Open source software in Malaysia

The Malaysian government has set an example for the Asia-Pacific region in its support for free and open source software (FOSS). In 2004 it launched a master plan for rolling out FOSS throughout the public sector. That plan is now in its second phase of "accelerated adoption", which is intended to make the use of FOSS within government more pervasive. The overall aims of the programme are:

  • increasing freedom of choice in software usage;
  • increasing interoperability;
  • increasing growth of the local ICT industry;
  • increasing growth of the OSS user and development community;
  • increasing growth of the knowledge-based society;
  • reducing the digital divide;
  • reducing total cost of ownership; and
  • reducing vendor lock-in.

Driving these initiatives are MAMPU, a dedicated unit attached to the Prime Minister's Department, and the Malaysian Open Source Competency Centre (OSCC). Beyond simply encouraging the take-up of standard open software such as Apache, Firefox and, they have released a suite of open source products tuned for public sector use, in many cases based on existing successful open source software tools.

MAMPU and OSCC have been active participant in this week's Malaysian Open Source Conference, which I attended for Consumers International.  One of the stand-out papers presented at this conference came from Prof Dato' Dr Syed Mohamed Aljunid from the United Nations University International Institute for Global Health (UNU-IIGH), based here in Malaysia.

Prof Aljunid observed that the world's poorest countries are ironically the least likely to use FOSS in healthcare. He attributed this to corruption in IT procurement policies, lock-in by non-FOSS vendors and lack of trained human resources. The tragedy of this is that the cost of a FOSS solution for a developing country hospital, comparable to a similar proprietary one over a 5 year period, comes in at about 10% of the cost.

I was very interested to hear about an open source health information system and other software that has been developed and is being implemented in a number of developing country hospitals. The Open Source Health Care Alliance (OSHCA), also based in Malaysia, is a good resource point for those interested in investigating such initiatives.

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