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.....Bangla Innovation through Open Source
 
  OPEN SOURCE ADVOCACY
Why Open Source in Bangladesh
Open Source Capacity in Bangladesh
Bangladesh Case Studies
International Examples
 
.... WHY OPEN SOURCE IN BANGLADESH :: >

Tuesday, April 27, 2004
exes looming over our national image, Bangladesh can ill afford to risk more cases of humiliation. Also, compliance with WTO intellectual property regulations will also likely put international pressure on the country. One of the major driving forces for China opting for open source is its requirement to comply with strict WTO regulations in order to become its member.

In such a global economic and political scenario, adoption of open source technologies can vastly reduce Bangladesh’s current vulnerabilities in terms of potential harassment for widespread software piracy and allegations of violation of WTO rules leading to possible trade restrictions.


Stimulates the local software industry
Adoption of open source technologies by the government can greatly enhance opportunities for the local software industry to provide high-end solutions to the government thus developing much-needed experience for bidding for international projects. The local software industry would gain from the large body of knowledge that would need to be acquired to build upon existing open source technologies and produce customized solutions for the government. Dependence upon foreign vendors can be significantly reduced while providing a competitive environment for local companies to build expertise necessary to become global players and propel the country towards a software export-oriented one. The Chinese government is a prime example of a state that has provided considerable impetus to the local software industry by making a significant shift towards the adoption of open source technologies. Since the announcement of the Chinese government that it would adopt Linux as the de facto operating platform, a growing number of government contracts have gone to the local software vendors with expertise in open source technologies thus reducing dependence on foreign vendors and saving vast amounts of foreign currency. The Ministry of Economic Affairs of Taiwan has also decided to give contracts to a host of local software companies to build Linux-based applications for the government. The Ministry wants over half of government agencies to move to Linux within the next five years.

Preparedness of the IT Industry
However, as much as the government may realize the importance of moving to open source technologies, if the IT industry is not ready to provide the necessary technological, maintenance and supports services, then all the good intentions of the government and other related institutions will be thwarted. The IT industry should take definitive steps in creating solid expertise in open source technologies, not just to cater to potential local demand but also to benefit from increased innovation and transfer of technologies. The inherent knowledge base provided by the freely available source code developed and debugged by some of the brightest minds around the world would empower local software companies to move towards higher-end solutions building upon existing technologies. This would also provide opportunities for better positioning for attracting software outsourcing as some of the world’s biggest IT manufacturers and solution providers are heavily investing into open source technologies.

To give some examples, Motorola Semiconductor and another company named TurboLinux are developing a Chinese-Language version of Linux OS. Intel is actively developing Linux Standard Base to develop Linux standards for the development of test suites for base libraries. An IA-64 Linux project is under way between HP, IBM, Red Hat and some other companies to port the Linux kernel to IA-64. Sun Microsystems have put out one its major products, Star Office – an alternative to Microsoft Office – as open source software. IBM is, however, by far the biggest investor in the development and promotion of open source technologies, having committed US 2 billion dollars for the development of Linux-based solutions and outsourcing many its development work to Asia.


Support from the Academia
With preparedness of the IT industry should come support from the academia in Bangladesh to build human resources with skills in open source technologies and experience in working in Linux environment. The computer science departments of most universities in the Western world have Linux-based computer labs – the approach is catching on in many countries of Asia as well. Recently, the President of the University of the Philippines declared the decision to “shift all academic systems to open source software�. Emphasis on usage and modification of open source technologies in the academia also propagates a research-based mindset as students feel themselves to be a part of a global community involved in a continual process of exploration and innovation. In Bangladesh, this would be specially important since students feel isolated from the rest of the academic world and often engage themselves in reinventing wheels. Another advantage of using Linux platform in the academia is that old computers with hardware specifications that are obsolete for Microsoft’s standards can be put to good use in a Linux-based networked environment.
Conclusion
In light of the above discussion, we will now briefly discuss a few steps that should be taken by the three major stakeholders:

(1) Government:
• The government should give serious consideration to creating a high-powered public-private body to investigate options for use of open source –based IT solutions in the government.
• It should encourage the local industry, the academia, and the training centers to build relevant expertise to provide support for such infrastructure.
• In all government IT projects, maintenance of open standards in choice of technologies should be made mandatory.
• The government should give equal preference to open source technologies and proprietary software when giving out tenders for projects.

(2) IT Industry:
• Individual companies in the IT industry should have clear goals to quickly build expertise in open source technologies.
• Expertise and experience in open source technologies should be marketed heavily as part of the strategy for attracting outsourcing partners.

(3) Academia:
• The universities should take immediate steps to build “Linux labs� and familiarize students with working in open source technology-based environment.
• Schools should consider loading Linux and Open Office as alternatives to Windows and Microsoft Office.
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Let us look at some of the major reasons why so many countries have moved towards open source technologies:


Reduces costs
Some governments have saved millions of dollars in software licensing by resorting to open source. The South African government has reportedly saved millions of US dollars by adopting open source not only by saving software licensing fees but also by retaining old hardware since Linux is capable of running on less processing power and memory than the newer versions of Windows, for instance.

Recently, in Bangladesh, discussion of e-government has been intensifying in many ministries. Some have already taken initial steps towards the use of ICTs to facilitate governmental activities. But the downside is that the government is having to spend a significant amount of resources on software licensing requirements and on updating hardware resources to meet the requirements for latest proprietary technologies such as Windows XP. In order to avoid “unnecessary� expenses in software procurement, use of pirated software is becoming more and more prevalent. Use of OS technologies can significantly bring down costs for e-government for Bangladesh.


Reduces security risks
There have been cases where the governments of some countries have refused to use certain software in fear of security vulnerabilities. Some have warned that proprietary software whose source code is not made available may have hidden “logic bombs� through which unwarranted leakage of sensitive information may be possible. The Chinese government has openly declared that “China thinks Microsoft software contains secretly embedded code that the United States government can manipulate at will. So, in case of dissension between the two countries, a Pentagon official can hit a switch and--presto!-- cripple China's computing infrastructure.�





Open source technologies are completely transparent for the following reasons: 1. their source code is made publicly available 2. they are developed by programmers from all over the world who are not necessarily within the confinements of a single company as it happens with a proprietary software 3. they generally go through scrutinizing eyes of thousands of programmers and users from all over the world. As Bangladesh builds more and more databases and other information repositories with sensitive data, it will become increasingly crucial to safeguard against irresponsible use of “closed software�.


Gives freedom to modify and customize according to needs
One of the main attractive features of open source software is that since its source code is available it is possible to customize a particular software application according to local needs. With proprietary software, for instance, one cannot even make as basic a modification as changing the menu items to a local language. For many e-government projects in Bangladesh, local language support is of absolute necessity. Although there is every indication of far-sight in steering governmental activities towards the adoption of English, it cannot be done overnight, given the precedence of the country’s top political leaders making the use of Bangla mandatory for governmental documentation. To allow for the transition, use of open source technologies to create a Bangla-enabled e-government platform will promote acceptance and increase usability of various ICT-based solutions for governmental activities.


Gives freedom to redistribute and replicate
Due to the free availability of open source technologies, a solution based on these technologies is much more easily replicable than one based on proprietary technologies. Suppose one ministry has successfully implemented a particular e-government project and the government wants the model replicated in other ministries. However, if the solution is built upon licensed proprietary technologies, then the cost of replicating it will instantly become a major deterrent. If the solution is built upon open source technologies, the software costs can be kept to a minimum.


Prevents lock-in to a single vendor
One disadvantage that has deterred many government agencies around the world to depend on proprietary software is that it often necessitates lock-in to a single vendor. For instance, a system built on the Windows platform needs to be upgraded at the will of the software giant, Microsoft. When the company decides to come up with a new version of Windows, some old software become obsolete, some old hardware become too inadequate to support the requirements of the new version. This puts the government and other users at the mercy of the vendor which can dictate unnecessary upgrades and sometimes place exorbitant charges for these upgrades. This leaves the user with little choice other than unhappy compliance since moving to another system can be even more prohibitive after investment has already been made into a particular system.

Use of open source technologies prevents any such dangerous lock-in to any single vendor or technology. The government will have the freedom to engage third party vendors to modify the technologies and solutions as needed, which is only possible because the source code of open source technologies is freely available. For Bangladesh, the cost of lock-in to a particular vendor can be more expensive than most other countries, since the country does not have local presence of most multinational software vendors thus often increasing service and maintenance charges.


Promotes open standards thus easing interoperability
One major disadvantage of building solutions based on proprietary software is that they often do not adhere to open standards, meaning that they do not run on certain platforms and often conflict with systems based on solutions from a different vendor. For instance, an application built on Visual Basic will not run on a Linux-based platform and will also be difficult to integrate with other applications. In typical e-government projects, expansion leads to the necessity of different applications in different government agencies being able to inter-connect and inter-operate smoothly. Due to this major disadvantage, many governments make it mandatory for governmental ICT applications to maintain open standards. Open source technologies inherently offer the advantages of ensuring open standards to allow for seamless interoperability. It prevents the government from being stuck with legacy systems which cannot be upgraded nor be interfaced with new technological improvements.


Prevents potential international harassment for software piracy
Due to the exorbitant price of software, piracy has become prevalent in Bangladesh to the extent that there are many who think that the cost of a Windows XP of Office XP is really just Tk. 100 at a reduced rate for Bangladesh. While it is less dangerous for households to use pirated software, its use in corporate offices and specially in government agencies can potentially lead to international harassment. Business Software Alliance, an international software policing agency, and its numerous collaborators are expanding at a fast rate to reach countries with high levels of software piracy. Even in India, with official collaboration from NASSCOM, BSA has filed several piracy law suits. There is every indication that it will not be long before BSA comes into Bangladesh as well, and when that happens different IT-related associations and the government will be left with no choice but to collaborate. With international defamation for ranking high in corruption ind
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