OSS adoption in emerging markets encouraging but doesn't combat piracy

Open source picking up in Asia-Pacific developing markets but piracy still plagues region partly driven by equally strong demand for proprietary software, say industry observers.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

Open source software (OSS) has picked up in the region with different levels of adoption in different countries, however, it is not a silver bullet to combat piracy, say market watchers.

Damien Wong, general manager for Asean at Red Hat, said open source software can be used on any number of computers with no restrictions."In practical terms, this means users do not have to pay a licensing fee for each and every user and program used, translating into cost savings particularly for larger corporations," he said.

The company has seen a positive trend in open source adoption in emerging markets across Asia, he said, noting that the stage of adoption differs from country to country.

In Indonesia, the development of open source software is very encouraging with an estimated quarter of the population using OSS, he said. He noted that regional governments are reportedly big users of OSS.

However, OSS usage in Indonesia tends to focus on basic software applications, such as productivity suite Libre Office, he said, but noted that this shows a growing understanding and adoption of open source technologies.

In contrast to Indonesia, open source ecosystem in India is more mature, he noted. "CIOs value the benefits that open source technologies have to offer such as performance, interoperability, security, efficiency and costs," said Wong.

Thus, the adoption of open source infrastructure management tools in India are on the rise with a growing number of Indian CIOs considering such tools to manage their infrastructure, he added.

OSS not a silver bullet for piracy
Citing figures from IDC, Roland Chan, senior director of marketing for Asia-Pacific at Business Software Alliance, said free software and open-source applications took up between 20 percent and 30 percent of software deployed in 2010. This was an increase from 2009 when the market share was between 12 percent and 22 percent, he noted.

However, he pointed out that the largest proportion of that market was not OSS but free software, or shareware, offered by proprietary software vendors who made deals with PC manufacturers to provide some common commercial applications for free.

Even with the uptake of free software and open source apps, software piracy in the region is still rampant.

Chan said the Asia-Pacific region saw its highest piracy loss in 2010. The commercial value of unlicensed software installed on PCs in Asia-Pacific reached US$18.7 billion that year with pirated software accounting for 60 percent of programs installed on PCs.

In contrast, 59 percent of the software installed on PCs in Asia Pacific in 2009 was obtained illegally at a value of over US$16.5 billion, he noted. The one percentage point increase was due to fast growing markets with higher piracy levels, such as China and India, increasing their share of the overall software market.

"OSS is already available and ubiquitous across the world, yet we continue to see software piracy," said Chan, adding that OSS is not a silver bullet for software piracy. He added: ""There will be situations where a proprietary solution is most suited to end user needs, and those where open-source is the preferred solution. Preserving user choice among all types of software is the more important priority."

However, Chan noted that incremental progress has been made in lowering piracy rates in most markets in the region but piracy is still a critical issue and there is much work that needs to be done.

'No acceptable level of piracy'
According to a report Monday by the United States Trade Representative's (USTR), several emerging markets in the Asia-Pacific region remained on the watch list for lack in adequacy and effectiveness of intellectual property rights protection and enforcement.

China, India, Indonesia and Thailand remained in the priority watch list while Brunei, the Philippines and Vietnam were kept in the watch list. Malaysia dropped out of the list as it had been "making significant strides" in intellectual property rights (IPR) protection and enforcement.

According to Chan, the challenges of software piracy vary by country and region. However, weak laws, a lack of serious attention to the problem and lack of enforcement are key issues, he noted.

The Internet is also increasingly a challenge, he added. "Even in countries like the United States, where the piracy rate is low and education and enforcement programs are showing progress, software increasingly shows up on online file-sharing networks," he said.

"There is simply no acceptable level of piracy. Software piracy is a crime [and]is no different from any other form of stealing," he said.

He explained that the software industry is simply protecting its IPR by reducing piracy, the same as how another company would want to protect itself from theft or other crimes.

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