Open source gaining momentum in Singapore

If you live in Singapore and have started using the newly-minted app developed by the government to pay for street parking at public car parks, you may have noticed something in fine print in one corner of the app’s menu that says “built with open source software”.

This was unthinkable more than a decade ago, when the government was generally seen to be using more proprietary software than open source ones, sans a few high-profile deployments such as the use of OpenOffice at the Ministry of Defence and a Linux desktop trial by the National Library Board.

As a young reporter covering the open source beat at that time, I was hungry for news on developments in the open source community, whether it was attending an event graced by Richard Stallman, the founder of the Free Software Foundation, or nabbing an interview with Linus Torvalds, creator of the Linux operating system.

Open source software wasn’t as “mainstream” as it is today, no thanks to some of the FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) that some of open source software’s biggest detractors were spreading in the market.

A proprietary software company once handed me a folder of research papers that they commissioned to debunk the benefits of open source software. A top executive from that company even asked me straight in the face: “What can we do better?”

Of course, we now know all of that has changed. Today, proprietary software companies aren’t as averse to open source software as they once did. Some have even open-sourced their software code and participated in open source communities, because they realise that open source is here to stay. Most companies now use a mix of proprietary and open-source offerings, so it’s in the interest of proprietary software companies to play nice.

That a government-built app is now brandishing the open source tag says a lot about the strides that open source software vendors and the open source community have been making in Singapore.