Philippine open source developers thriving

Open source industry in country has shown it is financially viable, with small developers more able to adapt and meet urgent project requests because of their flexibility.
Written by Melvin G. Calimag, Contributor

MANILA--Growing acceptance of open source software (OSS) is ushering in new interest from small and large developers in the Philippines, according to industry voices.

Although some early players have fallen by the wayside, there appears to be a steady upsurge of new companies capitalizing on the increasing OSS opportunity in the country and a boom in demand from foreign players.

Calen Martin D. Legaspi, co-founder and CEO of applications developer Orange & Bronze, said: "[OSS has become] so ubiquitous now that companies of all industries and sizes have some OSS running".

Legaspi disputes the argument that OSS has not achieved the level of awareness that proprietary software has reached. "As far as services on OSS are concerned, there're just so many companies small and large doing that--from support of specific software to software development," he said.

Nathaniel Jayme, a systems developer at open source company AfterFive Technologies, said this tech segment has already proven lucrative for OSS developers.

Jayme said consultants, systems integrators, and freelancers--some still in school--are already making money from providing OSS work. "[Openness] encourages specialization. We are [seeing] software for schools, agriculture, engineering, disaster preparedness, hospital, merchandising, and so on."

However, he noted that for mission-critical systems, most companies would still purchase support from systems integrators for their OSS projects, rather than manage the development inhouse.

Filipino open source entrepreneur, Winston Damarillo, said the local IT ecosystem has benefited greatly from OSS adoption.

The market has been receptive to the OSS model "from open source VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) phone systems, such as Asterisk, to free middleware MySQL and Ruby-on-Rails and applications such as SugarCRM", Damarillo said.

And small developers are able to adapt to meet urgent project requests because they are more flexible compared to larger companies, as well as those relying on proprietary tools, say proponents.

Legaspi said: "One advantage these shops have is that they can lower their overall pricing for their projects, since they don't need to include license costs. Also, many development tools for these platforms are open source as well."

But Linux enthusiast and writer, Danny Escasa, said one thing smaller developers lack is the rigid methodologies that the larger companies employ.

Nonetheless, ISVs (independent software vendors) and services providers using OSS as a business model have a solid leg to stand on, its supporters insist.

Alvin Marcelo, a physician who heads the National Telehealth Center at the University of the Philippines (UP), and a major backer of the open source movement in the country, said OSS developers will prosper because they can quickly master a particular software and offer that expertise to the local market.

Damarillo, added that OSS has proven itself a viable business platform. He said his own startups, Gluecode, Logicblaze, and Webtide, began on OSS.

Most industry players ZDNet Asia spoke with agree local open source companies can be financially viable, though, they face the same issues that other software developers have to deal with.

Holden Hao, a developer connected with the Davao City-based open source organization DabaweGNU, said the Philippine market can keep ISVs afloat, but noted that "turning them into profitable businesses would be a challenge".

AfterFive's Jayme said the business opportunities confronting OSS are no different from the overall software market. "OSS does not guarantee the survival of an ISV business, but neither can a proprietary solution. But OSS [can provide] the core basic infrastructure for an ISV to survive," he said.

Damarillo added: "OSS is a great equalizer against the larger vendors and certainly makes IT solutions more affordable in the Philippines."

But he called for the government to step up to support the OSS industry.

"The public sector need to continue to do more. It needs to improve its ability to deal with OSS projects in collaboration with the Philippine IT industry," he said.

Marcelo said the government has played a small part in driving up OSS adoption. Instead, it is the crop of small and competent developers that have embraced OSS that is demonstrating the strength of open source, he said.

Melvin G. Calimag is a freelance IT writer based in the Philippines.

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