Greenpeace Southeast Asia Moves to Free Software

by Fred Noronha

Non-government organisations (NGO) talk about freedom. Now, they are experiencing it in at least in one sphere of their activism--software. That's the message emerging from the global network Greenpeace, which recently shifted to free software in Southeas Asia.

"The office has been planning to move to free software since early 2002. We made a conscious choice between migrating to free software or spending funds on expensive software licenses", said Steven Sy, web-editor and system administrator for Greenpeace Southeast Asia in the Philippines.

He added, "We also did not want to get into legal troubles if ever the BSA [Business Software Alliance, the proprietary software arm that fights illegal copying of software, which it terms piracy] came our way."

Sy has been with the Philippine environmental movement for almost a decade and joined Greenpeace about two years ago. "The concept of free software/open source is new to me, and I'm still learning the ropes", he said.

For its part, Greenpeace Southeast Asia (GPSEA) was formally established in March 2000. The head office is in Bangkok, Thailand, and a branch office is located in Manila, the Philippines.

Globally, Greenpeace runs an estimated 90+% of their servers on GNU/Linux. But so far, Manila is the only Greenpeace office to fully deploy GNU/Linux on the majority of desktops. Other smaller GP offices are planning to migrate in the coming months.

In Manila, free software has been fully deployed within the office. They have been using Red Hat since September 2002. "At first we were using Red Hat 7.3 with a Ximian desktop, then we upgraded to Red Hat 8 as soon as it came out", said Sy.

The Manila office has seven desktop systems and one laptop running on GNU/Linux. Two other laptops continue to use Windows XP. Sy says the GNU/Linux boxes mainly are used for word processing, e-mail, web browsing, spreadsheets and presentations.

When asked what is the best part of the migration, Sy replied, "It's free--both in the sense of beer and speech--and it's secure. There have been [fewer] or no virus infections since migrating", says Sy.

The reasons for the move were both philosophical and pragmatic, "Free software is a technically superior and morally correct technology", Sy said. The cost of the migration was miniscule as well. They downloaded the software from the Internet, so it was "just the cost of blank CDs, less than $1 US".

For the users, of course, there was the question of time and patience to learn the new system. But, as some have argued, the cost of proprietary operating systems cannot be compared with the salary costs of workers, more so in a continent like Asia.

The benefits of moving to free software already are coming in, and they're not small. Greenpeace Southeast Asia says free software has saved the office "a lot of money" that naturally "is better spent on winning campaigns than paying for very expensive licenses".

So far, the only problems have been minor bugs in the software and GNU/Linux's traditional steep learning curve for the beginner. "I wouldn't know (how other NGOs, non-profits or community-based organisations view the issue of free software), but I'm hoping our case could serve as an example to the other NGOs and non-profits in the Philippines", said Sy.

Fred Noronha is a freelance journalist living in Goa, India.

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