Sunday, September 03, 2006

Phillipines - More schools take to open source

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DESPITE the lack of a state policy on free and open source software, a number of government agencies have made inroads in promoting its use in schools, a top information technology official said last week.

In a paper delivered at an academic forum Thursday, Emmanuel Lallana, a commissioner of the Commission on Information and Communications Technology said efforts to promote free and open source software in education have focused on three aspects: 1) getting more people to use it; 2) developing content and electronic learning applications using the technology; and 3) developing experts who can support its wider use.

The largest deployment to date is the third phase of the government’s PCs for Public Schools Program launched last month, which is deploying some 12,000 personal computers worth P600 million to 1,200 public high schools, Lallana said.

Unlike the first two phases of the program that used the proprietary Windows operating system and Microsoft Office, the computers in phase 3 will be bundled with free and open source Fedora Linux and OpenOffice.

“This is the most important milestone,” he said, noting that the project went to Lenovo in a public bidding in part because its software costs were so low.

Free and open source software is also increasingly finding its way into state-owned universities and colleges, Lallana said.

In an informal survey, the CICT found that 15 of 18 of these institutions already use free and open source software as an alternative to proprietary programs.

The software was used mostly in computer labs, libraries, and faculty and department offices. Open source applications were also used to provide Internet, intranet and electronic mail services.

The universities, on the other hand, continued to use proprietary software for accounting, registration and personnel applications.

Among the perceived benefits, the survey respondents cited lower costs, reliability and performance.

On the other hand, survey respondents said there were problems with some users who were accustomed to proprietary software, as well as difficulties in converting data from proprietary systems. Respondents also said they lacked technical support.

Among the 15 universities and colleges that already used free and open source software, eight felt it was better than proprietary solutions, while seven said it was similar.

As part of its effort to increase the number of users of free and open source software, the CICT has distributed three CDs that include selected applications.

These include open source software that runs under Windows, including free alternatives to MS Office, Dreamweaver, Internet Explorer, MS Outlook, Adobe Acrobat and PhotoShop.

Lallana emphasized that while lower cost is a major attraction, open source is about more than just cost reduction.

“It’s about freedom, sharing and community,” he said, quoting technology writer Glyn Moody, author of Rebel Code. Chin Wong

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