The prevailing system of proprietary software that is commonly used by Malaysians is not beneficial as Malaysians have to pay high costs if they use the licensed software or otherwise run the risk of being criminalised if they use pirated software.
Most Malaysians are not aware of the Open-Source Software (OSS) that has equivalents of commonly used applications and is available for free.
Malaysians are also paying for the proprietary software that comes bundled with their desktops and laptops. They are often not given a choice in the operating system.
CAP is concerned with the exploitation and criminalisation of consumers by the proprietary software companies and urges the Government to form a specific agency to make Malaysia the leader in the promotion and development of OSS. This could provide savings of millions of ringgit to Malaysian consumers and companies. Plus it could create manpower skills and jobs for Malaysians and provide cutting-edge expertise and support services in the huge OSS market worldwide.
The adoption of Open-Source Software models has resulted in worldwide savings of about $60 billion per year to consumers. Malaysians could be saving more than RM400 million a year if the products of Microsoft and Oracle are substituted.
We are also proud that Malaysia is a leader in the adoption of OSS in the public sector, ie in the Government agencies, through MAMPU (Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit). Mampu had saved RM242 million through its efforts.
Free OSS has good alternatives to proprietary software for most common applications. We have Open Office to replace Microsoft Office in general office applications, GIMP for Photoshop in image manipulation, Mozilla Firefox for Internet Explorer in Internet browsing, VLC for Windows Media Player for videos and sound playback, Calibre for Adobe Reader in reading ebooks and Ubuntu for Microsoft Windows in operating systems. There are many more such OSS applications that are excellent and are in some ways better than the proprietary software.
In light of the many advantages of OSS, CAP recommends the following to the Malaysian Government:
1. Form a special agency. There must be an agency, like MAMPU, to encourage the use of open source software, but targeted towards the entire national economy.
2. Spread awareness. OSS can be used for most common tasks: operating system, databases, office, graphics and multimedia utilities. However, most people simply don’t know enough about it. Thus, centres should be instituted for dissemination of information about OSS.
3. Avoid bundling and offer consumer a choice. Microsoft Windows operating system is often bundled with the computer. This sort of bundling restricts consumer’s choice. The unsophisticated consumer does not notice the extra cost involved. The sophisticated consumer loses money because there is no option to obtain the computer with just open source operating system, and the consumer must pay for Microsoft software whether or not he wants it. Thus, it must be made a legal requirement to always offer the consumer a choice of open source operating system on all machines.
4. Avoid early indoctrination and consequent criminalisation. Software companies rely on the strategy of “early indoctrination” to penetrate schools. This is somewhat like giving low-cost drugs to get people addicted! While schools may get licensed software at cheap prices, the school children (eventually) have to either buy it afresh, or get criminalised by pirating it. Accordingly, the use of OSS should be prescribed in all schools to prevent indoctrination.
5. Start OSS development centres. The Government should invest in establishing and supporting centres for open source development. The cost for this would be a small fraction of the total savings. It would also create more software jobs locally, and contribute to the vision of Malaysia as a knowledge hub. Further these centres could also function as training centres for open source, thus serving to overcome legacy and migration issues associated with teacher training etc.
6. Make comparisons with OSS mandatory before purchase. Universities and research institutes should be encouraged to develop and use open source educational software instead of proprietary software such as Matlab and Mathematica. Whenever such institutions purchase proprietary software it should be made mandatory that they draw up a comparison with the competing OSS.
7. Encourage SMEs and big users to use OSS. The use of OSS should be encouraged among both SME and big users. For SMEs the advantages are clear, provided there is some form of backend support available to address legacy and migration issues. This could be done by the above OSS centres, as a form of consultancy, which will make them self-sustaining in the long run. This will encourage people to look upon software development in terms of entrepreneurship and help Malaysia to emerge as a hub for skilled manpower.