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.