Governments and businesses in the Middle East are lagging behind the rest of the world in the uptake of open-source software and technology, one of the world's leading technology executives said yesterday in Dubai. In the keynote address of the Gitex Global Conference, Scott McNealy, the chairman of Sun Microsystems, stressed the importance of using and developing technology platforms based on a free, open standard. "Go open in your projects, your companies, your geographies, the entire region," Mr McNealy said. "There's no reason not to - there is nothing you can't do with open source today." Open-source software, which is based on a code and programming language that is freely available to the public, has been championed by Sun for more than 20 years. Open-source systems power many of the servers that run the internet, and some of the most commonly used online applications are based on open-source platforms. But in developing electronic government projects across the Middle East, governments have failed to take advantage of the potential of open source, Mr McNealy said. Instead, they have built a series of similar systems based on closed, proprietary standards that will not be able to "talk" in the future without expensive integration efforts. "More than 75 per cent of e-government systems in the region are redundant," he said. "Collaborating around these would be advantageous, and more secure." Mr McNealy singled out organisations like Dubai Municipality and Zayed University for pioneering efforts in open-source software in the region. But he also said that the Middle East was responsible for just six of the world's 268 government initiatives using open-source systems. "You're a little bit behind here, in that perspective." In more than two decades as a leader of the global technology sector, Mr McNealy has earned a reputation as a visionary thinker with a strong track record of picking future trends. He foresaw the central importance of networked computing more than a decade before its widespread adoption, and was an early and passionate advocate of open-source software. Yesterday marked his first time in Dubai in more than 13 years. "Things have changed here just a tiny little bit since my last visit," he said to laughs from the audience. But when turning to the central role that open-source systems should play in the country's development, he issued both a warning and a challenge. "Sun has invested more than US$26 billion (Dh95.5bn) in R&D [research and development] - take advantage of it, it is there for the taking," he said, referring to the free, open nature of much of the company's intellectual property. "But it is not exclusive - I guarantee you that China and India are taking full advantage of all of this. It is safe, secure, private - and did I mention free?" firstname.lastname@example.org
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