Asia needs more open source contribution

While companies are adopting open source software enthusiastically, there are far fewer companies offering related services in the region, says industry luminary.

SINGAPORE--Open source software adoption is high in Asia, but the level of contribution from the region's open source developer community leaves much to be desired, says a prominent figure in the open source industry.

David Axmark, co-founder of the popular MySQL database, said during a media session here Tuesday that usage of open source software continues to grow significantly across the region.

However, not many Asian open source service providers have sprung up to match this interest, Axmark noted.

As a result, he added that enterprise users requiring software customization specific to the region, are unable to depend on the developer ecosystem. Instead, these businesses will have to rely on global open source vendors to build and package those features into their products.

"Supporting multi-region languages is something a small company can't [obtain] without spending a lot of money," Axmark said.

Urging the need for more open source vendors in Asia, he noted that these companies can rely on the global developer community to help translate and push out different languages more quickly.

Furthermore, open source vendors that are well-connected and closely attuned to the community are quicker to pick up on industry zeitgeist, compared to most closed-source software vendors that have to "spend money identifying trends in the market".

For instance, he noted, an individual developer from the open source community built an API (application programming interface) in Ruby for the MySQL database, even before MySQL engineers knew what Ruby was. "Someone made it and sent it to us," he said.

Axmark could not offer a reason for Asia's lack of participation in the open source developer community, but said the region does not lack relevant skills.

"I always thought it would be great for all the very talented engineers in the Asia-Pacific region to start [growing open source companies]," he said.

On his experience starting MySQL over a decade ago, Axmark said: "We didn't have a lot of support. We relied on a few computers and free bandwidth... We didn't have sales or marketing staff.

"To start an open source company, you just need to be good at what you do, and do good stuff. Keep costs down. It is possible to start extremely small," he said.

Software should also be user-friendly to boost its popularity, he added. "If you want people to adopt your software for free, you have to make it easy to use," he said.

MySQL was acquired by Sun Microsystems earlier this year, the company's open source database application is downloaded on average 70,000 times per day, Axmark said. According to Ovum research figures, MySQL held 49 percent of the open source database market in 2006.