Professionals and academics join OSS keynote, forum

Indusdry representatives discuss the future of open source in Hong Kong

Open source software provider Red Hat and the Hong Kong Productivity Council (HKPC) jointly organized a keynote speech and open source software forum held in Hong Kong in late April. Local academic institutions, industry professionals and representatives of business associations participated in the panel discussion on the future development of the open source industry in Hong Kong.

In a presentation before the panel, Mike Tiemann, president of the Open Systems Institute and VP of Open Source Affairs for Red Hat, described how, as an unknown hacker, he wrote the GNU C++ compiler. In 1989, with two partners and US$6,000, he founded Cygnus Solutions around its primary product, the GNUPro Developers Kit, selling the company for US$687 million ten years later.

"Last year, open source software (OSS) was worth US$18 billion globally, and this will grow to US$40 billion by 2010 according to IDC," said Vincent Shiu, editorial director, Linux Pilot. "So what can local ISVs (do to participate in this success?"

"ISVs should collaborate with Red Hat or other OSS vendors," said Barry Lo, regional sales director, Hong Kong & Taiwan, Red Hat. "We have a Ready Partner program and also one related to building applications on top of JBoss (Java Enterprise Middleware), and you can find out about these from our sales hotline. We also have a course suitable for university students, including RHCT (Red Hat Certified Technician). We are currently focusing on software for financial services, telecom, healthcare and education."

"There is a lot of scope for OSS, especially on the mainland," said Alan Kan, chairman, Hong Kong Linux Industry Association. "Last year, the HKLIA arranged a trip for ISVs to visit mainland enterprises, and from the moment we passed the border, they were getting business."

"On June 21-24, there will be a major [dual] event called Open Source China and Open Source World, taking place both in Guangdong province and Macau," he added. "[The] HKPC is organizing tours to the event, and more details are available on the HKLIA website."

"The HKLIA is limited because the majority of software companies are small and struggling, not funded by venture capital," said Samson Tam, vice chairman of Hong Kong's Information Software Industry Association. "OSS is a good concept but we need to build a successful development model for Asia. In the [US], universities work closely with commercial interests, and we would like to see the government matching donations from commercial sources."

"We have ported many of our programs to OSS and are encouraging ISVs to do the same," said Jeff Chu, manager of Linux Business, IBM China/Hong Kong. "We want local ISVs to join leading engineers in our partnership programs and to create OSS solutions to give more choice to customers. Two years ago, there was not much OSS experience in Hong Kong but now lots of people, including my colleagues, are joining the bandwagon and 40% of our software solutions are available on Linux."

"At CUHK we have OSS initiatives, but not much coordination or understanding of the underlying philosophy," said Professor Kam-Fai Wong, director of the Centre for Innovation & Technology, Faculty of Engineering, the Chinese University of Hong Kong. "In Hong Kong, the vendors are SMEs, and they have to make their bread and butter fast, so they have little time to tell the universities their needs. We need cultural change, so that instead of vendors defining applications, the students determine the software for OSS and let the vendors come and shop."

"In very competitive market conditions, ISVs can choose to release their applications as open source products," said Zunix Ling, project founder, Open Source, Hong Kong Fonts Project, Open Standards Support Organization. "If you can attract many users, you may be able to generate a lot of revenue from support operations."

"There are two strategies in play: low-cost and high-value," said Mike Tiemann. "Actually, the average cost of Windows in China is close to zero, because of piracy. So Bill Gates is trying to negotiate with the pirates: if you won't pay US$300, will you pay US$3? But they may prefer to pay zero! But OSS is not about low cost but about creating value, using the collective intelligence of developers, rather than a single individual."