In Asia, one can now argue that both prerequisites have been met when it comes to moving to an open-source platform. It may be hard to state a defining moment when that happened, since comfort is an intangible measure, but it is not hard to sense the optimism that now resonates on the ground with open-source software (OSS).
This confidence stems from the abundant anecdotal evidence that OSS benefits both government and commercial organizations. In Asia, Singapore's Ministry of Defence (Mindef), for instance, saved S$15 million (US$9.3 million) by deciding to let its existing licenses for Office 97 software lapse and to migrate to OpenOffice instead.
Thailand's National Electronics and Computer Technology Center (NECTEC), the nation's IT development agency, has been replacing its fleet of proprietary software with freeware and open-source applications such as GIMP, OpenOffice and Irfanview. NECTEC director Dr. Thaweesak Koanantakool reckons that at a nationwide level, using OSS saved Thailand US$45 million in 2003.
The state-owned Central Bank of India saved US$4 million a year, or reduced 30 percent of its IT expenses, when it adopted Linux to run Oracle applications last year.
Another key reason for the Asian mindset change is the proliferation of open-source advocacy groups in the region in the last two years. Prime examples include the Asian Open Source Center by the Malaysian government-led organization MIMOS; and pan-Asian Linux development like the "Asianux" project led by software developers from China, Japan and Korea.
Industry experts say that these nationalistic initiatives are important, because government agencies in Asia have telling commercial influence--and official endorsements can tangibly bolster the success of any IT adoption.
This point especially hits home for a country as populous as China, home to 1.3 billion people or one-fifth of the world's population. Adding fuel to the China momentum is the announcement last year by the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) to accept membership of Beijing Software Testing Center (BSTC), China’s largest software testing organization.
It is also important to note that the alarmist OSS patent warnings sounded by Microsoft and other commercial software vendors earlier last year appear to have evaporated. "It is a non-issue now," Vivian Tero, senior analyst, infrastructure software IDC, told CNETAsia. She expects the market to work itself out with amicable outcomes even if further patent issues should arise in the future.
So how comfortable are Asia's public sector with OSS today? Fairly comfortable, it seems.
After a successful rollout of OpenOffice to thousands of desktops, Cheok Beng Teck, the director of Singapore's Mindef CIO office, is planting the seed for another open-source implementation.
NECTEC's Thaweesak is also chartering his next OSS move. He plans to promote the use of Mozilla's latest open-source e-mail client, ThunderBird, and the much-hyped Web browser, FireFox.
Mindef is planting the seed for another open-source implementation.
Thaweesak hopes that by promoting these two applications, users will become more comfortable moving to the Linux platform in the future. He said he will be happy if his organization's OSS adoption achieves an equal split between proprietary and open-source software.
Linux's success in large organizations, of course, will depend on more than productivity suites and Web browsers. Core business application is the next frontier for open source--whether they are themselves open-source applications or they run on open-source platforms like Linux.
IDC's Tero points out that the shift of core business applications, such as database processing and ERP (enterprise resource planning) software, to open-source platforms will depend on the mood of independent software developers (ISVs). But one thing is clear so far, she said, change is coming.
Gartner has predicted that 60 percent of large and mid-size government agencies worldwide will be using OSS in their core business processes by 2010, compared to less than 15 percent today--a significant increase.
In Asia, Gartner said that tech expenditure in the region, excluding Japan, will swell by 7.6 percent to US$208.7 billion in 2005, with the highest increase expected in the software segment where spending will improve by 12.4 percent to US$5.6 billion.
Recent statistics released by the Chinese government's Beijing Software Industry Productivity Center (BSTC) has Linux sales in China growing at more than 40 percent a year--from US$6.3 million in 2002 to US$38.7 million by 2007. Most of this growth will come from the server environment.
All this points to a rosy future for OSS in Asia. But even better, the identified roadblocks for open-source adoption are slowly being addressed, as the movement attracts more commercial vendor interests and stronger commitment from governments to educate organizations on OSS.
In this special report, we look in detail the successful implementaton of OpenOffice by Singapore's Mindef, and chart the progress of OSS adoption in Malaysia and Thailand.
What do you think of the state of open source today? What has been your experience with open-source software? E-mail us at email@example.com.