Keynote Address on Open Source for Good by Mr. Norbert KLEIN

Nobert covered three key messages in his note on the first and opening of the 5-day Camp as:

  • What is the Meaning of Open Source?
  • Open Source in Cambodia
  • What can we do to have it used more?

1. What is the Meaning of Open Source

The term Open Source is mostly being used in relation to computer software. And the most commonly used description of Open Source software is: that you can get it for free, that it does not cost anything! That you can get it for free is one correct aspects of Open Source software – but there are three other types of computer programs which are being used a lot without having to pay for them:

1) There are programs where the people or companies that created them give them away to the public without expecting a payment. Such programs are called Freeware. Examples: Skype communications program, or the Adobe Acrobat reader to read PDF files.

2) There is also Shareware – programs which one can download and use for some time – maybe one month – and then you are requested to pay, and if you don’t, the program stops to work after some time. Shareware is a good method to promote commercial software – but the users can check them out before deciding to buy them – or not to buy them. Examples: Registry Mechanic, or Wondershare YouTube Downloader.

3) But I am sure many of you use programs without paying for them, like the Windows system, and the Microsoft Office programs, without having them legally registered and paid for them. When I bought computers in Cambodia, the people in the shop ask often: “What kind of programs do you want to have installed?” and they offer a list of commercial programs to choose from – free of charge. This is illegal – but I have read that it is estimated that 80% of software is used illegally in Cambodia. I will come back to this point later.

Then what is Open Source software?

The term “Open Source” refers to programs that are made available by the programmers or companies free of charge to the public, including the details how the program is built: the source code that anyone can inspect, is openly accessible, and people can use such programs legally, even modify them, and share them further as Open Source, again free of charge. Such “source code” is the part of software that most computer users don’t ever see; it’s the code computer programmers can manipulate to change how a piece of software—a “program” or “application”—works.

2. Open Source in Cambodia

There are no surveys about the use of Open Source software in Cambodia that I know. But I know that Open Source software has been used in Cambodia since the early years of Internet development. The server of the CamNet e-mail system of the Ministry Ministry of Post and Telecommunication was first set up with Windows server software – but after some time this was replaced by a Linux based system. With the arrival of on-line Internet access, browser and mailer software based on Microsoft Windows was introduce, but at the same time the Mozilla browser Firefox and the Mozilla mailer Thunderbird were widely used. But at the same time the problem of the Cambodian script was a big challenge: at a certain point of time, I had collected 23 different Khmer font systems which were not compatible with each other. Only the introduction, promotion, and the development of freely available Khmer fonts for the Unicode system of writing the Khmer language allowed the development a culture of electronic communication – also for people without the knowledge of English or French – for which computer keyboards were in use. The fact that the Mozilla browser and mailer were open source programs made it easy to create Khmer language versions – Moyura developed on the basis of Mozilla Thunderbird 3.0.1, and Mekhala developed on the basis of Mozilla Firefox. Also, the Microsoft Windows Office suite’s Open Source counterpart: Open Office was localized into an Open Source Khmer version. This made it possible that people in Cambodia who do not know any foreign language could now exchange e-mail with each other. At present, as Facebook became widely mis-understood as almost the same as the Internet, it is maybe difficult to imagine the enormous progress achieved in Cambodia when some years go there was a Writing Contest in Khmer, using Unicode and an Open Source localized text program: a young boy from a province was a winner, together with a computer teacher from Phnom Penh! For these developments – Unicode and Khmer Open Source developments – the Cambodian NGO Open Institute played an important role, making their creations available to the wider public through NIDA – the National Information Communication Technology Development Authority, and also cooperating closely with the Ministry of Education. In addition to manifold private initiatives using and promoting Open Source software, it was important that Open Source has achieved also an official standing for the country, through the Ministry of Education Youth and Sport.

I refer here to the Master Plan for Information and Communication Technology in Education 2009 – 2013. The Master Plan for ICT in Education makes important statements about Open Source software: There are rules for the procurement of software for schools, and the same rules will also be applied for the procurement of software for the Ministry itself. “The Ministry will tend to use Open Source Software whenever possible…” And the software, which can be bought by public funds of the Ministry is defined in fairly strict ways: “Only Software that is 100% in the Khmer language… may be approved by the Ministry and used in schools and university to teach ICT literacy.”

“The Ministry will have full ownership and copyright of all training materials and software it develops in the context of the Master Plan. It will license all these materials under an appropriate sharing license, that will allow others to use them, modify them, and distribute them, allowing improvements, personalization, or development of better or different materials by third parties…that are finally used by teachers and students.”

This is further described: “All software distributed must be able to do spell-checking in Khmer, order words according to the Cambodian standard character order… The applications taught must be able to use correctly Unicode, as well as produce all formats considered standard by the Ministry (ODF, PDF). “Only applications that have been legally procured will be taught in the education system, and manufacturers must show that their software cannot be easily attacked by viruses or malware.”

“Specifically for software, students will learn to recognize which software they can use freely and share (as in the case of Free and Open Source Software, and which software is proprietary, requires payment for the use of a license, and cannot be shared with others, or sold to others…”

“Students will be discouraged from using proprietary applications in computers for which licenses have not been paid.”

“Since 2004 the Open Institute has been working on the standardization of the use of Khmer in computers (to Unicode) and on the translation and adaptation of open source software to Khmer language, allowing Cambodians to use computers in their own language. As part of the implementation of the Master Plan for ICT in Education, Open Institute has closely collaborated with the Ministry on the development of curricula for ICT courses for teachers and students, as well as on writing the textbook used by the students in grade 11.”

“The grade 11 textbook helps students understand communication better in a professional context, helping them learn how to use computer tools to implement this communication.”

Students are taught how to use open source software in Khmer language, to facilitate the learning process. The textbook is now already in operation in some schools, and the Ministry is printing the necessary 100,000 copies for all schools that have computers.

“As part of the support on preparation and implementation of the Master Plan for ICT in Education, Open Institute has supported the ICT in Education Office of the Ministry to coordinate the different projects and donors. Parts of the results of this work has been the development of over 300 videos for teacher training in sciences, ICT curricula for teachers and students, and training​​ uppers secondary teachers all over the country on the use of ICT. All this work was funded by the Kingdom of Spain.” Source: Cooperation of the Ministry of Education with the NGO​Open Institute.

3. What can we do to have it used more?

This is a double questions, depending who the “we” is. As individual computer users we can make decisions to use Open Source software. As persons involved professionally in Information and Communication Technology we have more possibilities to use and to promote Open Source, and even to create Open Source programs designed for the special tasks that have to be fulfilled. But for both there are the same guidelines, as they are stated in the Master Plan for Information and Communication Technology of the Ministry of Education Youth and Sport. These guidelines are being taught to students in general, and especially to students in Teacher Training Colleges – through education to Open Source for Good – for Cambodia.

How is all this “for Good”?

  1. Open Source software could save millions of US$s for Cambodia – compare Kerala!
  2. It provides important tools for the future development of Cambodia: by having an environment to exercise creative analysis leading to practical product development, helping to solve future problems of our changing industrial society’s environment.
  3. It opens the challenge to apply creative thinking beyond ICT and technology. The rest of this week is to engage in these things. All the best for the next days –and for the relations of cooperation to be built!
Mr. Norbert KLEIN, Open Development Cambodia advisory board members