Open source adoption 'anomaly' in Philippines

Country's private sector is unexpected early adopters of open source, which analysts say will be further boosted by entrance of Google's upcoming Chrome OS.

MANILA--Like several economies in the region, open source adoption in the Philippines is gradually expanding as organizations to seek alternatives to expensive proprietary software. But, unlike some markets, early adopters in the country come from the private sector.

IDC said the financial meltdown has proven to be a blessing in disguise for open source software (OSS), with organizations either deploying them or seriously considering it as a cost-cutting option.

Citing its survey findings, the research firm said 5.9 percent of Philippine respondents plan to use open source ERP tools while 5.6 percent said they would do the same for storage and security software.

A CIO survey conducted by Springboard Research, determined that the country has an OSS penetration rate of 45 percent, higher than the overall Asia-Pacific, excluding Japan, penetration rate of 40 percent. The Asean OSS adoption rate stood at 34 percent.

Michael Barnes, vice president for software and Asia-Pacific research at Springboard, said 24 percent of Philippines organizations with no current OSS implementations expect to adopt it in the next two to three years. This, he said, is higher than the Asean average of 18 percent, but below the Asia-Pacific average of 29 percent.

According to analyst firm XMG Global, the OSS model continues to gain mindshare across all industries in the country.

The Philippine market also stood out for an "interesting anomaly", noted Lauro Vives, chief analyst at XMG.

"While we generally see the early adopters of OSS to be in the public and education sectors, the Philippine private sector seem to be ahead of these two sectors in its adoption of open source," Canada-based Vives, said in an e-mail.

The gradual uptake of OSS in the country was not also impeded by last year's approval of Microsoft's Open Office XML document format as an international standard.

Albert dela Cruz, former platform strategy manager of Microsoft Philippines, said OOXML was not adopted for "any commercial advantage or goal" but for "interoperability and ease-of-use for the users". Sales of Microsoft's Office Suite also did not increase as a result of the "win", Dela Cruz said.

Android open source boost
Miguel Paraz, an active advocate of OSS who now works for a local IT firm, noted that public consciousness of open source is only at "a superficial level", with the occasional mention of Linux in the mainstream business news.

However, Paraz said the entrance of Google's open source mobile platform, Android, will help improve awareness of open source.

IT analysts also noted that Google's recently-announced Chrome OS will give OSS another shot in the arm.

Springboard's Barnes said Google's entrance into the open source OS market provides further validation of the overall open source technology, and will also force competitors to respond with more competitive pricing.

"This increased competition will ultimately help all organizations in the Philippines, particularly those dealing with significant resource constraints," he said.

XMG's Vives said Chrome OS would likely help drive innovation among business and user segments, but will not dominate Windows for at least the next five years.

And while Chrome OS may help generate greater awareness for open source, it will only be released next year.

Jens Butler, Sydney-based principal analyst for IT services at Ovum, said: "Chrome OS will not be available until the second half of 2010. That is a long time to wait.

"Given that Microsoft will have had at least 12 months [lead time following] Windows 7 rollout, it may stifle the Chrome OS uptake when it eventually comes to market," Butler said.

Will government help?
Asked if a government-mandated adoption of OSS would hasten its growth in the Philippines, IT pundits have varying opinions.

IT expert Paraz said OSS should compete on its own merits. He added that deploying open source does not also necessarily mean lower cost because there are also implementation and support costs to consider.

However, he added that vibrant OSS adoption could, in fact, stimulate--rather than adversely affect--the local software economy.

To help extend the technology's reach, XMG suggested that OSS players should follow in Microsoft's footsteps and deploy a rich user experience to drive adoption.

IDC and Springboard added that open source vendors should provide assurance regarding support services, and educate the market on how such services can reduce risks--whether real or perceived--involved with OSS adoption.

Melvin G. Calimag is a freelance IT writer based in the Philippines.

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