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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 August, 2004, 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK
UN backs drive for free software
A Linux cybercafe in Brazil
Open source is seen as a cheap solution in bridging technology gaps
Events have been held across Asia to encourage the region to adopt free and open source software.

The UN's International Open Source Network (IOSN) helped promote the first annual Software Freedom Day on 28 August, giving out CDs and booklets about the technology.

Events took place in countries like India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.

Open source is free and can offer big opportunities for developing countries.

The initiative was organised by free and open source software advocates under the umbrella of the Software Freedom Day.


In December last year, the UN held a major conference to find ways of bridging the digital divide - the difference in access to computer technologies in developed and developing nations.

In many developing countries, widespread access is difficult due to the high costs involved in setting up computer systems, buying licences and software support.

IOSN tries to encourage countries to adopt affordable software so that the digital divide can be overcome.

The UN body has backed the day's events as part of its drive to encourage more people in Asia to use free or open source software.

Several open source applications were promoted during the day.

These include the operating system Linux, OpenOffice, the Mozilla web browser and e-mail project, mySQL database and the Apache web server.

Computer users in South Africa joined in too. They were able to take their computers to one an "install-fest" station to have free software installed.

Although such programs are free, many companies pay for Linux-based software packages, like e-mail and word processing.

Open-source systems let computer users and programmers change code and create new applications without paying a licence fee. Linux has made significant inroads into the software market in Latin America and Asia.

Growing threat

The Asia-Pacific region is a powerful market for dominant software companies like Microsoft.

Linus Torvalds, the originator of Linux
Linux-based software is a threat to Microsoft's dominance
Analysts say Linux poses a growing threat to Microsoft's dominant Windows operating system, which is used on more than 90% of the world's PCs.

Last year, China, South Korea and Japan made a move to boost their joint research into a new open source computer operating system which would rival Microsoft Windows.

The Japanese government has set aside one billion yen (US$85.5m) for the project.

And earlier this year, one of the world's biggest computer manufacturer, HP, started to ship computers kitted out with Linux to China and India.

Microsoft has already tried to respond to the threat posed by open-source software by offering for sale a cheap version of its XP desktop operating system in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.

The software, called Windows XP Starter Edition, will be available on low-cost hardware from October.

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