Nepali Times
Towards a Windowsless world


NEPALI MA: Students at Koldong Devi School, Sindhupalchok use NepaLinux. The FOSS operating system has also been installed in schools in Dailekh, Dhading and Phulchowki.

The battle of the operating systems is intensifying in Nepal, it looks like free open source softwares like Linux are emerging as a viable alternative to commercial software.

People usually are only too happy to grab anything labelled 'free', but free and open source software (FOSS) was finding it difficult to make much headway against the commercial giants. Ironically, it was the fact that pirated Windows operating systems are cheap and sometimes come free with the hardware that made it difficult for FOSS to have a following.

"The concept of FOSS lies in freedom of usage, modification and sharing," says Bal Krishna Bal of Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya (MPP), which is trying to promote the programs and its Nepali language operating system.

FOSS is computer software a user can download for free, use in any way and even modify. Among the most popular examples of FOSS are the Mozilla Firefox web browser, and the office suite which offers a free alternative to Microsoft's Windows software. Original, proprietary software, like that of Windows or Adobe, can cost several hundred dollars. But they can be legally used once only by one customer and cannot be modified.

"Unlike FOSS, the rights of the software are restricted to the company and the user is bounded to comply with their policies," says Subir Pradhananga, President of FOSS Nepal.

Regardless of its cost and technical limitations, proprietary software is used virtually everywhere in the world. Even in Nepal, the pirated versions of proprietary software make up 90 per cent of all software used.

Pradhananga says there is a FOSS alternative to almost all commercial software. "What is lacking is awareness," he says.

Now, Foss Nepal with MPP, Help Nepal Network and other cyberactivists are trying to change all that with public programs and recruitment of young software engineers into the movement.

Nepal is at the forefront among South Asian countries in promoting FOSS, especially in developing localised software. In 2005, NepaLinux-an operating system in the Nepali language-was launched and is now available in four versions. The arrival of NepaLinux meant that using a computer was no longer limited to English speakers.

Several rural schools are now using FOSS, and enthusiasts have been lobbying for the government to include it in the country's IT policies and in the national education curriculum.

The switch to FOSS is not difficult as many free applications are Windows compatible, and it is also possible to install a dual-booting system on a computer.

What makes FOSS unique is the easy availability of its source code, which allows IT-savvy operators around the world to modify and improve the software. FOSS users and developers share ideas, problems and solutions in the quest to make the free software more useful and easier to operate. And the other great advantage is the low risk from computer viruses.

'Ayo Nepali!', #129
'Fontastic Nepali', #165
'NepaLinux', #231
'Not doing too badly in IT outsourcing', #291
'Dailekh bridges the digital divide', #360

IT's happening in Bhaktapur

Laxman Shrestha, leans down to press the start button of the newly installed computer at Bhaktapur DDC. It is an old and slow machine that takes five minutes to boot up. But it's better than nothing in Nepal's most IT-savvy DDC office.

Shrestha works for the Bhaktapur district development office and with considerable pride opens up the Government of Nepal website and shows us how his districts posts all its information online.

Since June 2008, Bhaktapur has been one of several DDCs to start computerising its office. Believing that technology could help make work more efficient and respond faster to demand, Bhaktapur raised the necessary funds to install the technology.

"We can now network with 16 of our VDCs and the main ministry," Shrestha says.

The volume of work at the DDC was such that often services were slow and not up to the standard required. The hope is that the new technology will eventually help DDC staff serve the people of Bhaktapur more effectively and competently.

However, as most employees don't yet know how to use the computers proficiently, the technology is not being used to its full capacity. Staff are receiving training, but this is a slow business. Nevertheless, Shrestha remains confident that with a little more practice, the computer technology will make a big difference not just to Bhaktapur but to other districts in Nepal.

Shradha Basnyat in Bhaktapur

Networked cabinet

It is Thursday and another cabinet meeting is about to commence at Singha Durbar. The ministers are comfortably seated waiting for Prime Minister Dahal to show up.

But unlike in the past, there aren't sheafs of papers and files on the table. Instead, each minister has a slick notebook computer, and some are busy typing in notes and others are reviewing the agenda for the Thursday meeting
All 23 ministers now sport sleek laptops, though it is not clear how many know how to type or use the computers.

"The ministers can view their daily program schedules and the meeting agenda with their laptops," says IT engineer Arjun Adhikari, who networked the system. The ministers can even post their opinions or amendments on the discussions. They can access legislation, and are networked to each other.

"The ministers have been enthusiastically using them even though none of them were trained in using the computers ," says Jagdish Regmi at the cabinet secretariat. There is a support team of three computer experts who can help the ministers out if they get stuck.

And it's strictly business in the cabinet meeting: there is no room for a quick game of solitaire or a chat with a daughter in Australia. To help the ministers concentrate on running the country, no games or internet have been installed.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)