Tuesday, November 14, 2006

"Poor can help..."

"Poor can help, but lazy cannot help."

More than any of the technical discussions, that's the most important takeaway I got from this morning's session here at FOSS-at-Work. That quote came from Shoung Noy, the leading proponent for free and open source software in Cambodia.

Noy's focus was on localization efforts in the Khmer language. Localization is important to Cambodia because it removes a significant barrier to IT. Many Cambodians do not speak English, and the localization allows them to use computers quickly and with more confidence. Unlike other Southeast Asian nations which use Romanized letters, Cambodia uses Khmer.

Khmer script is unique. It is an Indic-based script, but made more complicated by additional vowels and split matras (vowel signs).

Cambodia approached Microsoft and asked them for localized versions of MS Office and Windows. The cost: $30 million. So instead, the Cambodian government turned to open source, finding their solution in OpenSUSE and OpenOffice.org.

Microsoft came back to them with a revised offer of $1 per user. By then, it was too late. "One dollar compared to zero dollars, which do I choose?" Noy said. Obvious.

Localization work on open source software took four years: two years to assemble the team and do the preliminary work, another two years for the actual translation work. First targets were OpenOffice.org, Firefox, and the email client, then followed by OpenSUSE and Kaffeine.

Noy works for the National ICT Development Authority (NiDA). Their goals: in the short run, raise awareness and promote 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.

Noy's view: it doesn't matter that Cambodia is a poor country, but with the willingness to make things work, they can with FOSS.

"Poor can help, but lazy cannot help."

More info at the Cambodian wiki of IOSN.



  1. "Unlike other Southeast Asian nations which use Romanized letters"? Apart from Vietnamese which I believe had no written language until the French developed one, What other country uses Romanized letters?
    Thai is partly based on Khmer, also including Pali ,Sanscript and Lao. Not such a different situation, except Microsoft were more hungry for markets and less arrogant when they developed those markets. The good side is that they won't be tied down to Microsoft proprietary standards in the long term!

  2. Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, to name a few.

  3. Hmmm, perhaps I could have written my original sentence better. But to clear things up, I found this snippet from http://www.seasite.niu.edu/crossroads/hartmann/hartmann.htm.

    All writing systems have been borrowed and adapted from foreign sources. South Indian scripts were borrowed and refashioned into Burmese (Myanmar), Thai, Lao, Khmer (Cambodian) and Old Javanese writing systems. All look different and have added or removed certain letters to meet the requirements of the spoken language. In Thai, for example, tone marks were added. However, the underlying shapes can be traced back to a common source. One unusual feature of Indic-derived scripts is that there are no spaces between words, except to indicate the end of a clause, or sentence or to indicate items in a series. (Mulberry, Palm Leaves, and Manuscript). Vietnamese had a demotic writing system based on Chinese called "Chu Nom" until the French Catholic missionaries devised and imposed a Roman alphabet. Today, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines use Roman scripts.