The United Nations, through its International Open Source Network (IOSN), is promoting the first annual Software Freedom Day on Saturday in an effort to educate Asian users about the benefits of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) and encourage its wider use in the region.
Local FOSS advocates will organize events in Bangladesh, Brunei, India, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, setting up stations in public places to give away informational brochures and CDs with selected open source software, including TheOpenCD and a Linux Live CD.
"Access to ICT is severely limited in developing countries due to high costs," IOSN said on its website. FOSS "represents an opportunity for these countries to adopt affordable software and solutions toward bridging the digital divide."
Apart from Linux, high-profile FOSS applications being promoted include the OpenOffice productivity suite, the Mozilla browser and email project, mySQL database and the Apache web server.
IOSN has also released a primer describing the philosophy, history, benefits and disadvantages of FOSS, with topics such as localisation, licensing and Linux also briefly covered.
Several Asian countries have begun initiatives to promote Linux and open source applications, although none have yet mandated its use over proprietary equivalents. A three-country initiative involving Japan, China and South Korea has resulted in a localised standard version for Linux known as Asianux.
Microsoft, which stands to lose significantly if Asia makes a large-scale move away from its standard Windows desktop, has recently agreed to sell a cheap version of its flagship 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.