Open source gathers steam in Malaysia

Supporters celebrate its growing momentum in Malaysia, where an open source user dismisses studies said to prove the technology costs more.
Written by Edwin Yapp, Contributor

PETALING JAYA--Open source software (OSS) adoption is growing steadily in Malaysia, where IT practitioners in the industry are optimistic its development will make greater strides in the coming years.

According to Ditesh Kumar, OSS developer evangelist for Malaysia's Free and Open Source (FOSS) Foundation, OSS is being widely adopted across all the major verticals including public, technical, educational, financial and services sectors, and even within small and midsize enterprises (SMEs).

"On a scale of one to 10, I would give it a healthy seven," he told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview, as he described the state of open source adoption in the country. "Having said that, there is some way to go with regard to breaking down barriers of entry put up by proprietary vendors, or vendor lock-in. But, Malaysia has come a long way as far as OSS adoption is concerned."

Ditesh cited a recent Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) World survey of Malaysia, which stated employers in the country generally value OSS skills, and noted that this is particularly evident during job interviews. "This indicates a strong preference for OSS by Malaysian companies," he said.

FLOSS World is a European Union-funded project involving 17 institutions from 12 countries spanning Europe, Africa, Latin America and Asia, including China, India and Malaysia. One of its objectives is to gather empirical data on the impact, use and development of FLOSS.

Ditesh's rosy picture of Malaysia's healthy OSS adoption follows the general trend that, according to IDC, is sweeping the region.

In its recent study, the research house noted that countries such as Australia, Korea, India and China are actively using OSS, where businesses in the four countries revealed that 25 percent to 70 percent of their software assets are based on open source. IDC added that OSS is already being used as mainstream applications in the emerging economies.

"While we don't have country-specific figures, we can surmise that organizations in emerging countries such as Malaysia, would leverage OSS from the beginning to avoid vendor lock-in," said Prianka Srinivasan, Asia Pacific market analyst at IDC's software research group, in an interview with ZDNet Asia.

She added that OSS is now used in almost all verticals and in different software stacks as there is sufficient support from OSS vendors. Prianka noted that the main drivers for using open source is to provide better protection against security breaches and help organizations with their budget constraints.

Open source advocate and IT vendor Sun Microsystems believes the OSS movement in Malaysia, like most other developing nations, is generally good.

"Malaysia stands out in FOSS, mainly because there's a fairly well-organized FOSS movement, the media is FOSS-aware, and there is support from the government for FOSS usage," said C.P. Loo, country sales director, Sun Microsystems Malaysia.

Question over OSS TCO
Some detractors, however, have questioned the actual cost benefits of deploying open source. They argue that while there is no licensing cost involved, the total cost of ownership (TCO) for OSS is greater than that of proprietary software due to other cost components such as service support.

Ditesh disagreed: "It's true that there are costs involved with FOSS, but there will [always] be costs involved with using any new software, including new versions of proprietary software.

"From this perspective, there is no difference between FOSS and proprietary software as both will incur cost for training, migration and maintenance," he explained.

Yong Yoon Kit, IT manager for Royal Selangor International, said he believes certain TCO studies have been "funded by interested parties to ensure FOSS costs are more than proprietary products".

"These sorts of studies should be taken with a large pinch of salt," said Yong, who runs about half of the pewter manufacturer's IT servers on OSS. "TCO studies must always be done on a case-by-case basis, as each priority is unique to each client."

In fact, Yong revealed that by using open source, Royal Selangor has managed to save an average of 20,000 ringgit (US$5,878) to 30,000 ringgit (US$8,817) per server running on the Linux operating system.

According to KeshMahinder Singh, CEO of Profitera, there are also other technical advantages--besides cost benefits--for using open source. Profitera builds revenue collections and debt recovery applications, and has offices in Singapore, Malaysia and the United States.

"The support from the community via blogs, forums and discussion groups is far more than what we see in some proprietary software support group," KeshMahinder said, in an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia.

"And as an independent software vendor (ISV), our ability to develop and improve our core application framework engine is enhanced with the usage of some OSS components. This is a huge plus point for us," he said.

FOSS's Ditesh, however, noted that there seems to be much confusion in the Malaysian ICT ecosystem surrounding OSS licensing. This, he added, is discouraging further adoption and use of OSS.

KashMahinder added: "The way in which licensing is done today has to continue to support ease of use, embedding and leveraging OSS. If there's any twist to the licensing model, then we may have waves of backlash and withdrawal of support from the OSS community."

To further extend open source adoption in the mainstream market, Royal Selangor's Yong said the key is to "educate prospective users of FOSS alternatives, while reassuring them they are as good, if not better, than proprietary software".

Sun's Loo added: "We need to bring the community to the participation stage, where they can freely contribute to maintain the open source movement.

"For a developing nation like Malaysia, it is critical that developers continue to champion the national software capacity by getting involved in high-end and high-value software development," he said.

Edwin Yapp is a freelance IT writer based in Malaysia.

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