Monthly Archives: January 2008

see you at Lift 08 Conference

This year I will be focusing more on evangelism of Mozilla in Asia and so I was glad to be able to accept an opportunity to speak about open source and Mozilla in Asia at the upcoming Lift 08 Conference in Geneva, Feb. 6-8, 2008.

My presentation as it stands right now will use Mozilla as an example of open source in Asia, looking at our situation in both East and South East Asia.  I will try to address Glyn Moody’s question about the weakness of GNU/Linux in Japan, and puncture some myths in the process, but I’m not sure there is a clear answer for this complex question.

I would very much appreciate any information you may have about the success or lack thereof of open source software in Asia.  Feel free to leave me comments here.

Also, if you are attending Lift08, please say hello and introduce yourself to me.  I look forward to meeting fellow Lift 08 attendees and hope to hear from others who are working on open source in Asia.

Jasmina Tesanovic and Gen Kanai added to the speaker program

question Linux in Korea

Both Matt Asay and Glyn Moody are pointing to this Guardian article, Can Linux finally unite Korea?, which claims that Linux will be used to try to increase cooperation between North and South Korea. While the goal is a worthy one, the devil is in the details of course.

I’ve outlined in great detail on this blog, the cost of monoculture, and update on the cost of monoculture in Korea, detailing the unique situation South Korea is in with respect to their encryption cipher used only in South Korea for secure transactions over the Internet, and how it requires both Microsoft Windows as well as Internet Explorer.

Thus, when all of these new North Korean Hana Linux Internet users decide to try to make any secure transaction with any South Korean web service which requires the SEED cipher and the Active-X control that SEED must be paired with, they’ll be sadly denied access.

Open Source in India

Knowledge@Wharton has a fairly interesting piece about open source software trends in India.

Will India Become the New Vanguard of the Open Source Movement?
My main issue with the piece is that while it has a lot of interesting quotes from people who are working on OSS in India, there is clearly a lack of reliable information on what is going on. I’m sure that some of that is due to the distributed nature of OSS.

 Nobody seems to have any estimates of the number of people involved in open source work. Estimates of the members of the community in India vary from 2,000 to 200,000.

“India needs to contribute more aggressively to the process of open source development,”
says Jain. “We have an opportunity to establish leadership in this space.” Hariharan adds, “India has a lot of creativity, and it is just a matter of time before that is reflected through open source software.” In other words, the future of open source in India is still an open question.

The other part that was interesting to me was the stance of India’s former President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

Another believer is A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, India’s former President. At a speech at the International Institute of Information Technology in Pune, he spoke about an encounter he had with Microsoft chairman Bill Gates. While Kalam was advocating open source as the best solution for a developing country like India, Gates was unmoved in his belief in the superiority of proprietary software developed by a commercial company, such as Microsoft’s Windows operating system and desktop software. “Our discussions became difficult, since our views were different,” said Kalam. Which view now prevails? “The unfortunate thing is that India still seems to believe in proprietary solutions,” Kalam added.

Indian Former President Kalam’s position is in stark contrast to China’s President Hu Jintao, who met with Bill Gates in 2006.

“Because you, Mr. Bill Gates, are a friend of China, I’m a friend of Microsoft,” Hu said, according to an Associated Press pool report from their meeting. “Also, I am dealing with the operating system produced by Microsoft every day,” he added, to laughter from those around him.

Open source contributors in Asia

Matt Asay (who’s Open Road blog at CNet is a great resource) points to an absolutely fascinating discussion/podcast between Jim Zemlin (of the Linux Foundation) and Linus Torvalds.

Asay was interested in Torvalds’ view on community, but I was captivated by Torvalds’ perspectives on why open source is used in Asia widely but why there is not more contribution back into the codebase of OSS projects from developers in Asia. The interview is very long, so even this excerpt is long, but this topic is a significant issue for open source software in Asia and is a key area of interest for me.

This issue is critical because the barriers to more OSS developers in Asia seem to be non-technical: language barriers or cultural barriers.  Torvalds actually thinks that the cultural barriers are greater, and I would tend to agree.  Mozilla certainly has a number of critically important Asian-based developers but I think proportionately there are much fewer Asian OSS developers than North/South American or European.

Whatever the issues are, it’s clear that there is no easy answer and that growing OSS contributors in Asia may continue to be challenging.

Jim Zemlin: One of the things that’s happening—to continue to talk about community—is Linux is starting to be more important across the globe to – whether it’s from governments who see it as a strategic way to grow with a software industry, sort of use Linux as something that can do that or its mobile device manufacturers in Taipei or One Laptop Per Child, et cetera.

One of the things that people ask a lot about is why don’t we see more global participation in the development process itself? In other words, observers say this is very North American-European focused.

I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on: a) why don’t you see more of it; and, b) any ideas on how you can get more participation from folks from other geographies.

Linus Torvalds: Well, we’ve done some studies, six over the years just looking at where developers come from and one of the obvious things is people tend to come from not just populous countries, but countries with a very high density of Internet access and that is one of the reasons.

I mean, you can easily say that, yes, there’s a billion people in China, there’s a billion people in India, but China and India are not represented very well in the developer community.

But if you actually – instead of just looking at just number of people, you look at number of people who actually have good Internet access. China and India simply aren’t that big and that’s one of the issues is just connectivity.

Jim Zemlin: But proportionally, do they participate as much or is there still…?

Linus Torvalds: There are other issues too and clearly the language and cultural barriers are one of the big issues and something as simple as and maybe obvious as education.

So, the language barriers tend to be a huge problem for – well, actually, maybe more even the different cultural issues that – with Asian countries they have good penetration; some of them have huge penetration of Internet use, they have a obviously great education and they do not end up contributing a lot to open source, not the kernel, not to generally other projects either.

And that seems to be at least partly cultural and it’s really hard, then, for some of these people who have cultural barriers and a language barrier to then become actively involved. It does happen, but it certainly explains a lot of the reasons why Western Europe and the U.S. are the biggest development areas.

Jim Zemlin: Is this something that the kind of core kernel community thinks about, like, “How can we get more people involved? How can we make it easier and more accessible to get people involved?”

Linus Torvalds: It comes up every once in a while. I don’t think anybody really knows what the answer is. We’ve added some documentation. Usually the kind of initial “read me” kind of documentation: where to go to get involved, how to behave, so that’s available in a number of languages.

Whether that makes a huge deal or not, I don’t know. I suspect it doesn’t, but I also suspect that it may make people more likely to at least take a look at the project. Maybe it scares away people less when they see the project itself, at least tries to approach them. People in Asia might feel like, “Okay, I’m not fighting against this. I may have issues,” but at least they’re kind of aware of them and they’re trying to some degree. So, that’s one of the things we’ve been looking at.

That said, I mean, I actually think the cultural barrier is bigger than the language barrier and the reason I say that is especially South America has been pretty active, so it’s not that – and they don’t necessarily speak English all that much, but I think culturally they’re more closer to Europe and the U.S. which makes it easier to enter.

So – and the cultural differences I don’t think we even know how to really even approach.