help localise the language of the region which is home. He sketches the characters of the local language, to explain the challenges it faces before getting onto the computer desktop.
But this story starts out in another world.
This 43-year-old Chilean-born Spaniard was the director of the Spanish Internet Users' Association. For seven years, he had pushed for the development of the Internet in Spain. In that time, he had actively participated in the creation of ICANN, the Internet's central management body. He was chair of the working group that decided the creation of new Internet top-level domains (like .info, .biz and so on).
But in 2003, he quit his job. Says he: "We created a working group to see what had to be the future for the management of the Internet. Something which would be legally secure and yet affordable, and efficient. But then, the US intervened to say the Internet belonged to them."
Subsequently, Javier saw ICANN as becoming weak, with the levers of power in the hands of dominant countries. "I was not at all happy. I had helped to create this structure, and within a year, I got out," he says. By 2003, people lost interest in the Internet. It became a commodity. "So I lost interest and quit."
Life is, they say, what happens when you're making other plans. Javier had been scouting around the Far East, looking for a venue for an international conference. He thought that he would love to spend the next part of his life writing -- he had already done a small travel book on India. That's when he decided to visit Cambodia, a place he had never been to.
There, he met a Spanish bishop who ran a handicapped children's home. He ended up staying there for eight months. He loved the place "because it was a very happy place and there weren't too many computers around".
But things changed. Teaching the children computing was impossible. All PCs? were in English, a language they didn't know. "I thought maybe I could do something here. What would it take to get computers working in the Khmer language?"
Then his search began. By 2003, he started looking at Open Source. "I decided my social goals, and, based on social goals, looked for software," he said.
What were these goals? Why localisation really?
Anticipated spin-offs were many. Reducing training time. Allowing people of a young age to strart with computers. Reaching out to rural areas with computers. Separating the skills of English and computing, so both not bundled.
("Someone who finishes high school in Cambodia is usually very poor. They need to find a job. If they can learn computers in two months, they can find a job and, then, probably learn English. If you bundle the two, they will take two years and probably find a job which doesn't need English.")
Also, the country was in an odd situation where the administration could not work in its own language, on computers. Says Javier: "When you transliterate the language into English characters, there are different ways of spelling. That causes a problem."
The Khmer script is an Indic-based script, based on Brahmi. But it is
probably more complicated than some Indian scripts. Cambodia has some more
vowels. It has several split
matras (vowel signs that Indian languages too
have). It also has sub-script consonants like the Indian language of
Kannada, but you could have two consonants on a single letter, says Javier.
So Javier and his team started writing project proposals, looking at the software needed, and sought to pick up the right multi-platform software tools they could work on.
"Our strategy is to release things in Windows-based programmes first. Our whole project looks at distribution and training. We needs support from the world of distribution and training; these people are very much used to Windows, afraid of anything that doesn't look like Windows," says he.
Javier explains the relevance of computerisation to Cambodian computing. "Civil servants don't know English. There are a lot of small computer training places in Cambodia. We want to retrain all these people. Ours is a two stage plan. First develop and distribute applications. Simultaneously develop Linux user interface, where it will work with the same."
How much has the team done so far?
Says Javier: "We have translated Internet tools, and we've translated Open Office. ThunderBird?, FireFox?, and Imp -- the last being a webmail programme, needed since many users don't have their own computers on which to download mail to. In terms of Open Office, we will be ready for distribution in April. Open Office is translated. We're working on the help-section, and hope to finish in a month."
What are their priority targets? Basic Internet applications, basic office
applications, and training material and documentation. They also hope to
introduce a training program that offers
pyramidal certification for those
who learn sections of the course, as they keep getting familiarised with
parts that lead up to the whole.
Currently, the project has six translators and one typographer. It hopes to
scale up to a total of 14 persons -- including eight translators, and two
installers going round the country of 13 million and 181,000 sq kilometres,
installing the localised software in places where it matters. Three will be
trainers of trainers.
Large firms like Microsoft haven't yet come in to Cambodia with local solutions. "It hasn't come so far. Maybe the market is uninteresting. Maybe after seeing what we're doing, they will come. That too will make me happy, because they are social goals. It would help the Khmer language."
Javier says their project is "working really well".
They believe the best advangate of using Free/Libre and Open Source Software is language. "If Microsoft isn't supporting your language yet, you have infinite possibilities. If Microsoft is in your language, you have a requirement of localising. Otherwise you can't compete," he points out.
Localisation is more important when it comes to spreading FLOSS, compared to other advantages like the cost of the software, he believes. So, they went about creating a master plan to computerise the private sector and those beyond the government sector. "I think, at some point of time, we could become the first country that manages to get wider Linux utilisation (based largely on localisation)," he believes.
Javier has put his dreams on paper. He located the 70-year-old Nobert Klein, who ran the Open Forum of Cambodia, and was, like him, involved in the Internet in the mid-nineties.
Ironically, the hike in the Euro value helped that body to put aside some money received from funders and launch their localisation plans. Now they've approached APDIP (the UNDP's Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme) with plans to create a manual on how-to do a localisation project.
>From South Africa, they've learnt what should be avoided.
There, a major localisation project to translate free software into 11 national languages is being undertaken by Dwayne Bailey and team of http://translate.org.za "This is really an exciting project," adds Javier.
- http://www.khmeros.info http://forum.org.kh Email javier at khmeros.info ------------------------------------------------------------------------