New Delhi, October 25:

Pakistan, often criticised for software ‘piracy’, is placing its faith on the Free Software and Open Source options to get out of this trap and also build local skills.

Also called Free/Libre and Open-Source Software (FLOSS), it is a family of software liberally licensed to grant the right of users to study, change and improve its design through the availability of its source code.

Fouad Riaz Bajwa, general secretary of a network called the Free and Open Source Software Foundation of Pakistan (FOSS-FP), told IANS: “FOSS-FP was (thought of) in February 2004, and set up actually in 2005. Our goal is to help people identify open alternatives to ‘pirated’ (or illegally copied) software.

“Our aim is also to identify processes by which people, governments, enterprise and the civil sector can use Free/Libre and Open Source Software for their sustainable economic development.” Bajwa said this was being done by working with universities, linking up with the Pakistani public sector infrastructure and seeing whether it can be utilised for FLOSS education.

Free Software and Open Source still has only a marginal presence in the world of computing. But it is becoming increasingly attractive to a range of governments, for a diverse - sometimes conflicting - set of reasons. Kerala recently took a major decision to officially shift education in schools to Free Software. Countries like Brazil and South Africa also support its use, as does China, though some of the latter’s concerns are based around security.

In Pakistan, the attempt is also to build skills. FOSS-FP has been holding short-duration, single-day literacy campaigns. “We give (students) free training on installing and

using Ubuntu Linux, Open Suse, Red Hat Fedora Core,” Bajwa said.

Free Software comes in the form of different ‘distributions’. Although each works in somewhat different ways from each other, there is commonness, and learning the different ‘distros’ can be a challenge. FOSS-FP is also trying to promote and build the FLOSS software developer community in Pakistan.

“We want to build a community around FLOSS, and help them in terms of making available open source resources, advocacy and collateral (marketing materials), mailing lists, wikis (to share information) and portals,” he says. FOSS-FP’s site claims to have received nearly 600,000 hits, and has 580 members. “We have members in Malaysia, India and Dubai,” Bajwa say.