Asia set to 'give back' to open source

Asia may be "taking" more from the open source community than it is giving back for now, but that will change in two to three years, say industry experts.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

Asia is in the middle of a mass adoption wave of open source technology, and the floodgates of innovation will open following this wave in two to three years, according to open source vendors.

Following recent remarks made by MySQL co-founder, David Axmark, on Asia's lack of contribution back to the open source community, fellow industry spokespeople were decidedly more optimistic about the region's role to play in the open source ecosystem.

Arun Kumar, director of services at Red Hat, told ZDNet Asia in an interview that open source first has to be taken up broadly by both enterprises and governments as the first step.

This is one thing that has happened in the West, which saw innovation coming out from the community after mass adoption, he said.

Broadly speaking, Asia is about two to three years behind the West in this respect, with the more "advanced communities" in the region such as India lagging by some 12 to 18 months, said Kumar.

"You need three things to kickstart a thriving open source community: mass customer adoption, government support and education," he said, where the government needs to provide support in the form of being an adopter itself and endorsing open standards.

"Open source is inherently an open standard...because your code is published...endorsing open standards gives the industry a vote of confidence from the government," said Kumar.

France was recently hailed by several publications for its contributions to the open source ecosystem, and for its thriving industry.

Kumar highlighted the French government's support of open source through offering tax incentives, and handing out software to high school students.

"France is an example of a country which went 'open format', and did not just adopt one application but supported an entire industry.

"The biggest impediment to growing [open source] services is funding. Governments have to stimulate growth with funding, and they will see startups mushrooming," he said.

Large enterprises also have a big part to play in driving the open source industry. Once adoption happens, this creates the market for developers to come and set up a business upon, added Kumar.

Moiz Kohari, vice president of engineering, open platform solutions group at Novell, said in an e-mail interview: "We believe that awareness in Asia is already very high. Global adoption of Linux is reaching, if not already, at critical mass, and this naturally impacts Asia."

Boosting enterprise confidence in open source
But the crucial trigger for enterprise adoption is interoperability. Citing Oracle's support for Linux, SAP's endorsement of Novell's Suse Linux distribution and Novell's partnership with Microsoft, Kohari said major software players have shown they are ready to support Linux in Asia, which will help boost customer confidence in taking up open source technologies.

"The tendency to play safe" for many CIOs here remains a "major challenge" for open source adoption, he said. "Often in the private sector, IT decision makers are hard pressed to embrace open source due to the large amount of fear, uncertainty and doubt that has been created and still exists in the marketplace.

"Sometimes, it’s natural that they go the safe route, with companies and brands that they’re comfortable," he said.

Red Hat's Kumar said a "mindset shift" is often required as well for individual users, when moving from proprietary software to open source.

"In the proprietary world, developers and consumers are separate. In open source, those two are often the same...for every one person who develops code, you need 10 other people to test it out," he said.

And once users realize the part they can play in the open source ecosystem, Asia will be able to "give back" to the community, said Kumar.

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