A few months ago, we wrote a story about the newly formed Iraqi Linux Users Group, ILUG (http://www.iraqilug.org). Their goals were as far reaching as their spirit and optimism were high. After months of war and strife within their country, how has this band of open source warriors fared? We caught up with two of the members, Bassam Hassan and Ashraf Hasson, to talk to them about the current state of affairs in the country, what they've experienced in the past year, and what they're looking to do and need in order to move on.
4) What have been your biggest challenges in implementing Linux and open source-based solutions within the universities and government agencies? What about within the private sector?
Bassam: The biggest challenges were found in the process of convincing the management staff (namely the “decision makers”) about the effectiveness of implementing open source technologies in Iraqi universities and governmental agencies, especially considering the fact that most, if not all, are loyal Windows users.
Arranging for events like Linux seminars and install-fests was fairly demanding in terms of financial resources and manpower needed, and the indifference from the decision makers put a huge burden on our shoulders to put on these events, forcing us to use our own private financial resources to arrange for these events. This negatively affected on the extent and frequency of our activities.
Ashraf: Putting security aside, all challenges were equally big. Linux is a demanding system, but a very rewarding one too. Some challenges faced included: the language factor, old high school and university style curriculums that don't involve computers, lack of computer and software awareness, power surges, limited resources and funding to backup our plans in spreading the Open Source...the list goes on.
5) Have US restrictions on cryptographic software had any effect in your efforts?
Bassam: No, as far as I know.
Ashraf: Luckily, since Linux and open source software is not restricted to the US, we were able to download some Linux distros and software, so that didn't really affect our efforts.
6) As of now, have software costs played any sort of role in government decision making? To your knowledge, has the government started implementing Linux solutions yet?
Bassam: Costs contribute to a great extent in the government's decision making, but this will vary according to whom you ask, and according to the time of the day. The governmental officials in the interim government didn’t approve any long term plans for the IT sector in this country so it’s more like peer to peer direct decentralized contact between the governmental officials and the companies’ representatives. I can say that the considerations for approving contracts and bids are questionable, and to some extent fishy.
As far as I know, Unix-like operating systems like Linux are nowadays utilized in the server side technologies in some but not all of the rehabilitation projects of the governmental entities. Microsoft has lock on most of these projects because of its reputation, and because of the familiarity of the currently existing technical staff with Microsoft technologies.
Ashraf: I don't know how the government judges the way how it should seek software solutions, whether based on cost or efficiency or both. But it is certain that the government would like most if not all of its establishments and facilities to be independent enough to not be trapped in the proprietary spider net.