The Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC), a government body which has the appearance of a very corporate Malaysian company is organising and funding a new conference this week. It's called the Multimedia Super Corridor Open Source Conference (MSCOSCONF), to be held from 31st May to 3rd June 2009.
The Malaysian Government has been a strong supporter of Open Source, from their hard work on the Open Source Master Plan back in 2004 which outlined support for Free and Open Source in their procurement policies.
This was somewhat put in confusion due to the ill defined "Technology Neutrality" principle, which is evident in the lack of direction since 2006. However the momentum within the government has been strong, especially in the drivers at MAMPU, the Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Planning Unit under the Prime Minister's office.
They proceeded to organise the Malaysian Government Open Source Software Conference (MyGOSSCON) in 2007 and 2008, which highlighted local and international speakers. These talks were mainly targeted at government officials and public service employees.
The Free and Open Source Software community of Malaysia also organised a more developer and community centric conference in 2008 called foss.my 08.
What is interesting about the MSCOSCONF is that it combines all the aspects of the previously organised conferences. From community, to developers, to business and also to the government sector. I personally find this a huge step forward in MDeC addressing the need to bring these sectors of the FOSS ecosystem together, and to create a more cohesive meta-community for the future.
However I do have some issues with this inaugural conference.
Apache not good enough?
The official website of MSCOSCONF is running on IIS. IIS is a proprietary product. The majority of websites on the web runs a fully fledged Open Source product called Apache as a webserver. When queried on why the mscosconf website is running on IIS, there were rumours that the front facing IIS just a "proxy" however. The other rumour was that it was because one of the sponsors only have Windows machines to host the website. Whatever the case, this is strange because the community have offered to sponsor the hosting of the website with a certified freedom stack.
This fortunately can be resolved easily in the future.
The Microsoft "Competition"
It's great that Microsoft has been playing a significant role in terms of sponsorship for this event. Their efforts in publicity and community relations have been positive, together with their support for the foss.my 08 event.
What is interesting is that they are currently sponsoring a competition which sports a RM10,000 prize in the porting of popular PHP webapps which currently exist on a completely free stack, to a completely closed stack. Yes, the purpose of the competition is to port webapps which run using Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP (LAMP) to Microsoft Windows, Microsoft IIS and Microsoft SQL Server, PHP (WIMP). This contest was a misnomer and spun as LAMP2WIN, as should be more accurately called LAMP2WIMP.
This to me is a bizarre requirement and totally goes against the philosophy of what an Open Source competition should be. I'm not sure what rationale was during the design of the competition, but this could have been easily designed with a more "Free" objective.
For example, instead of moving apps and restricting choice, perhaps the competition could move the otherway: porting dotNet apps to the FOSS stack, for example a Linux, Apache, MySQL, Mono config. Or abstracting the database layers of certain popular MSSQL projects to cater for all types of databases? Or to ensure that MS SQL is fully supported as database drivers from a Linux webserver?
Projects like these would be infinitely superior with wins to Microsoft, the FOSS developers and the FOSS end users. Thats real choice.
Constructive criticisms for MDeC
The change in "direction" from MDeC has been dramatic. From apathy last year, to full support of FOSS this year, has been very surprising to us whom have witnessed the tepid commitments in the past. It seems that the people heading this initiative are genuinely determined to put their support behind FOSS from now on. However the entire MDeC machinery needs time to catch up to get into the spirit of things. For example, and ironically, the "Sponsorship Prospectus" (amongst others) which has the purpose of wooing potential sponsors to promote open source, is written and published using Microsoft Office 2007. It may seem like a normal business decision to use whatever tools they are familiar with, but to us freetards, it seems rather distasteful. Also they need a better copywriter in their social media alerts.
For the Future!
However, I know that these issues can be easily resolved in the near future, and its still very heartening that MDeC is finally warming up to the community of fedora.my ubuntu.my, php.net.my, foss.my, fosschix.my and all the other freedom loving geeks in Malaysia. The speakers lineup is certainly impressive, and I look forward in meeting with the distinguised delegates. We hope to see more events like this, and cheer on the teams at MDeC and OSCC who have worked so tirelessly in hopefully making the next 4 days a huge success.