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Linux guide designed for developing nations

The manual is intended to increase open-source usage among the 800 IT projects sponsored by the United Nations.

A United Nations-funded organization has produced a Linux desktop manual for novice PC users as part of an effort to encourage developing countries to use open-source software.

The manual, from the International Open Source Network, or IOSN, includes basic information on how to manage files, browse the Web and produce OpenOffice documents on a Linux PC.

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Sunil Abraham, a manager at the Malaysia-based IOSN, said Tuesday that the organization hopes the manual will encourage the development sector, especially U.N.-sponsored Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) projects, to explore open-source software. According to Abraham, there are more than 800 ICT4D projects worldwide, and most are currently running proprietary software.

The developing world is becoming an increasingly important market for computer and software makers. Analysts estimate that by the end of the decade, there will be more than 1 billion PC users, with many of the new adopters residing in nations such as China, India and Russia. Those markets are also becoming a battleground between the makers of proprietary software, such as Microsoft, and backers of open-source software.

The Linux user manual is available online in OpenOffice and PDF format. Abraham said the IOSN is also planning to distribute a printed version and a "Linux Live" CD--a bootable CD that lets people try the Linux operating system and applications without making any changes to their systems.

The manual focuses on Fedora, the Red Hat-sponsored community Linux distribution, and Abraham acknowledges that that some stakeholders had strong views on the subject. "Our choice of Fedora was controversial. I think it is the least frightening version of Linux to a new user, but others have disagreed with me," he said. Abraham stressed that the IOSN does not endorse Fedora over other distributions.

The Linux manual has been released under the Creative Commons Attribution License to allow other organizations to copy and distribute the work.

One developing-world project that has already benefited from open-source software is Schoolnet Namibia. Since February 2000, this project has provided free hardware and Linux training to 250 schools in Namibia. IOSN hopes to reach similar projects across the world.

Ingrid Marson of ZDNet UK reported from London.