As most regular NewsForge readers know, I recently traveled to Amman, Jordan to advocate Linux and Open Source use there. This Spring I'll probably be doing the same thing in Mexico. And there are many other Open Source and Free Software advocates, most of them more effective and eloquent then I'll ever be, busily speaking at conferences and workshops all over the world. All these words are having a positive effect. Linux and Open Source are becoming better known and more popular than ever. But where are they the most popular? And where are they likely to see the most growth in 2003?
While I was in Amman I didn't spend all my time hob-nobbing with government dignitaries. Instead, I got out into the city as much as I could. And one of the places I ended up, guided by Isam Bayazidi of the Arabeyes Project, was a small, independent computer store located in a back alley in one of Amman's many modest commercial districts.
There is a sameness to this kind of store the world over. I shop at one much like it in Sarasota, Florida, and another similar one in Greenbelt, Maryland.
The reason we were in this store was to find and buy a Linux-compatible PCMCIA modem. The salespeople in this store were just as clueless as the salespeople in equivalent U.S. stores, and there were the same know-it-all geek customers hanging around who offered us advice ranging from smart to useless. But there was one difference. When we wanted to test a modem for Linux compatibility, we found -- courtesy of one of the geek hangers-on -- a laptop running Linux on display, right up front.
As it turned out, we didn't need the physical test, and the modem ran just fine in the Red Hat-loaded laptop where it was destined to live, but the note that stuck with me was the fact that there was a laptop on display in a computer store, right up front, proudly running Linux, and people treated it as something normal, not as an oddity.
It wasn't Red Hat, either, but ThizLinux, a distribution from Hong Kong, which is appropriate since the laptop was a Hong Kong brand I've never seen in the U.S. before.
To top it off, the office suite CDs on display next to the laptop weren't from Microsoft or StarOffice or WordPerfect, but Hancom Office, out of South Korea. And it was an Arabic version, too, something neither StarOffice nor OpenOffice quite have ready.
Hancom makes major promo hay out of their support for many languages in their $59.95 (boxed edition) office suite. Their Web page says, "Chinese (simplified and traditional), Japanese, Arabic, Korean editions and Unicode support mean that Hancom Office is the best solution for companies with offices on multiple continents."
Asia is the next Linux hotbed
Linux, as we know it today, is an essentially European phenomenon. It started in Finland. KDE is centered in Germany and has close ties to Norwegian TrollTech. Mandrake is French, SuSE is German, and European governments have moved toward and supported Linux -- and Open Source in general -- faster than most governments elsewhere. The U.S. is the center of commercial Linux activity primarily because Red Hat and several other major distributions are based here, but most surveys show a higher percentage of European than U.S. developers writing Open Source software.
But a growing number of "next generation" Linux development is taking place in Asian countries, ranging from South Korea at one end of the continent to India diagonally across the continent's map, with China rising hugely -- in the Linux sense -- right in the middle of it all.
Africa and the Middle East are discovering Linux in a big way, but don't have nearly as much computer/IT infrastructure or as much computer-oriented education available as (some parts of) China or India -- or South Korea or Vietnam or Malaysia. Or Japan, where it looks like Linux will soon be adopted as a preload operating system by computer manufacturers on all kinds of gear, not just on the server and workstation levels as we see 99% of the time in the U.S. and Europe.
I see an increasing amount of Linux development and related Open Source activity coming out of Asia, almost all of it in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and other Asian languages.
I also see an increasing amount of Linux activity coming out of India, most of which is in English rather than in one of the many local Indian languages.
2003: the year of Asian Linux
I rarely make predictions. Heck, I am not all that sure I'll wake up tomorrow morning, let alone that the sun will come out from behind the clouds, assuming we have a cloudy sky tomorrow. But once in a while I let myself go and prognosticate. And this is my one and only NewsForge prognostication about Linux and Open Source in 2003: That some of the biggest advances we're going to see in the next year will come from Asia, not Europe or North America.
Whether we'll recognize how important these advances are (whatever they turn out to be) is another matter entirely. Maybe we will, maybe we won't. But that's a column I need to write at the end of 2003, not today.