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[ossig] The Future is Open Source (Pakistan)

(Forwarded by FOSSFP: Free and Open Source Software Foundation of Pakistan

The future is open source - By Zeeshan Muhammad
Source: http://www.dawn.com/weekly/science/science1.htm
(Article published on 29th October in Pakistan's Daily DAWN Newspaper)

In a world where Microsoft increasingly threatens to dominate computing as
well as the internet, a seemingly motley collection of free software tools
and operating systems - collectively dubbed "open source" software - has
found a niche. Open source technologies are now playing an important role in
many developing countries, where governments and corporate entities are
moving increasingly towards open standards in an effort to reduce costs or
to increase revenues.

Pakistanis, too, are waking up to the realization that open source software
are gaining popularity throughout the world. Open source technologies are
not just another option for reducing costs, but they represent the only way
to eliminate illegal copying of copyrighted software.

A report by the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) says
Pakistan was rated in 2003 as a world leader in software piracy. In the
intervening period, things have actually become worse as piracy has reached
alarming proportions. According to a recent report, Pakistan has secured the
top spot in the IIPA's watch list as a "priority foreign country" because of
its thriving underground market in illicit digital products.

However, the Pakistani government is committed towards the elimination of
piracy and the protection of intellectual property. By conducting raids at
various locations where illegal software are mass produced, the authorities
are trying to eradicate piracy. They also want to educate the people about
the benefits of using open source software.

"Pakistan can attract a lot of foreign investment, if piracy is properly
tackled," says Al Redha, co-chairman of the Business Software Alliance.
"Open source/Linux has a great potential in Pakistan in terms of reducing
costs for our private sector and to eliminate piracy. It is up to us to
realize the importance of open source and we should adopt free alternatives
of copyrighted software in the form of Linux and OSS, to counter piracy."

Open source initiatives were taken two decades ago when a programmer called
Richard Stallman started a project to develop a free alternative of the Unix
operating system. If we take a closer look at the history of computing, we
would soon realize how important it was to have a commercial operating
system. From the early 1960s to the 1970s, revenues in computer business
were generated through selling and supporting hardware, for which a special
operating system was developed and deployed. Many initiatives were launched
to build an operating system that could be deployed on multiple hardware

The most prominent example is Unix, which was a product of AT&T Laboratories
and was published back in 1969. Sharing the source code among developers and
researchers was a common phenomenon, which brought about major developments
in the field of internet and related technologies.

A major event took place in the early 1980s when AT&T renewed its licensing
policy for corporate software development and made Unix available to only
those who paid up. Following this first step towards closed source, hardware
companies started to develop proprietary Unix operating systems and
recruited many developers for commercial software development who had
formerly contributed to cooperative and shared software development.

In 1984, Richard Stallman brought about a revolution when he established a
special licence, the GNU, in order to ensure that software would indeed
remain free and open for everyone. To support his GNU project, Stallman
founded the Free Software Foundation (FSF) in 1985.

Many open source projects have emerged since then, the most prominent being
Linux. It is a Unix-like operating system which was developed by the Finnish
computer science student Linus Torvalds in the early 1990s. It is supposed
to be run on personal computers.

Benefits of using it

Linux is gaining in popularity simply because it is completely free of
charge. No user or server licences are required. However, if you walk into a
local shop or bookstore, you will find various Linux products on the shelf
for purchase at very nominal prices, which is purely to take care of
packaging and distribution costs.

Another advantage of using Linux is that it is developed by hundreds and
thousands of people worldwide. Because of this, the Linux kernel has evolved
into a rock solid and stable entity. Runtime errors and crashes are quite
rare due to the way its kernel is designed and the way processes are allowed
to access it. Also, Linux is the most widely used operating system for
running important services in the public as well as private sectors

"Red Hat is the de-facto ruler in the enterprise class Linux market and
there are countless companies all over Pakistan utilizing the benefits of
Red Hat and its services," says Gibran Ahmed, a Red Hat channel partner in
Pakistan .

Security is a major concern for any organization running a propriety
operating system such as Windows. However, following its first debut in
1995, Windows has been the centre of focus for hackers from around the
globe. Because of this there have been countless kernel attacks and viruses
found, giving companies a hard time to fight off attacks.

Linux came as a fresh breeze for all system administrators as it is much
more secure and it also consumes less system resources to run the services
on a highly complex network. Major Pakistani companies using Red Hat
Enterprise Linux (RHEL) include Engro Pakistan, State Bank of Pakistan,
Mobilink, Standard Chartered Bank, United Bank Limited, Karachi Stock
Exchange, Atlas Investment Bank and Nadra.

Fighting piracy

But with all the advantages and benefits of Linux, is the open source
community successful in attracting wider audiences towards the adoption of
free software, especially in our country? Except large corporations and
multinational firms, almost every single computer in Pakistan runs pirated
software. Piracy is recognized as one of the biggest problems confronting
the IT sector in the country.

Every year the software industry faces huge losses due to the copying of
propriety software. It is now time that our IT professionals realized that
we have the option of using software legally in the form of Free and Open
Source Software (FOSS).

The FOSS are liberally licensed to grant the rights to redistribute and
study, change and improve its design through the availability of its source
code, something that propriety software developers have always dreamed


Sci-tech World contacted some well-known IT professionals and asked them of
the prospects of open source software. We asked Asaf Maruf Ali, CEO of PING
Systems www.ping.com.pk about possible impediments to the widespread
adoption of the software in Pakistan. He said: "Linux/FOSS is catching on
due to the efforts of all the companies involved in providing services in
FOSS and Linux including PING. The government is also playing a part with
the establishment of PSEB OSRC (Open Source Resource Centre) last year.

"We have been actively involved in open source training and creating
awareness, and by the grace of Allah, today PING is working on a completely
open source environment with an ever-growing list of customers who have
migrated to Linux and open source."

He also laid out some reasons why FOSS adoption was rather slow in the

- Lack of awareness. People are simply not aware of the benefits of open
source in business and home use;

- Increasing software piracy. People are not bothered about FOSS when they
can get Windows and other propriety software for Rs25;

- Companies willing to migrate are unsure about the level of support that is
available locally. It's hoped that as more companies migrate and deploy
Linux/FOSS, a new industry will come up that will provide IT support and

- Lack of active Linux user groups (LUGs) in the country. LUGs have a great
role in promoting FOSS among business and home users. They hold seminars and
workshops on a regular basis and provide free Linux installation to anyone
who attends these workshops;

- Lack of established companies providing high-end training in Linux and
other open source technologies.

Khawar Nehal, chief of Applied Technology Research Centre www.atrc.net.pk
told Sci-tech World: "We have tried to attract people for the last decade in
Pakistan and learned that the better way is to wait for them to demand it.
If we try to 'sell' it to them they think we are selling something and
trying to get some benefit out of it.

"We realized that people making the move are those who need security and
reliability for their applications. Persuading people to move towards OSS is
just a matter of time. As with the help of government and local communities,
we are quite positive that within the next decade, we will have more
computers running Linux than Windows."

Opportunities for Linux

"FOSS has a very bright and sustainable future in Pakistan through Free &
Open Source Software Foundation of Pakistan (FOSSFP)," said Dr M.
Anwar-ur-Rehman Pasha, the chairman of FOSSFP . The FOSSFP is a registered
non-profit, charitable ICT foundation based in Pakistan.

The FOSSFP is assisting the enhancement of the capacities of individuals,
groups, institutions, organizations, societies, and government in Pakistan
by using FOSS for their sustained economic and social development.

However, they are not alone in the quest and organizations like OSRC of the
PSEB www.osrc. org.pk, Linux Task Force of the ministry of science and
technology www.tremu.gov.pk, Special Interest Group of the Computer Society
of Pakistan www.csp.org. pk/foss and Linux Pakistan www. linuxpakistan.net
are making their contributions by creating awareness about the initiative.

Market share

Linux has grown in our country by leaps and bounds during the last decade.
The current data show that there are about 266 or more Linux users in the

Comparing the Pakistani figures with those of India, however, it is revealed
that our neighbours have surpassed us as 3,000 or more users run Linux as a
primary operating system there. This compels one to ask what makes them so
different from us?

We have the same historical background, tradition and culture but they are
always one step ahead of us. Because of their attitude and acceptance of
available free resources, they are making their move towards a better

It is time that we also changed our attitude and realized that our country
has long suffered due to software piracy. Isn't it unfortunate to think that
piracy cannot be controlled and curbed in Pakistan?

The writer is a final year student at the NED University of Engineering and
Technology, Karachi. Email: muhammadzeeshan@hotmail.com

Why Linux is a good source

Lack of awareness fuels misperceptions about open source operating systems
and tools. People are often afraid of switching over to Linux from their
Windows environment because of lack of beautiful interfaces and difficulty
in remembering commands.

But open source community is growing and it now tries to provide the best
user experience and support ever imagined by traditional users of Windows.
Graphical environment GUI has significantly improved over time and the
latest version of Red Hat Linux has got some jaw-dropping visuals.

People are often confused by the term Linux. It refers to the kernel that
drives the operating system. However, the kernel is useless without a set of
tools and applications to run on top of it.

Linux is most commonly distributed with this toolset and a collection of
applications which is called "distribution". The most common are Red Hat,
Mandrake, Suse, Slackware and Debian. These distros are available at no cost
from www.linuxiso.org and can also be purchased locally. Installation is
amazingly simple and it works seamlessly with almost all hardware and

Apart from an operating system, the open source community has a huge
collection of free software available. There are graphical environments
(GUIs), office applications, developers' tools, system utilities, business
applications, document publishing tools, network client and server
applications, etc. All in all, Linux is the right choice for everyday users
as it has everything to meet one's computing needs.

In order to check ever-increasing software piracy, one should particularly
explore options available in the form of open source products.- ZM

Fouad Riaz Bajwa
General Secretary
FOSSFP: Free & Open Source Software Foundation of Pakistan R

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