International Organisations Take a Close Look at Linux

Some United Nations' agencies are exploring the opportunities Linux may offer in their quest to provide internet access around the world.

For India, it appears that good news is around the corner. International organisations and prominent networks worldwide are waking up to the rich potential that free and open-source software can offer to third-world countries. But can this potential be tapped speedily and effectively?

Global organisations, from UNESCO to the World Bank, are all catching up on the possibility of using GNU/Linux as a potent tool in working towards development. This is especially true in countries where the cost of a proprietary office suite could eat up six months or more of the average citizen's earnings.

Radhika Lal, an information and communication technology policy advisor for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), recently drew attention to a conference titled "Open Source for E-Government", to be held in Washington, DC on October 17-18. InfoDev, the Cyberspace Policy Institute of The George Washington University, and the UNDP are jointly behind this event. The conference hopes to draw participants from local, national and international organizations in both the public and private sectors.

The conference intends to present cases of best practices, as well as raise awareness about the potential of open source and free software for e-governance. More importantly, it will be sharing experiences among policy makers, donors, users and consumers, universities, and industry specialists in open-source, e-government and related fields.

ICT-for-development is a campaign to use more of the Internet for global development and for fighting problems such as poverty and illiteracy. Despite some shared goals and concerns with the GNU/Linux world, so far little networking has been done between these two separate circles.

Other Arms of the UN

Besides the UNDP, other arms of the United Nations also are showing increasing interest in the potential of free software/open-source tools. Paris-headquartered UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) recently launched its own free software portal.

UNESCO's Jean-Claude Dauphin, of the Information Society Division, also announced that this international organisation is looking out for contributors with extensive knowledge of the Free Software movement in correlation to UNESCO's fields of expertise--education, science and culture.

UNESCO is particularly focused on those people coming from the third world (also called the "South" countries) who could make propositions for "revising, updating and extending the UNESCO Free Software Portal", as well as for including new basic documents. "This work could be done using a fee or consultant contract, and the fee can be discussed depending on the amount of work described in the contract", Dauphin said.

Check out these sites for more information:

UNESCO Libraries PortalUNESCO Archives PortalUNESCO Free Software PortalUNESCO Observatory on the Information Society

New Tools for CDS/ISIS

Recently, UNESCO also announced the launch of two new tools--ImpExp2709 and IsisAscii v 0.92--for data exchange from and to its CDS/ISIS software. CDS/ISIS is a generalized information storage and retrieval system that is freely distributed. It has attracted users in places like libraries within the third world. The new utilities have been released with their source code under the GPL license.

Meanwhile, UNDP's APDIP (Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme), based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, also is learning to think seriously about organizing some kind of a consultation on open source, GNU/Linux and related issues. "We want to see how we can further this cause in the region", said APDIP's Shahid Akhtar.

Niranjan Rajani, of Pakistani origin and based in Finland, currently is working on a research project titled, "Significance of Free/Open-Source Software for Developing Countries". Financed by the Finnish Foreign Ministry, Niranjan has undertaken to write the paper by the end of November 2002 for Maailma.Net, a local division of OneWorld.Net.

This project's goal is to discover, evaluate and analyze the extent to which free and open-source software, especially some of their most significant and popular projects--GNU/Linux, Apache, Mozilla, OpenOffice--are being used in developing or third-world countries. It will also look at their possible impact on the economies, societies and lives in these countries.