FOSS in Taiwan

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An overview of the situation of free and open source in Taiwan.


ASIA PACIFIC REPORT: TAIPEI [Based on a presentation by Ping Yeh]


National Taiwan University's adjunct assistant professor Ping Yeh -- who is also a co-founder of the Taipei Open Source Software User Group -- recently put together (for the Asia Open Source Software Symposium) a fascinating presentation on what's happening on the FOSS front at Taiwan, the island in East Asia with a population of 23 million.

Taiwan is located off the coast of mainland China, south of Japan and north of the Philippines. Also known as Formosa (Portuguese sailors called it Ilha Formosa, which means "beautiful island"). The island comprises of steep mountains covered by tropical and subtropical vegetation.

Taiwan has had a "traditional" and "closed source" trend since the 1980s. But the government's five-year programme 2002-07 has a theme of "establishing the Free Software industry". It has been investing over 100 million NT a year, and the emphasis is on training ("nothing can be done without highly-skilled people") , standards and compatibility ("make sure things work together"), and legal issues ("reduction or removal of Free Software-unfriendly regulations and laws").

Interestingly, this programme has some clear goals. These include, building a friendly environment for Free Software development, having an internationally-active Free Software development community, high-value Free Software products, and encouraging a large-scale Free Software industrial chain.

One interesting goal the Taiwanese are talking about is having OpenOffice.org as the format for all government documents. "It requires mature localisation and massive training through all levels of government organisations," says Ping Yeh in the presentation.

There are some useful government-funded programmes too: a Linux Compatibility Test & Certification Center; an Open Source Software Application Consulting Center; the recursively-named OSSF Supports Software Freedom; standard operations procedure for open source softwares; Free Software Research & Development; and embedded Linux R&D.

Linux Compatibility Test & Certification Center, or the LCTCC, aims to test the compatibility between hardware and various flavors/versions of GNU/Linux distributions. A useful idea in a country that is into the deep end of excellence in the hardware world. It is run by the Taiwan Linux Consortium, and in 2004 had 279 database entries, six promotion events, and contacts with the Free Standards Group for setting up the LSB/OpenI18N certification. See http://linux.tca.org.tw/linux-test/

SOP for OSS is a Standard operating procedures for open source softwares. It is run by the Chinese Open Systems Association. By late 2005 it had completed SOP documents for installing and configuring Fedora core 2, webmin, apache, sendmail, mysql, samba, phpnuke, tomcat, openwebmail, firewall and OpenOffice.org. Each SOP has a detailed report (in PDF) and an associated flash live demo.

OSSACC (Open Source Software Application Consulting Center) is an attempt by Taiwan's Ministry of Education's push to diversity in IT education in elementary schools. It is funded by the MOE, and executed by Software Liberty Association of Taiwan. It's mission? To train elementary school teachers to use free softwares and provide support to them. It has offered more than 1500 trainees courses on Linux, OpenOffice, PHP, zope, etc. Besides, it has made and distributed the EZGo CD, a collection of free softwares on Windows and training materials. http://www.ossacc.org/

OSSF stands for "OSSF Supports Software Freedom", and is led by the Institute of Information Science, Academia Sinica. (The Academia Sinica, headquartered in the Nangang district of Taipei, is the national academy for Taiwan.It is deemed a primary research centre for the nation. It supports research activities in a wide variety of disciplines, ranging from mathematical and physical sciences, to life sciences, and to humanities and social sciences.) This project focuses on infrastructure building for free software development. It offers a foundry, similar to sourceforge.net, for local FOSS developers to interact in local languages.

There's also technical, operational and legal assistance. Legal analysis of OSS licenses is provided to assist developers to choose the most suitable license. http://www.openfoundry.org/

OpenFoundry.org is the repository of OSSF. It has some 321 projects, 1753 registered users as of Sept 3, 2005. Some well-known projects emerging out of this Taiwanese experiment include OpenWebMail, OpenVanilla, Kwiki, Pugs See http://openfoundry.org/

License Wizard of OSSF helps maintainers and authors of Free Software projects to choose a license they like best. You need to answer a few questions such as, and then you're prompted to the suitable license. This process is available only in Traditional Chinese so far.

Meanwhile, the F.S. R&D programme is funded by Taiwan's National Science Council, and encourages two kinds of Free Software R&D -- that needed by industry, and that which can be used as software components. It is conducted by universities and research institutes via a "call for proposal" mechanism. Some 133 proposals approved for 2003 and 2004 combined.

Embedded Linux R&D Programme is a strategy to combine GNU/Linux technology with Taiwan's local strength in IT hardware. Its target market is embedded products, it emphasises on GNU/Linux wide-scale security systems, and its major participants are the Taiwan Linux Consortium and its member companies, the Industrial Technology Research Institute and Institute for Information Industry.

Apart from all this, there's spontanous initiatives and volunteer-driven projects -- from the research, educational, industrial sectors and the GNU/Linux community. "This is not an exhaustive report," says Ping Yeh modestly.

Taiwan Linux Consortium has been promoting GNU/Linux since 2000. Linux Expo is held every summer together with Computex, the second largest computer exhibition in the world.

Taiwan Linux Forum is active too. There's the Golden Penguin Award (annual since 2003) -- a distinguished contribution award that goes out to the best application of the year, nd the best innovation of the year. This was scheduled to be extended to greater China recently.

Not to say that the educational sector is lagging behind in initiatives. School Free Software (SFS) has been run since 2003. It's a Web-based school administration portal, PHP+MySQL (LAMP). It's modular, with more than 100 modules. Developers are teachers in elementary schools. More then 500 schools in three counties are using it. http://sfs.wpes.tcc.edu.tw/

Dr. Geo, on the other hand, is an interactive software for teaching geometry. It's now part of the global Freeduc project, which takes Free Software to school. There's also the Freeductw project, aimed at promoting Freeduc softwares in Taiwanese primary schools.

In the research sector, informs Ping Yeh, there are many projects, some funded by the NSC and some spontaneously growing. These include the DRBL (Diskless Remote Boot in Linux) which has one boot server, multiple diskless clients, and is seen as being particularly well suited for computer classrooms. More than 200 installed sites (6000 PCs) are in schools, hospitals, NPOs, government orgs, small & medium sized businesses.

There's a Sourceforge mirror run out of the NCHC Tainan, which has been online since March 2005.

On the community front, other initiatives have come up. There's the Software Liberty Association of Taiwan. It's a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of Free Software. Donations are tax-deductible. This network holds an international FOSS conference annually since 2001. It offers community awards every other year, and interleaves with a technology competition which is also held in alternative years. It runs OSSACC for the Ministry of Education. http://www.slat.org/

User group activities include: Taiwan linux user group (forum), Tainan linux user group (talks), Tainan county network center, Taiwan Debian user group (wiki, irc), PCManX, OV-IME, and others Fedora Taiwan (forum), Fedora LiveCD, OS X chat (irc, blog), OpenVanilla, Taipei open source software user group (talks, mailing list), Mozilla Taiwan (forum), Localisation Sayya.org (bbs), and other volunteering individuals work on Gentoo, Ubuntu, *BSD, etc.

Some names you ought to be linking to Taiwan, when you hear of them in the future: Pugs, implementation of Perl 6 in Haskell, led by Autrijus Tang. http://www.pugscode.org/

svk: decentralized version control system that works with all major code repository systems, led by C.L.Kao. http://svk.elixus.org/

PCMan: cross-platform BBS client with graphical user interface, led by "pcman"

OpenVanilla: cross-platform input method framework, led by Dane Liu. http://www.openvanilla.org/

OV-IME: input method editor for OpenVanilla on Windows, led by Kanru Chen

SDL-im: enabling input method in SDL (Simple Directmedia

Layer, a game development library), led by L.Y.C.

Some names that helped in collating the content of this presentation, and could be helpful contacts to finding out more: Ping Yeh (National Taiwan University & Tossug +886.913.165.100 [email protected]) and Tinli Lin (OSSF), K.C. Chen (OSSACC), Mike Lin (TLC), Tzu-Chiang Liu (OSSF), Fred Cheng (NICI), Hong-Sheu Wu (COSA), James Chen (ITRI), Steven Hsiau (NCHC), T. H. Chang (NSC), Ying-Kuang Chen (SFS), Chao-Kwei Hung (Freeduc), Jing-Chun "jserv" Huang (Debian Taiwan), Chuan-Te Ho (RDEC).

Links to Taiwanese organisations:

Chinese Open System Association: http://www.cosa.org.tw/ Taiwan Linux Consortium: http://taiwan-linux.tca.org.tw/ Software Liberty Association of Taiwan: http://www.slat.org/

Links to Taiwanese projects:

Chinese Linux Extension: http://cle.linux.org.tw/ OSSF Supports Software Freedom: http://openfoundry.org/

Links to Taiwanese communities:

Taiwan Linux User Group: http://www.linux.org.tw/ Tainan Linux User Group: http://tnlug.linux.org.tw/ Tainan County Network Center: http://freesf.tnc.edu.tw/ Taipei Open Source Software User Group: http://tossug.org/ Debian: http://debian.org.tw/ Fedora Taiwan: http://www.fect.com.tw/ Mozilla Taiwan: http://moztw.org/ OS X Chat: http://osxchat.blogspot.com/ Dream Software List: http://wiki.debian.org.tw/index.php/WishList2005 Sayya BBS: telnet://bbs.sayya.org/

Acronyms of government agencies:

NSC: National Science Council MOE: Ministry of Education IDB: Industry Development Bureau of the Ministry of Economy Affairs NICI: National Information and Communications Initiative RDEC: Research, Development and Evaluation Commission

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