Chris Bailey, an IT worker at the Cambridge Independent Advice Centre, a voluntary organisation which advises people with low incomes, is currently seeking advice from the Bulgarian NGO InterSpace. It would like to set up a similar project in the UK to help voluntary organisations shift to open-source software.
"In Bulgaria there is a fully established open-source project which has helped 30 Bulgarian NGOs, with a total of around 110 computers, to migrate from proprietary to open-source software. We are trying to start a similar project over here, using what they did as a model," said Bailey, speaking at the Open Source in the Voluntary Sector conference in London on Wednesday.
Bailey hopes that the project will be able to get funding from the UK government's ChangeUp programme, which is investing £9m to improve IT support in the voluntary sector.
Bailey said it is ironic that the relatively small Bulgarian voluntary sector should have lessons for the UK's sector in the move to open-source software, but this is partly because the EU's crackdown on software piracy in Bulgaria has stimulated interest in free software.
Until recently almost all NGO's in Bulgaria were using pirate versions of Microsoft software as they could not afford to pay for licences, said Bailey. But now they have had to seek alternatives as the EU is cracking down on piracy prior to Bulgaria becoming part of the EU in 2007.
"The EU is saying that Bulgaria needs to stop software piracy if we are going to enter in EU. This created a crisis but also caused growth in the free software industry. There is now a strong free-software movement in Bulgaria," said Bailey.
InterSpace has released its own Linux distro, InterSpace Linux Distribution 2.1 (ISLD 2.1), designed to work with a wider range of systems than other distributions do.
"The NGOs were using ancient computers so Interspace had to strip down Linux to make it fit the computer," said Bailey.
According to the InterSpace Web site, ISLD features eight Linux desktop applications including office suite OpenOffice, image manipulation program GIMP and Ximian Evolution mail client.