I was in Malaysia for an international conference in the first week of november.
I actually came back on 5th November 2009 and wanted to publish about how I analysed the state of Free Software in that country.
2 faces of FOSS
I landed in Kuala Lumpur on the second day of the conference (my paper presentation on accessibility in FOSS was on the 3Rd, day any ways ).
Right from the day I landed there, I was observing the way people think about Free Software (o.k. Open Source as they know it ).
I just dumpped my bagage in the hotel and rushed to the conference hall because I wanted to attend the morning session.
I quickly realised in the morning session itself that the government is pritty serious about FOSS and already the tourisom department, and most of the school education was using FOSS. Government had made plans to shift other departments to FOSS. For this they had invited many international speakers who had already done this successfully.
But sitting next to me was my escort/ assistant Ting (I know name would sound a bit funny to Indians, but he was a really nice guy ).
He told me that these Malaysian speakers who are talking about "Planns to shift to FOSS" or "we have already shifted to FOSS", at their personal machines hardly use the Free OS or the Free Softwares on proprietory OS.
Many of them though were using openoffice and firefox commonly with vlc.
I was later on informed that Many IT consulting enterprises are trying to push FOSS into the mainstreem market but companies like Microsoft have a very strong hold on the market and somehow still managing to hold the fort in the digital freedom war.
The main reason is that while government is taking serious initiatives to move to FOSS, most of their resources in this context are going in big deployments and office staff trainning.
What this means is that the masses of users will still not care or not be made aware about FOSS as a completely free, safe and flexible alternative to what they have been using.
Although many schools are using GNU/Linux in their labs, they do have windows machines as well and students get their hands wet first with windows. "that's the mindset of our teachers " said Ting who was escorting me to the lunch table along with a couple of guests from sudan and a group of school teachers.
I did inquire off the teachers about this and all of them told me that they were given trainning but somehow feel that this is an alien OS and windows probably will be the only thing they would like to teach because small kids get many interesting things to do on windows. "we dont' want to expose the small kids to ls and mkdir and whereis and ..." said one of the teachers.
I told them that it is not true and even the GUI is very beautiful and userfriendly. "that is what you linux people think " was the answer.
I went on to demonstrate the desktop to all of them in an informal session and they were amaised (not just with the orca TTS, but the way I was manipulating the desktop). I showed them the same things which they might have learned during the trainning program, but just in a different way. I have come to develop this orientation technique after many many trial and errors, thanks to many experienced people and my guru Dr. Nagarjun who has been my initiator in this.
So I realised that the only wrong thing government is doing is, "no orientation, just deployment and staff trainning in a limited sence ".
the state of FOSS awareness amongst the blind
I happened to visit the Malaysian Association for the Blind as a part of my main agenda.
I was not surprised but felt sad that the blind people were not aware about the FOSS based alternatives.
But what made me more sad was that the people who knew had a very bad maintality, "we easily get pirated jaws for windows and can openly give it to you as well. What and how will we bennifit from your orca?" was the common question every one asked.
I think that's but natural, given the way awareness is happening or not happening in Malaysia.
I had a tough time explaining them the merrits beyond cost and eventually got success in doing so with one trumcard which I had left at the end.
I asked them "do you have jaws speaking in Malay langauge?" Obviously it does not and will not because Freedom Scientific, the company that makes jaws (of course without giving freedom ) does not find business in that country.
I told them that it is very easy to get orca talking int that language and this fact proved to be the major thing which impressed them.
Malay language uses roman script and same english characters. So it wil be very easy for a person like Jonathon duddington to write a language module for Malay in Espeak.
And since this is the default speech synthesizer used by Orca, the malaysian blind people will easily get what they never got from their favourite proprietory jaws, for which they never pay any ways.
Let's see how things develop now.
I have recently got a mail from moses Choo the main person in MAB that he has got the organisation ready to use FOSS and we have started to work on malay module for espeak.
Things will change soon I believe, but government has to understand that big deployment and short staff training on-site will not help in the larger scope of their vision.