"It has helped opened a lot more doors. People don't understand what's going on and that gives us opportunity to explain," said Harish Pillay, the U.S.-based firm's chief technology architect for the region.

And in Australia, the company claims that they have not lost a single piece of business due to the legal wrangling over the alleged copying of Unix code into the open source Linux operating system.

Leading Linux distributor Red Hat plans to ramp up sales in the region and has added staff. Of the 30 staff at the regional headquarters of Brisbane, five are new hires within the last four months, while in Singapore, Pillay has just been added. In India, four of the 20 employees are new.

Red Hat has in the last year adjusted its business from distributor of one variant of Linux to selling, supporting and certifying whole systems based on the open source operating system.

In Asia, the company sees an opportunity in placing Intel-Linux-based hardware in data centres, taking over the role that Unix-based database and transaction servers from Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Sun traditionally enjoy.

Pilot projects in various companies around Australia have shown that Intel-based servers running Red Hat's Linux typically deliver three times the performance at one third of the cost of a Unix server, claims Angus Robertson, vice president, South Asia-Pacific.

The bulk of savings come from the use of simpler, off-the-shelf computers compared with proprietary hardware, said Robertson.

"The proprietary operating system, such as Solaris is charged per CPU, and is typically quite expensive. The cost of the Linux software is relatively cheap," he said.

The legal brouhaha's chilling effect on Linux should not be exaggerated, he said. Though Red Hat has made it a policy not to offer advice should Asian buyers ask if license fees demanded by SCO should be paid, he felt customers won't see the stance as neglect of seller's duty.

"In the last five years there have been 20 lawsuits against Microsoft. I don't think that has stopped anyone buying their products, and I don't think they offer legal advice either," he said.

Both Pillay and Robertson felt the relentless sprouting of ever more variants of Linux around Asia, usually prompted by commercial, patriotic or language-support reasons, won't detract from their business.

"It's a win for open source, and a potential win for Red Hat. It grows the market size and if they need our support, we'll definitely look at the opportunity," said Robertson.

The legal stoush certainly hasn't dampened the ardour of the South Korean government, which has announced a plan to have proprietary software on a substantial number of its PCs and servers replaced with open-source alternatives by 2007.

Thousands of computers in ministries, government-linked organisations and universities in South Korea will replace the Microsoft Windows operating system and Office productivity suite with open source alternatives under the plan, according to the country's Ministry of Information and Communication.

Twenty percent of desktop software and 30 percent of server software will be changed to open source by 2007, said a spokesperson from the Ministry of Information and Communication.

As a first step, organisations including South Korea's Industry Promotion Agency and Korea Association of Information and Telecommunication will switch to open source software such as the Linux operating system and Mozilla Web browser for both desktop PCs and servers.

"If the change is successful, we will be able to save about US$300 million a year. Also, we may insure security and inter-connectivity of national information system," the spokesperson continued.

However industry experts have expressed scepticism, saying that the country's software developers don’t have the resources to support both Windows and Linux.

Also, Microsoft Korea claimed that commercial software was never highly expensive. Microsoft Korea marketing director Kwon Chan said that although open source software may seem to be cheaper initially, it will eventually cost more, once maintenance and management costs are considered.

However, the South Korea government said it is on the side of competition.

"We will allow anyone who uses open source software access to Web-based services. Once that environment is made ready, then true competition will evolve," a spokesperson for the government said.

Currently, Linux users are not able to use several key Korean Web-based services. For example, many portals run by banks and government agencies support only Microsoft's Windows operating system and Internet Explore (IE) browser.

The Ministry of Information and Communication will get help from other government ministries to ensure active participation from open source groups.

Last month, Japan, China and South Korea met in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh to sign an agreement to jointly research and develop non-Windows, open-source OS.

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