Omani Programmer Successfully Supports Indian Newspaper to Fully Adopt Open Source Software
Fahad Al Saidi succeeds in adding Arabic language support to the open source desktop publishing software "Scribus"
A tangible movement toward free and open source computer software has been witnessed in many countries within several sectors of education and economics. This type of software has great potential to provoke innovation and maximize knowledge sharing among technology communities around the world, eliminating all financial and intellectual borders due to its characteristics of enabling modifications and development by any programmer.
Fahad Al Saidi took part within this cycle by developing the desktop publishing software “Scribus” and adding Arabic language support in order to be used by the Indian newspaper Janayugom. Fahad occupies the position of Project Management Specialist in the Ministry of Technology and Communications and he is the founder of IT Wadi website.
Support and Development
Al Saidi talked about the main motivation behind the development he made within “Scribus” software which allowed Janayugom newspaper (Janayugom is a Malayalam daily newspaper published in Kerala, India) to adopt open source software fully. He mentioned his role within the ‘Open Source Technology House’ project in 2015 where the main goal of this project was to transfer the programming expertise into Oman. The project approach at that time was ‘Arabic Language Support’ within the different open source software packages.
Al Saidi goal was set to add Arabic language support to this software, and the work which was started at that time took 6 months to be approved by the software owner and an additional 9 months to be completed in 2016.
He also highlighted that the development was not only limited to adding Arabic language support but also supporting advanced printing technologies that benefit both Arabic and Latin languages, in addition to paving the road to other languages to be supported such as Malayalam language which was a challenge to be added to the software. Arabic language support provided the Unicode (An international computing text standard) that enabled the newspaper to use ‘Scribus’ software which in return contributes to increase the newspaper revenue that hit one million rupees per year. It also increased the available newspaper space which allows for more contents to be published within the same cost.
The newspaper has more than 100 thousand subscribers in 14 districts and more than 100 employees. It was completely depending on closed software to edit the newspaper, but this software was put into end-of-support in 2001 as it has poor support to language Unicode.
The newspaper took the decision to move to a modern software avoiding the high cost of the alternative. Thus, the newspaper moved to full adoption of open source software that included its operating system, text editor and printing software.
Free software initiative
Within the context of open source and free software, Al Saidi refereed to the initiative that started in 2010, he said that it works within three aspects. First, through awareness about free software, and that can be achieved by organizing workshops, lectures, and international annual conferences in different parts of the sultanate at a rate of 20-30 events annually.
Secondly through training people on using this type of software in addition to working on and developing different software packages.
The third aspect focuses on technical skills and capabilities development, and for that, several programs are arranged such as ‘Oman Summer of Code’ that put together top students, graduates and employees to work on developing a specific software for three months, the program hosts more than 60 people annually, and these people are selected by the program team according to software being developed.
We asked Al Saidi whether open source software adoption can be considered a development plan for information technology promotion; Al Saidi clarified that the software domain is fundamental for IT promotion, and here we have two aspects, First, is to achieve technology self-dependence, an example for that is the many countries who use the technology but don’t own it, making these technologies more likely to be blocked at any time, referring to Huawei recent situation and the American-Chinese conflict that endanger Huawei by blocking the American technology services that Huawei depends on. Al Saidi recommended the adoption of open source software, its development and customization to suit countries requirement in order to achieve the technology self-dependence.
The second aspect represented by the capabilities of open source software to boost local technology sector and empowering the country by allowing local companies to offer free software services and solutions that suits the country, away from the domination of technology giants.
A Call for Support
Al Saidi calls local companies in Oman to support the initiative of ‘Scribus’ software development in order for Oman to be among the leaders in using open source software. He also looks forward to see local newspaper efforts to adopt open source software as a starting step in order to improve, reduce cost and to keep up with latest advancement in the information technology domain.
Al Saidi talked about ‘itwadi’ the website that focuses on technology awareness and open source software in addition to software development and open source operating systems.
Al Saidi founded the website in 2007 as he noticed the absence of Arabic websites that provide a comprehensive content about open source software and its benefits. Also, most of the existing Arabic websites focus on technology news from leaders in the market neglecting the importance of open source and free software despite the trend of many governments to adopt open source software such as Kerala government, German government, Russian government, Belgium government and others.
Al Saidi affirmed that the website captures the latest updates and changes in open source software and publishes the related news, awareness and training articles, in addition to produce and translate different books talking about open source technologies. The website has published more than 20 books in this regard.
Al Saidi mentioned that he works with several authors and translators to edit and complete the frequent contents, he added that publishing frequency is related to the current activities and the upcoming events within the open source domain, also the published contents must adhere to the website objectives that best serve the interest of the Arab readers.