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Malaysian Linux Story
by CNET Asia

On the local front, a handful of companies and user groups are pushing Linux but the industry is hampered by limited resources and expertise.

In 1996, Abdul Rahman Johari co-founded the Malaysian-Linux (My-Linux) user group with friends and fellow enthusiasts. "Few people knew about Linux then. The turning point came in late 1998, when software giants Oracle, Sybase, Informix and others began porting their products on the OS," he said.

In April this year, Abdul Rahman set up the Malaysian Linux Competency Center to fill the gap for Linux research, commercial support and solutions. "We’re doing R&D not only on Intel architecture, but on Alpha and UltraSPARC platforms. Right now, we’re working on a Web-based database solution," he said.

He said Malaysia lacked support from the vendor companies for promotional efforts, and even familiarity with Unix in universities was not encouraged. "Without the user base and resources, it will take time for the industry to grow," he said.

Abdul Rahman sees a future when more offices in Malaysia will be using thin clients running Linux-based enterprise apps that are customized, Web-enabled and completely virus-free. "Linux will hit the desktop real soon. Technology is moving towards that end, and time will prove it," he said.

Two-year-old Linux-based systems integrator Magnifix Sdn Bhd got its first big break when it landed leading telco Telekom Malaysia in mid-1998 for an Intranet solution project. "In the early days, we had tons of problems mainly because of the hardware compatibility. But now since Red Hat and SuSE are compatible with most hardware, those problems are over," said Meor A. Fauzi, Magnifix chief operating officer.

Magnifix currently also provides distributions, supports and training for both Red Hat and SuSE Linux and is the preferred solution provider for Oracle on Linux in Malaysia.

"Marketwise, Linux is still in the infant stage but things are starting to heat up. With most major computer companies supporting it, government and the corporations are starting to look into Linux as a solution," said Meor whose company has completed over 150 government, corporate and university installations.

Meor said companies choose Linux because it is reliable, robust and scalable. "Still, there are people reluctant to switch because of the lack of user-friendliness. But things are improving in this area. KDE and GNOME are getting more user-friendly and SuSE 6.3 and Red Hat Linux 6.1 come with graphical installation sequences."

He said the key lack is that not enough software applications are ported onto Linux, especially popular ones like the Adobe family and AutoCAD. "This a major turnoff for end users, specially in the corporate sector. Fortunately, major vendors like Oracle, CA, HP, Informix, Sun and Corel are porting over but it is not enough," he said.

Meor said in Malaysia the tide could change with more extensive education, exhibitions and campaigns as most users are too firmly entrenched with present systems. He is confident, however, that Linux can capture at least 40 percent of the low-to-middle tier server market currently dominated by Windows NT in a few years' time.

"Malaysia is one to two years behind the U.S. We can see that Linux is a major hit over there, so we can expect the wave to eventually reach our shores," he said.

By then, presumably, the penguins will indeed be everywhere.

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