KhmerOS - State of the project at the beginning of 2006

2005 has been a good year for KhmerOS, and – we hope – for Cambodia's technological future. After two years of hard work, this cooperation project between government and civil society has started giving its first results, with a growing number of Cambodian who see the interest of using Free and Open Source software to work in their own language, and over 200 teachers in government and private teaching institutions already prepared to teach them. KhmerOS started at the beginning of 2004 as a civil society initiative with a clear social goal: to allow people in Cambodia to work with computers in their own language in order to give access to computers to people in lower levels of the economic scale, to students and people in rural areas, to SMEs that required computers (but not English) and finally, to the government, for it to work in its own language. We wanted to do this at the lowest possible costs for institutions and individuals, so we chose to work with Free and Open Source Software. The past (2004)... During 2004 we accomplished the translation to Khmer of some basic applications (Office and Internet applications, and prepared the infrastructure needed for using the language in computers (fonts, definition of keyboard, preparation for computers to display Khmer scripts, etc.). The team grew from three members at the beginning of the year to eight at the end of 2004 (all full-time). We scratched money from here and there to make ends meet. We received a grant from the PAN ASIA ICT R&D Grants Program to work on improving FOSS localization in general, and our project strongly profited from the know-how acquired from this work, even if it was (an still is) being done to serve the whole FOSS community. Year 2005 At the beginning of 2005 the National ICT Development Authority of the Government of Cambodia (NiDA) joined the initiative, turning KhmerOS into a cooperation project between the government and a civil society organization, and opening the doors to use government training structures and using the applications in government offices. During the first half of 2005 we finished the materials that we needed to start of distribution efforts (for distributing FOSS applications on MS Windows platform for this year). We gave the last touches to the basic applications, including translation of their help systems and local branding. We developed 65 hours worth of training materials in Khmer covering OpenOffice and local Khmer versions of Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird (using names in Khmer for the applications). In June 2005 we hired four experienced computer teachers. With their help we improved and tested the training materials (while teaching at a university), and developed the training-for-trainers materials that would be used during the second half of the year by NiDA and Open Forum to train computer teachers, government officials, and computer students (under a grant from InWent, ). More than 250 experienced computer teachers from private computer schools, NGOs, and government where re-trained to teach OpenOffice in Khmer and Khmer language Internet programs, instead of Microsoft tools in English. In addition to the teachers, over 300 government officials and students were also trained. This training is still continuing in NiDA during 2006. We have also improved our installation materials, making installation of all these tools very easy, and working with computer vendors to have them pre-installed in the computers that they sell. As part of this work, NiDA has specified a standard keyboard, which we have jointly manufactured, to assure that it becomes also the industry standard. The keyboards came into existence in December, and distribution to Government offices has started. The keyboard is also being sold in computer shops. We have also been doing a lot of work in localization and capacity building in preparation for the deployment of Linux. Also funded by InWent, 20 engineers from NiDA and 10 from Open Forum have received 60 hours of training in Khmer on Linux Administration, in preparation for taking the LPI-101 exam (which they have also taken). A by-product of this training are 60 hours of Linux Administration training materials in Khmer. We have localized the KDE desktop user interface for Linux, and prepared and imparted 15 hours of training to our teams. A 500-page book on OpenOffice in Khmer and a 100-page book on e-mail have almost been finished and are being reviewed. A lot of work has also been done in ICT policy. The draft ICT policy for Cambodia (developed by NiDA with the help of UNDP-APDIP) recommends the use of Open Source whenever possible, as well as its consideration in software purchasing policies. On top of this, NiDA has defined an ambitious FOSS Deployment Master Plan that calls for full migration of the Government to FOSS within two years. An action plan for the implementation of this Master Plan also exists. The work during 2005 has mainly been possible thanks to two donors: InWent (Capacity Building International Germany) and the Internet Society. At the end of 2005 we find ourselves very much where we wanted to be. Most people in Cambodia who work in the computer sector know about the software in Khmer language produced by KhmerOS. Many companies, cybercafes, NGOs, schools, and government offices have started using it. The program is being pre-installed by some of the computer vendors and we have over 250 teachers who can teach the programs. It was quite refreshing for us when - at the beginning of 2006 - we traveled to one of the most remote parts of the country (Pailin, to have our yearly planning meeting) and found out that most schools in the area with computer resources were teaching OpenOffice in Khmer. We really got the feeling that what we are doing is already getting out there and in deed becoming useful to people. 2006 outlook... All this work that we have done so far allows us to work on several fronts during 2006, aiming at reaching a stage in which we are ready to successfully deploy Linux in Khmer before the end of the year. 1) Continue deployment of FOSS on Windows platform through:

  1. A campaign to ensure that private training places start teaching Khmer language software (by supporting them with books and CDs for the students, with training materials and with direct help from our teachers at the beginning of their courses).
  2. Continue training teachers, mainly in the provinces.
  3. A very well organized volunteer-driven installation campaign. Two computer students from each province will be selected and trained for installation and basic one-to-one teaching. They will work in their own provinces during the summer vacation.
  4. A promotion campaign – based on the pride of using one's own language - to create user demand for Khmer software.

2) Preparation for distribution of 100% Khmer Linux platform.

  1. Continue localization of several other normally-used pieces of software that will need to be included in the Linux distribution.
  2. Ensuring that at least two different standard Linux distributions carry all the Khmer software, plus have their installation and configuration tools in Khmer. Preparing 250 to 300 Linux support assistants around the country in government departments, computer vendors, and training institutions. These people are necessary for Linux to be effectively used in their institutions. Preparing curriculum and training materials for the training the personnel above.
  3. Preparing additional training materials for new applications being localized.

3) Participation in international Open Source projects.

  1. Create a group of developers that will work on applications needed for our project, as well as participate in WordForge (a project that attempts to improve computer tools and methodology for FOSS localization).

As usual, we start the 2006 without enough funds to implement everything that we would like, but we believe that they will come, as in prior years. We are extremely happy about the way in which the project is developing. We believe that Cambodia has the right conditions to be a country that demands Open Source, thanks to the language factor, We also believe that we are following all the right steps to create this demand and to respond to it, reducing the barriers to the change to Khmer language software. We are already seeing children, government officials, corporate and NGO workers, teachers and users in cybercafes using software that they can understand, and doing work that would have been very complicated without Khmer software, and we are planning to maintain the effort to assure that this becomes generalized, and that we reach the vision that we set for ourselves back at the beginning of 2004: a country that does not need to learn a different language in order to use computers, and this by 2007.