Building an Indonesian GNU/Linux - BlankOn Linux
Yayasan Penggerak Linux Indonesia or the Indonesian Linux Mover Foundation has come out with a localized Indonesian distribution of GNU/Linux called BlankOn Linux.
Yayasan Penggerak Linux Indonesia or the Indonesian Linux Mover Foundation has come out with a localized Indonesian distribution of GNU/Linux called BlankOn Linux. This Linux distribution (distro) is based on Fedora Linux and is targeted at the first-time user. The main objective of creating BlankOn Linux is to enable the people of Indonesia, most of whom are not English-literate, to be exposed to Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) and GNU/Linux. It is hoped that with a version of GNU/Linux that is available in the Indonesian language, more people will turn to FOSS as an alternative to using illegal unlicensed proprietary software (a practice that is currently rampant).
BlankOn Linux is simpler to install than many of the normal Linux distros and it comes ready with many packages for computer education, office applications, multimedia and Internet access, file sharing, etc. A BlankOn development kit is being prepared and this should make it easier for other developers to build other specialized Linux distros based on BlankOn Linux. The project deployment was unique in that it took only a short time to develop BlankOn Linux and the team spent a relatively small amount of money to achieve this.
The availability of BlankOn Linux will have a positive impact on the digital divide in Indonesia as more people can now have access to software in their local language to use the Internet and other information and communications technology (ICT) facilities. Internet kiosks and cafes will benefit from BlankOn Linux too as this software can be utilized to power these outlets and it is affordable and easy to install, use and support.
One major lesson learned from the project is that without enough money for full-time developers, the use of developers who held full-time jobs elsewhere meant that they had to sacrifice their free time and holidays in order to develop BlankOn Linux. As such, human resources in the development effort can be stretched thin at times. In spite of this, the BlankOn Linux project is still being maintained and the team is preparing to come out with the next release soon. However, the long-term sustainability of the project has yet to be tested and only time will tell whether the project can garner sufficient resources to successfully maintain and develop BlankOn Linux.
Background of Organization
Yayasan Penggerak Linux Indonesia or the Indonesian Linux Mover Foundation is an organization dedicated to the promotion of Free and Open Source Software, especially GNU/Linux, so as to enable it to be widely accepted for mainstream usage as well as for software development in Indonesia. Its main activities are holding awareness events across the country, developing and contributing to FOSS projects, establishing contacts with other FOSS-related organizations and collecting data on FOSS growth in the country.
The Foundation runs the Indonesian Linux Certification programme and works on projects like the BlankOn Linux distribution and the OpenSyariah project for banking.
Objectives of Project
The main objective of this project is to come up with a local Indonesian GNU/Linux distribution. It is desirable to have an Indonesian distribution of Linux so that the language used for the desktop environment and some of the applications can be in the Indonesian language (Bahasa Indonesia); this will enable the mainly non-English literate users in the country to be exposed to ICT and to use the computer more effectively. In the long term, the BlankOn Linux project aims to be the standard GNU/Linux distribution for desktop computers in Indonesia.
The primary target group for BlankOn Linux are the new computer users, especially those in Internet kiosks, schools, and the government. A second target group is the Linux distro (distribution) developers so that they can develop a new distro based on BlankOn Linux.
The BlankOn development is sponsored by UNESCO, one of the UN agencies
which has programmes in the promotion of FOSS for education, Indoglobal web hosting, InfoLINUX magazine, Linuxindo Training and Consultant, Nurul Fikri Training Centre and some Internet service providers.
BlankOn Linux is an Indonesian distribution of GNU/Linux based on the Fedora Linux distribution. It consists of the Linux operating system kernel, office application software suite, Internet access software (e.g. web browser, email, chat etc.), file sharing and multimedia applications. The desktop environment and applications have been localized so that Bahasa Indonesia is used and they have an Indonesian look and feel.
Choice of FOSS
The majority of Indonesian computer users require software for doing a number of common tasks like office applications, accessing the Internet and multimedia. However, to be affordable the software has to have a low cost and preferably no licensing fees at all. FOSS and GNU/Linux in particular meet all these requirements as it is free for use and can be freely copied, modified and distributed. It can also be easily localized to meet local needs and language. GNU/Linux is also relatively immune to common computer viruses, worms and spyware.
Development and Implementation
BlankOn Linux was developed from Fedora Core 3. There are three key steps to follow in order to produce BlankOn Linux from Fedora Core:
- translation and localization
- repackaging and installer building
- testing and quality assurance
The localization and packaging of BlankOn Linux took about three months. New versions for BlankOn are being planned for release once or twice a year, following the release schedule of Fedora Core.
About a few hundred systems have been deployed with BlankOn Linux, for example at some Internet kiosks or Internet cafes. InfoLINUX Magazine has bundled BlankOn Linux CDs with its printed magazine for mass distribution.
This project will contribute towards providing the local people with affordable legal software that they can use on their PCs. BlankOn Linux is simple and quick to install and it comes only on one CD. Unlike many of the Linux distros available, its multimedia applications have been packaged so that they support most of the proprietary multimedia formats. Its Indonesian theme and menu should make local users feel comfortable with it. As such, it is ideal for the first-time user especially those who want a desktop with local language support and look-and-feel. It is also ideal for Internet kiosks as these are small companies that cannot afford to purchase proprietary commercial software and have a lot of problems with viruses and other malicious software.
The Indonesian government is attempting to bridge the digital divide and at the same time encourage the use of legally licensed software. This is problematic with proprietary software as its license does not allow it to be freely copied for distribution and hence the costs involved can be prohibitive. The availability of BlankOn Linux can have a positive impact on this issue as it is a properly licensed software and at the same time its licence allows users the freedom to copy, modify and distribute it.
The soon to be available BlankOn software development kit (SDK) will facilitate the packaging of new Linux distros based on it.
The main lesson learned from the project is that as most of the software developers in Indonesia have full-time jobs, only a handful are willing or able to sacrifice their time after work and their holidays to work on the project. While some financial assistance for the project is received from UNESCO and some Indonesian FOSS companies, it is not enough to pay a few developers to work full-time on the project.
Current Status of Project
Currently, the project is developing a special distro (BlankOn SDK) targeted at helping developers create new distributions for specific environments based on BlankOn Linux. BlankOn SDK version 1.1 has been released with manual book in Bahasa Indonesia. Parallel to this effort, the development of the next release BlankOn Linux 2.0, based on the Fedora Core 5 distribution has also commenced.
Benefits and Challenges
The main benefit of the project is the availability of a localized Linux distribution that is easy to install and use and comes with ready applications for the office, the Internet and multimedia. The availability of a desktop environment in the local language can go a long way in attracting new users. This and the fact that BlankOn Linux is FOSS and hence can be freely copied and distributed will help more Indonesians gain access to ICT facilities as they become readily available and affordable.
The main disadvantage of using BlankOn Linux is that some effort has to be made to interoperate with the dominant desktop environment of Microsoft Windows as well as possibly other proprietary application software. Moreover, some less popular hardware and peripheral devices may not be supported by it.
The project sees as its main challenge efforts to migrate the 8 million computers in Indonesia, the majority of which are using illegal software, to FOSS and BlankOn Linux in particular. Another possible challenge to the sustainability of the project is the availability of resources to maintain the BlankOn distribution. It has to be remembered that apart from coming out with the initial distribution, as long as the product is supported, updates to the packages of the distro to cater for patches and bug fixes have to be maintained and this can be a drain on the human resources, given that the developers in the project are working on a part-time mainly voluntary basis.
The BlankOn Linux project has given rise to an Indonesian distribution of GNU/Linux targeted at the first-time user. In spite of the constraints on human and financial resources, the team was able to build this Linux distribution in a relatively short time. Deployment has taken place in Internet kiosks and cafes. As BlankOn Linux is localized and uses the Bahasa Indonesia, it should result in getting more local people exposed to ICT and the Internet thereby helping to bridge the digital divide. It will also have an impact in helping to reduce the number of unlicensed proprietary software in use as more people turn to it as an alternative.
The project is ongoing and a development kit for BlankOn Linux to make it easier to build customized distros based on it as well as the next release of the software is currently being worked on.
Project: BlankOn Linux
Organization: Yayasan Penggerak Linux Indonesia (Indonesian Linux Mover Foundation)
Contact Person: Rusmanto Maryanto
Street / Postal Address: Jalan Mampang Prapatan X No. 4, Jakarta Selatan 12790, Indonesia
Phone: +62 21 797 5235
Fax: +62 21 790 1205
BlankOn Linux project website